UC Davis basketball's five-part review continues with a look at the Aggies' Big West season, one that featured another impressive showing on ESPN, an undefeated home record, and a moment that helped fuel the team's run through the league's year-end tournament.
For the fifth year in a row, ESPN visited campus because UC Davis basketball is a program on the rise and worthy of national attention. Televised matchups involving the Aggies were always fun to watch and provided storylines that resonated with college basketball fans across the country.
With a packed Pavilion rocking the entire afternoon, a capacity crowd (and a nationally-televised audience) saw Chima Moneke’s tip-in take place milliseconds after regulation ended, and witnessed UC Davis respond to that heartbreaking event by throttling the 49ers throughout the entire five-minute overtime period. That day, every college basketball expert, Big West team, coach and player realized that the road to a Big West title ran through Davis.
As was the case with the Aggies’ 2014-15 Big West championship squad, last year’s team posted an undefeated record on Bob Hamilton Court. For the second time within the last three years, UC Davis also won 20 or more games and represented the Big West Conference in the postseason.
Two years ago, the Aggies made a name for themselves on college basketball’s landscape. Since then, the program has strengthened its reputation thanks to a suffocating defense, a multi-faceted offense and ability to succeed both in the classroom and on the court.
Simply stated: When confronted with a challenge, the Aggies found ways to succeed.
If UC Davis needed to keep the score low and let its defense carry it to victory, the entire team responded accordingly. If opponents wanted to turn a basketball game into an indoor track meet by running up and down the court for 40 minutes, the Aggies were more that willing to lace up their shoes and light up the scoreboard. If other teams packed the paint and forced UC Davis to hit their jumpers, it obliged and tickled the net on a consistent basis.
Coaches that chose to foul the Aggies and forced them to sink shots at the line, in key situations, were often burned. Forcing UC Davis to record points from three, and daring them to consistently hit shots from distance, often yielded similar results.
Just like the team that brought the first BWC title to Davis, the 2016-17 squad featured numerous players who held conference and national rankings.
Brynton Lemar and Moneke’s names were consistently featured when the NCAA, and conference officials, revealed their lists of top scorers. The latter also led the league, and earned a spot among the nation’s elite with his field goal percentage, rebound totals, rebound and blocked shot averages.
From the Aggies’ season opener, to its final game of the season, Lemar, Darius Graham and Siler Schneider were three of the league’s top shooters from distance.
What first took place two years ago also became a consistent occurrence this past season when UC Davis’ name was found among the top mid-major programs in the nation when the Top 25 Poll was released every Monday.
Hard work, and countless hours building the team’s chemistry played key roles in the team’s success, but it was the way the Aggies responded to adversity that grabbed the attention of other Big West coaches, their respective teams, UC Davis fans and college basketball experts.
What every Big West team and fan looked forward to throughout the final weeks of league play became reality when UC Davis headed to UC Irvine on the final day of the season. With a regular season championship, the No. 1 seed in the league’s tournament, individual and team awards on the line, many pundits felt this matchup also provided a preview of the Big West Tournament’s championship game, scheduled to take at the Honda Center.
Even though the Anteaters ended that afternoon with a win, it was one word that was uttered by the Bren Events Center crowd in the waning moments of that contest that ultimately influenced each team’s conference playoff run the following week — a moment highlighted during the third part of UC Davis basketball’s 2016-17 season recap.