Eight minutes into Thursday’s game, UC Davis was already trailing Cal State Northridge by 11 points. The Aggies have been prone to slow starts this season and head coach Jim Les has been waiting for them to make a stand on defense.
They did. Sophomore J.T. Adenrele spearheaded the defensive effort that held the Matadors to only four points for the remaining 12 minutes of the half. Meanwhile, the Aggie offense went on an 18-point run that gave them a 30-27 lead at the half.
The sparring returned after the break and the teams continued to swap the lead back and forth. The Aggies grabbed the lead midway through the second half, but this time, they refused to let it go.
Senior Paolo Mancasola scored a career-high 18 points, including a very well-timed three-pointer that secured the 74-71 win for UC Davis.
The win was much needed after an ugly loss to UC Santa Barbara at home last week.
“We have played in so many close games, it is frustrating at times when you are just there and it does not go your way. We feel that we are a better team than our record indicates,” Mancasola said.
Mancasola and the team must have kept that momentum in their carry-ons as they crossed the Pacific to face off against one of the Big West Conference’s most dangerous teams.
Hawai’i has been championed by their 6’8” junior forward all season long. Christian Hardinger has averaged 15 points per game for the Rainbow Wahine, and his team had yet to be defeated at home.
Surprisingly, the Aggies came out of the game with a fire of their own. They led 54-37 at the half and Hawkins had already banked 21 points, which is three higher than his game average of 18.
UC Davis continued to scorch in the second half. Hawkins added another 19 points to his tally, earning him a grand total of 40 in the game. Somehow, he landed that monstrous, school-record setting sum from a mere 14 shots. His eight three-pointers tied the school record that was shared by senior Ryan Howley and junior Tyler Les.
Coach Les had nothing but praise for his team after their 93-82 victory over Hawai’i. He lauded the contribution of Mancasola and Adenrele but he was most impressed by Hawkin’s work ethic and seemingly limitless abilities.
“That is as good as it gets; he has been spending time in the gym before practice, after practice and before games constantly working on his jumper. How often do you see someone score 40 points off 14 shots? He was unbelievably efficient tonight,” Les said. “We want the ball in his hands, especially late in the game; there is nothing more discouraging to an opposing team that is trying to catch up than someone who makes his free throws.”
UC Davis now stands 3-3 in conference with games against fellow 3-3 Cal State Fullerton and 2-4 UC Riverside and two wins this week would go a long way toward earning them a top spot in conference.
KIM CARR can be reached at email@example.com.