UC Davis women’s basketball split the final two home games of the regular season
Aggies drop to Long Beach State Down the Stretch; Cierra Hall, Sage Stobbart and Kayla Konrad end their home careers with a bang as they pick up the win to close out the season
By MARLON ROLON — [email protected]
After a four-game road trip, the Aggies returned to the University Credit Union Center for the first time since Feb. 12. Sitting in sixth place in the Big West Conference — an unknown spot in the standings — UC Davis lost to third-placed Long Beach State, 65-60.
Since 2016, the Aggies have finished the season as the No. 1 seed in the Big West Conference; however, that streak will come to an end as they head to the playoffs as underdogs.
“Yeah, it’s different; obviously for the last five years we’ve been the No. 1 seed,” UC Davis head coach Jennifer Gross said. “Whatever happens, we’re just going to approach it with the best attitude and as much preparation as possible.”
Winners of five consecutive regular-season conference championships heading into this season, the Aggies will assume the underdog role heading into the tournament. The season had its ups and downs. Their best moments came when they traveled to Oregon and beat the Ducks 44 straight non-conference home wins on December 1. Then on December 19, they defeated Gonzaga for the first time in program history.
“Sometimes from one place there’s a lot of pressure on you, all the expectations are ‘you’re going to come out and roll everybody’; it’s the first time we’ll kind of play that role of ‘outsider and we have to find a way to take that role and try to be the team that bothers some teams,” Gross said. “We are capable of that, when we play well we can beat anybody in this conference.”
Their lows came on Feb. 1 against UC Riverside, a team they hadn’t lost to at home since 2016. Then on Feb. 26, they suffered their first loss to UC Santa Barbara since 2017. The trials and tribulations of the travel can make or break teams; however, the defending champions have proven they can beat anyone when they play their best basketball.
UC Davis’ experience is what makes this team dangerous despite its 14-12 record (8-8 in conference). They are led by the second leading scorer in the conferencesenior Cierra Hall who is averaging 15.2 points per game and senior Sage Stobbart, the reigning Big West Defensive Player of the Year, leads the league with 2.1 blocks per game. Finally, at forward, senior Kayla Konrad is averaging 8.2 points per game – her veteran defensive presence makes her one of the big three. The trio entered the Big West together in 2017, historically leading the Aggies to two NCAA Tournament berths; they are seen as the centerpieces of their championship run.
UC Davis faced the No. 1 ranked defense in the conference at Long Beach State. The Aggies started the game on a 7-0 run and eventually led by an 11 margin. It was all Evanne Turner in the first quarter, scoring eight points while going 2/3 from downtown. Hall and Konrad scored five points apiece to put the Aggies ahead 20-12.
During the first quarter, the Beach struggled to score inside the paint, scoring two of their 12 points inside, but their defense forced five turnovers leading to five points. Long Beach played under pressure defensively as they have all season, leading the conference in the most steals and hitting three to stay afloat in the first quarter.
“They played a lot of different defenses and they constantly alternate between zone and man and pressure and trapping, so they try to create a frenetic atmosphere, so our game plan was just to break the pressure, stay calm. and keep it simple against their zones,” Gross said.
Turner opened the second quarter with a three-pointer to take an 11-point lead. The range continued to miss shots, but their active defensive hands continued to force the Aggies into poor decisions, resulting in eight turnovers throughout the quarter. The defense was starting to take its toll on Aggie’s offense.
Also in the second quarter, the Long Beach bench played a key role in their comeback, scoring 14 points. They took their first lead of the game, 34-32 with 59 seconds left. The visiting team eventually got free throws on a foul that earned them four points.
On the other hand, the Aggie defense couldn’t create any chances with a single steal. Stobbart and Hall had a rare and calm quarter, combining for zero points. Their bench didn’t bring much with only three points. The UC Davis offense was outscored 12-24 to close out the quarter.
“There were too many times where we fell into their rhythm, and we just couldn’t seamlessly step into our offensive actions,” Gross said.
