DAVIS, Calif. -- Facing their largest deficit of the season, the Aggies leaned on their defense to trim a 25-point disadvantage to single digits early in the fourth quarter, but a furious second-half rally fell just short as visiting UCF handed UC Davis its first loss of the year, 62-55, on Sunday evening at The Pavilion.
One of only 12 remaining unbeaten teams entering the week, the Aggies' best-ever start came to an end with the defeat, falling to 9-1 overall on the year and halting their run of 11 straight wins at home dating back to last season.
The Knights, who shot 55 percent in the opening half and 45 percent overall for the game, avenged a six-point loss on their home court at the hands of UC Davis last season, improving to 7-4 overall.
"The biggest adjustment that we had to make was that we had to play with a lot more fight," Head Coach Jennifer Gross said. "We were a watered down version of ourselves in the first half and I think the players felt that. However, I was really proud of our group for responding and playing with a lot more fire in the second half. Every game, win or lose, we're going to learn from it and use it to make us better."
Junior biomedical engineering major Morgan Bertsch led the way with her 10th double-digit performance of the year, scoring 12 of her team-high 14 points during the Aggies' second-half rally to go with three blocks, while sophomore communication major Nina Bessolo added 11 points in 17 minutes off the bench to go along with three steals.
Senior political science major Pele Gianotti and freshman cell biology major Cierra Hall led the way on the glass with nine rebounds apiece -- the latter setting a new career high in the category while grabbing six offensive rebounds and adding eight points.
Masseny Kaba led all players with a game-high 18 points for UCF, but was held to just two points in the second half before fouling out. Korneila Wright (16 points) and Aliyah Gregory (10 points) were also in double figures, while Nyala Shuler grabbed 14 rebounds.
After Kaba and Wright hit back-to-back baskets to open the third quarter and stretch a 39-18 halftime lead out to 25 points just 1:29 into the period, UC Davis caught fire on both ends of the court. A jumper by senior design major Marly Anderson was the first bucket in a 15-2 run for the Aggies, who held the Knights to just one field goal over the final eight minutes of the period.
"We needed a momentum change and, when Nina and Cierra went into the game, they brought some pressure, they were able to create some turnovers, it gave us a couple easy buckets, we got to the free throw line a few times, they really gave us some back up on the boards," Gross said. "Those two, in particular, gave us a great boost off the bench."
A Bessolo three-pointer -- her second of the night -- made it a 10-point game at the end of three quarters, capping a burst that saw UC Davis score 18 of the final 21 points in the period, and her third trey just a minute-and-a-half into the fourth got the Aggies to within single-digits for the first time since the end of the first quarter at 48-39 with 8:22 to play.
UC Davis continued to chip away, getting back-to-back baskets by Bertsch and Hall to make it a seven-point game with 7:02 to play, and closing to within six points on three-pointer by Dani Nafekh with 2:38 to play, but the rally stalled and the Aggies could get no closer.
Zakiya Saunders hit a short jumper out of a timeout, and free throws by Wright and Kayla Thigpen, who added a wide-open lay-up before the buzzer with the Aggies pressing in the backcourt for the final advantage.
After being held to just 6-for-26 (.231) in the first half, UC Davis shot 43 percent after the break during its comeback attempt, while the defense held UCF to just 32 percent (8-for-25) in the second half -- including a 25 percent clip in the third quarter.
The Aggies open a run of four straight away from the friendly confines of The Pavilion on Wednesday (Dec. 20), as UC Davis heads north to take on nationally ranked Oregon State at 6 p.m. at Gill Coliseum.
"One thing I know about our group is that we have a veteran team and we'll be ready to compete," Gross said. "To play a team like Oregon State on its home floor you have to be dialed in and bring a lot of confidence. We have to bounce back quickly and be ready to compete on the road."
UCF 62, UC DAVIS 55
KABA, Masseny 9-11 0-0 18; WRIGHT, Korneila 7-13 1-2 16; GREGORY, Aliyah 3-14 4-4 10; SAUNDERS, Zakiya 4-13 1-6 9; SHULER, Nyala 2-3 0-0 4; THIGPEN, Kayla 1-2 1-2 3; PAUL, Jamesha 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 26-58 9-16 62.
UC DAVIS (9-1)
Bertsch, Morgan 7-19 0-0 14; Bessolo, Nina 3-8 2-4 11; Hall, Cierra 2-8 4-7 8; Nafekh, Dani 3-9 0-0 7; Anderson, Marly 3-5 0-1 6; Nagel, Rachel 2-4 0-0 5; Gianotti, Pele 1-6 0-0 2; Eaton, Karley 0-0 2-3 2; Song, Sophia 0-0 0-0 0; Eaton, Kourtney 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-61 8-15 55.
UCF........................... 18 21 7 16 - 62
UC Davis...................... 10 8 18 19 - 55
3-point goals--UCF 1-4 (WRIGHT, Korneila 1-3; GREGORY, Aliyah 0-1), UC Davis 5-18 (Bessolo, Nina 3-5; Nagel, Rachel 1-2; Nafekh, Dani 1-6; Gianotti, Pele0-3; Eaton, Kourtney 0-2). Fouled out--UCF-KABA, Masseny, UC Davis-Bessolo, Nina. Rebounds--UCF 40 (SHULER, Nyala 14), UC Davis 37 (Gianotti, Pele 9; Hall, Cierra 9). Assists--UCF 12 (SAUNDERS, Zakiya 6), UC Davis 11 (Nafekh, Dani 3). Total fouls--UCF 18, UC Davis 21. Technical fouls--UCF-None, UC Davis-None. A-710
ABOUT UC DAVIS
Providing a small-town community feel while providing a world-class academic experience, UC Davis is home to more than 37,000 students and centrally located between San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and the Napa Valley. The No. 6-ranked public university in the nation according to the Wall Street Journal, and among the top 10 public universities nationwide according to U.S. News and World Report, UC Davis offers nearly 100 graduate programs and more than 100 academic majors across four colleges and six professional schools, ranking among the world and nation's best in numerous disciplines, including veterinary science, agriculture, and plant and animal programs.
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