Imagine playing any sporting event with 40 percent of your starting lineup out due to injuries.
To men’s basketball coach Gary Stewart, this would be no justification for a 1-4 Big West Conference record.
The Aggies were without the offensive play of senior Mark Payne and defensive prowess of Todd Lowenthal in their 60-56 loss to Long Beach State.
“If I could go around the league and extract 40 percent of any one school’s starting lineup, I think it would change the complexion of that team,” Stewart said. “We’re disappointed that we’re sitting at 1-4 – there’s no question about that. Injuries are a part of basketball, and you have to adapt.”
UC Davis, a team with two of its starters on the bench, took the first-place 49ers down to a couple free throws and the final possession for a chance to tie.
With four seconds left, UC Davis was down by five and senior guard Joe Harden stepped up to the foul line.
Two free throws and a triple was the plan to tie the game, but a missed foul shot shattered the Aggies’ chances as the 49ers took the game, a 60-56 final.
Based on statistics, Stewart wouldn’t have changed anything about the way the team handled the final seconds.
“That’s basketball,” Stewart said. “Harden is our best free throw shooter on the floor. We felt very good about him stepping to the line. He’s not a 100-percent free throw shooter, nor is anybody in the country.”
Overall, Stewart was proud of the team’s competitiveness against the league’s top-ranked team.
“We had some good moments, but [the 49ers] were able to get some putbacks and some second-chance points that were critical,” Stewart said.
UC Davis was full of hope tied at 24 going into halftime, having shot 44 percent from three-point range in the first frame. Additionally, the 49ers turned the ball 12 times before the intermission, and the Aggies racked up 15 points on giveaways alone.
With 13:23 left in the second half, Long Beach State took control as guard Casper Ware hit a free throw to kick off a 17-2 run that would put the 49ers ahead 50-35.
The Aggies cut the lead to two with just 25 seconds left, but were unable to take the lead.
Harden led the Aggie offense with 20 points, followed closely by sophomore guard Ryan Sypkens who put up 16.
According to Stewart, what UC Davis needs going forward is a game-to-game flow.
“We’re struggling to get the type of continuity we need to have game in and game out,” Stewart said. “We have good spurts, and we’re playing better for longer periods of time, but we’re struggling to get that consistency.”
But Stewart says that with nearly half of the starting lineup missing, Aggie basketball – like Rome – cannot be built in a day.
“Things take time,” Stewart said. “We’re getting people that are acclimated to their role, to college basketball, to the Big West and to our system. We’re not waiting at all. We’re working on it in practice. We’re one and two and three possessions away.
“Are we disappointed that our record isn’t better? Yes. Are we dwelling on the past? No. We’re not ready to be eulogized.”
UC Davis will next be in action at home against Pacific on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.
GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org