Part One: Non-conference slate sets stage for historic season
Part Two: Aggies build momentum throughout league play
Part Three: Team effort leads to Big West Tournament title
After winning the program's inaugural Big West Tournament championship, and clinching its first ticket to the Big Dance, UC Davis basketball, and its supporters, experienced a week like no other in the program's history -- covered in the fourth part of the team's 2016-17 season review.
Less than nine hours after the final horn sounded, the court was stormed, nets were cut and a trophy was hoisted by a NCAA Tournament-bound championship team, the Big West's representative in the Big Dance headed back to Davis to celebrate with their fans and discover their postseason destiny.
Before the world found out who the Aggies faced in their first postseason game, a sea of supporters patiently waited outside the Pavilion for the team's bus to arrive. And once it did, that scene mirrored what took place on the Honda Center's floor the previous night.
From the sign-carrying kids who stood on the corner of La Rue and Orchard Roads to welcome everyone back to campus (and were the first to high-five the players once they stepped off the bus), to the students, fans, locals and Band Uh! members in attendance, the celebration continued throughout the morning until everyone relocated across the street to The Grad, site of UC Davis' official Selection Show watch party.
It was there when the world found out that the Aggies were Dayton-bound to face North Carolina Central in a First Four game. Shortly thereafter, amidst a throng of television cameras, photographers, and reporters, the team received word that its flight would take off for Ohio in the morning.
Welcome to March Madness.
From the moment the bus left campus Monday morning until the team's first film session that evening inside its hotel in Dayton, everyone in the travel party soaked in the experience as much as possible. Even a snowstorm that passed through the city did little to dampen the excitement surrounding UC Davis' trip.
Shortly after a large crowd of locals welcomed the team to its hotel, players and coaches reconvened to prep for their upcoming game. Everyone had less than 48 hours to break down film, generate a game plan, learn as much as possible about North Carolina Central, attend various meetings, proctor or take finals, participate in press conferences and conduct their shootarounds before it was time to play basketball.
Once the Aggies returned to a packed University of Dayton Arena Wednesday afternoon, every student-athlete was ready to show what UC Davis basketball was all about, and let the world discover firsthand why this is a program on the rise.
Even though the Aggies were making their first Tournament appearance, they refused to let this opportunity overwhelm or intimidate them, and attacked the Eagles' defense from start to finish. As was the case throughout the entire season, UC Davis' defense frustrated its opponent, even though NCCU prepared for this challenge and knew what to expect.
As the only postseason college basketball game in the country taking place at that time, a worldwide audience watched the Aggies nail three crucial free throws, the last by Lawrence White with 16 seconds remaining, to secure a 67-63 victory and a trip to the Midwest Regional.
Led by Chima Moneke's 18 points and 12 rebounds, Brynton Lemar's 15 points and White's 14 points, UC Davis' first NCAA Tournament appearance was a resounding success; with that result, a thrilling and historic season continued with a First Round matchup vs. Kansas. Less than two hours after celebrating that victory, the Aggies returned to Dayton International Airport because their flight to Tulsa, Okla., was ready and waiting.
Film sessions, shootaround, interviews, finals, meetings: The scene that took place earlier that week in Dayton continued for UC Davis with a slight catch: the Aggies were given only one day to prep for Jayhawks.
It is an undeniable fact: no 16-seeded team has defeated a No. 1 in NCAA Tournament history. And even though UC Davis was aware of this tidbit, Moneke accurately reflected his team's attitude, and perspective with this quote, which took place during the Aggies' press conference following their First Four victory:
"It's going to happen eventually, that's how I look at it. And we all can play at this level. I don't fear anybody, but I respect everybody. With the way we play on defense, we can compete in any game. And if we continue to play like the way we have the past few weeks, we can definitely accomplish this."
From the moment the Aggies stepped inside the BOK Center for the first time Thursday afternoon, everyone was relaxed, loose, and enjoyed each and every moment of its 60-minute open shootaround. When basketball fans caught half the team chatting, and taking photos with NBA Hall of Fame member Reggie Miller (part of the television crew responsible for calling the following day's game) after its practice concluded, everyone inside the arena knew UC Davis was loose, yet focused, and did not fear its opponent.
Less than 24 hours later, the Aggies returned to the court for their Midwest Regional First Round game in front of a pro-Jayhawk crowd that made the three-plus hour drive from Lawrence, Kansas, to Tulsa.
Even though their trip to Oklahoma might have taken a little longer compared to their counterparts, UC Davis' fans, a contingent that filled numerous sections of the lower bowl, arrived ready to cheer their team to victory. Also donning Aggie blue and gold that day, as part of the legendary actor's birthday celebration, was Rob Lowe and his son.
Once action started, UC Davis and Kansas entertained everyone inside the arena, millions of college basketball fans and Aggie supporters who gathered at one of more than 50 watch parties around the world with a competitive, physical and fast-paced game that included numerous tied scores and lead changes.
Even though the Jayhawks ultimately pulled away and advanced to the Round of 32, one of the most indelible moments of that afternoon (and UC Davis' postseason run) took place once the cameras were turned off and KU left the court.
Throughout its historical season, UC Davis strengthened its position within college basketball's national landscape, represented the school, its students, alumni and supporters in a first-class manner the entire time. The players truly embraced their role as University ambassadors, and showed firsthand what made UC Davis special.
During its inaugural March Madness experience, this team showed the world once again that the student-athlete ideal thrives at UC Davis. In a city located 15 minutes west of Sacramento, young men and women who compete in one of the school's 23 athletics programs receive a world-class education -- one that justifiably deserves its place in a national conversation among such schools as Stanford, Northwestern and Ivy League institutions -- and succeed at the highest levels of Division I competition.
This is why shortly after the final buzzer sounded, the 14,715 in attendance showed their appreciation for both teams by giving them a well-deserved ovation. However, that applause grew in intensity once Kansas left the court; it was that moment when the Aggies realized that show of respect was squarely focused on them for their hard work, the way they competed, represented themselves, their school and the way they respected the game.
This group of scholar-ballers not only soaked up every second of this moment, they displayed their appreciation in return by applauding the crowd, shaking hands with television, radio crews and media sitting courtside, signing autographs and taking photos with fans waiting next to the tunnel that led to their locker room.
Even though a historic season ended in Tulsa that day, each player (especially the Aggies' five-member senior class that competed in the final game of their college career) knew they created another special milestone for a program on the rise.
The final part of UC Davis' 2016-17 season review will spotlight the awards, accolades, honors, records and highlights that made this legacy-cementing year one that no Aggie fan will ever forget.