Even though UC Irvine won Thursday’s game at the Bren Events Center by an 83-72 score, basketball fans will quickly forget the final result because the Aggies’ second-half comeback is what they will remember the most from this Big West battle.
Trailing by as many as 20 points in the second half, UC Davis’ defense fueled its come-from-behind effort, one that saw the Aggies out-score the Anteaters 31-16, enjoy a 12-2 run and hold UCI scoreless for nearly five minutes of action to pull within five in the final minutes of the game.
Forced to foul to preserve as much time as possible, the Anteaters hit their free throws and were able to extend their home win streak against league teams to 11.
“There are some really good takeaways from this game,” said head coach Jim Les. “I love the way we started in the first half. Guys that we wanted to take shots were making them, so give them credit.”
Kennedy Koehler opened the game with a layup, followed by a fast break jumper in the paint and another jump shot from Pepper on consecutive Aggie possessions — a drawn charge from Ezra Manjon took place between Pepper’s baskets — which forced the Anteaters to burn a timeout 43 seconds after tipoff.
“I loved the fight in the second half … loved the way they battled, loved the way they competed, and loved the way they did not give up,” Les added.
UC Davis will return to ESPN3 when it heads to Cal State Fullerton for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game, and will enter Titan Gym with an overall record of 9-15 and 3-5 league mark. UC Irvine will continue its week at 15-9 and 7-1.
Elijah Pepper led all Aggies with 12 points, Stefan Gonzalez added another 11, Matt Neufeld and Caleb Fuller scored seven of their nine points after halftime. Neufeld also collected five of his team-high seven rebounds in the second half.
UC Davis also took advantage of UCI’s miscues, and scored 20 of its points throughout the night off 16 Anteater turnovers.
Eight of the Anteaters’ 18 first half baskets were from three, which is how they were able to hold a 44-33 lead at halftime. They also scored 13 of 15 points early in the second half, which led to their game-high cushion before the Aggies roared back to make it a two-possession game entering the homestretch.
Les added, “We will learn from this, take tomorrow to decompress, and prepare for what we know will be a tough game Saturday night.”
In addition to ESPN3’s broadcast of this weekend’s Aggies-Titans tilt, 1380 AM The Answer will carry Scott Marsh’s courtside call from Fullerton.