'They've raised the bar': Postgame interview with UC Davis coach, players after loss to Kansas
Chima Moneke, who always seemed to smile during the season, covered his face with a towel in the closing moments of the game.
Coach Jim Les said the box score was hard to read because of the tears on it.
Still, senior Brynton Lemar said he wouldn’t cry in the media interview room as he reflected on Les telling him four years ago that if he came to UC Davis, he had a chance to make history.
The UC Davis men’s basketball team did that this season, reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The 16th-seeded Aggies’ magical ride ended suddenly Friday night with a 100-62 loss to Midwest Regional top-seed Kansas at BOK Center.
Through all the emotion, it was obvious the loss did not put a damper on the historic season.
“I don’t know what other way we could go out,” Lemar said. “By making the tournament, playing the No. 1 team in the country, Kansas, and competing. We had a great experience. This team means a lot. I could go on and on ... I just love everyone on this team and I’m going to miss it. I’m not going to cry, though.”
The Aggies (23-13) had won four in a row, including the Big West Conference tournament and a First Four play-in game, to earn the right to play Kansas. They hung around for the better part of the first half. Lemar’s jump shot tied the score at 21-21 with 7:48 left before halftime.
Then speed and athleticism of the Jayhawks overwhelmed the Aggies. Kansas unleashed a 29-7 run to close the half and end any thoughts of UCD becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in tournament history.
Kansas led 23-21 with 7:17 to play in the half when Les was called for a technical foul. That turned the possession into a four-point trip for the Jayhawks, who started clicking.
“I wish I could take back the technical, but it happened,” Les said. “That’s a good basketball team. They got it going. Offensively, thought they moved the ball really well. I thought we missed some shots. We had some good looks during that run that just didn’t go down. When they get it going, they’re awfully impressive. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stem the tide.”
Kansas coach Bill Self said the technical didn’t swing the game in Kansas’ favor.
“I don’t know that keyed anything,” Self said. “Certainly the timing was probably a coincidence that we played our best ball after that.”
The technical also coincided with some spectacular plays from Kansas freshman star Josh Jackson, who had a lob dunk and fancy up-and-under layup as part of the run while the Aggies struggled to make shots and began committing turnovers.
“I feel like we had some bad turnovers and some quick shots that led to (Kansas) runs,” said Moneke, a junior forward. “And (Jackson) made some spectacular plays that were because we didn’t lock in on defense.”
With the game under control by halftime, the Jayhawks (29-4) increased their lead to as many as 42 points in the second half.
Kansas’ Frank Mason III finished with game highs of 22 points and eight assists. Jackson, likely one of the top picks in this year’s NBA draft, had 17 points and seven rebounds.
Moneke, the Big West’s Newcomer of the Year, led UC Davis with 20 points and nine rebounds. Lemar had 17 points.
Though the Aggies suffered their worst defeat of the season, UCD left the arena feeling accomplished.
“I don’t want (Friday) and the outcome and the score to take away from what this group did,” Les said. “They put UC Davis on the map, nationally and internationally. And they were just a special group.”
Moneke said the season was “phenomenal” but knows returning to the tournament will not be easy. Lemar is one of five seniors who will not be back, including J.T. Adenrele, Lawrence White and Darius Graham, all starters against the Jayhawks.
“At the end of the day, it was a successful season,” Moneke said. “I can’t imagine a better season for us, but it’ll be different next year. Hopefully we can come back and do this again.”