The Aggies looked alive in the third on an 8-0 run, six of three by freshman Sydney Burns and a Hall jumper gave the Aggies a four-point lead, 40-36. However, Long Beach senior Justina King scored four runs on a turnover and foul to tie the game at 40. The Aggies struggled to contain King inside the paint, sending him to back to the free throw line for free points. The range scored eight points on turnovers during the quarter.
Since the 7:38 mark of the third quarter, no other Aggie has scored besides Konrad, who scored six in a row until the final 59 seconds. At this point in the game, Stobbart went to the line for two, making one to put UC Davis ahead 47-46. In the next possession, sophomore Kianna Hamilton-Fisher hit a quick three on Konrad, silencing the home crowd in the process. With 30 seconds remaining in the third period, the home side held on to the ball and let time run out until the dying seconds when Hall drew in the defense and sent the ball to Burns who fired a floater to one hand on two defenders at the buzzer to finish tied for third at 49 plays.
Both teams played excellent defense in the fourth quarter and the Aggies led 57-51 over the final five minutes. Just as the home team was starting to get comfortable, the Long Beach defense wouldn’t leave, using full court pressure forcing eight turnovers throughout the quarter. UC Davis held on to the lead until the final 38 seconds. Then Hamilton-Fisher drained a three to come back up by two. Eventually, Long Beach pulled away, stealing a road victory, 65-60.
UC Davis’ turnovers and missed free throws hurt them throughout the game. They shot 7-13 (54%) from the free throw line, turned the ball over 26 times and their bench was outscored 27-7. Three Aggies finished in double figures as Konrad led the way with 15 points and eight rebounds, followed by Burns’ 12 points and six assists and Evanne Turner’s 11 points. The two teams split the season series 1-1. The Aggies picked up a win at Long Beach on Jan. 29, winning by 10 points.
“It obviously came down to too many turnovers. If they want to score, it has to be in the half court. They do such a good job scoring turnovers,” Gross said after the game. “The first game we went to them we did a much better job and obviously the scoreline was in our favor because of that.”
Gross was asked if defensive pressure and fast hitting was an issue throughout the contest, “I think that was one of the issues that we didn’t adjust well,” she said . “There were times when we did that and we were very aggressive against that. Against this kind of pressure you have to be ready to attack, you have to be ready to take some risks.
After a two-day break on March 5, UC Davis honored Hall, Stobbart and Konrad before the whistleblower as they played their final home game as Aggie. The party didn’t stop there as the Aggies punctuated their season by beating Cal State Fullerton by 28 points, securing Gross’ 200th victory of her career. She is the fifth head coach in conference history to achieve such a feat.
“I’ve been very lucky to coach incredible teams here and fantastic student-athletes. Our staff is the oldest in the country. We’ve been together longer than any other staff in the Premier League, so it’s a testament to all my staff and the players we’ve coached,” Gross said. “These milestones are special because you can look back and say ‘wow, I coached amazing people and amazing teams’. For me, that’s kind of what it is: recognition. I’ve had a pretty awesome job here at UC Davis, coaching some amazing people and working with some really great staff.
Hall finished with 19 points and eight rebounds, Stobbart added 13 points with nine rebounds, and Konrad contributed with 11 points and three steals in their final dance at the University Credit Union Center.
“They helped elevate the program in so many ways,” Gross said of the three graduating seniors. “They came in first year, and they bought into this concept of wanting to be part of something special, and every year they did something that the team hadn’t done before. They were part of the teams who won the Big West championships, they were part of the teams that helped us get to our first NCAA tournament,”
“This year they were part of a team that went to top 25 Oregon on the road and beat Gonzaga, a mid-major powerhouse, so it was really cool to see them every year doing something something special and raise the bar for our program,” said Gross. “You can’t replace young people like that who have done so much for the program. All we can do at this point is try to give back all we can and help them leave a legacy for future Aggies.
Since the Aggies secured the sixth seed in the Big West Conference, they earned a bye to the first round of the Big West Conference tournament. In the quarterfinals, they will face a recent familiar foe, third seed Long Beach State at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson Nevada. It’s win, or go home.
Written by: Marlon Rolon — [email protected]