Challenging slate lies ahead for defending champs

Sept. 15, 2017

2017-18 UC Davis Women's Basketball Schedule

DAVIS, Calif. -- A non-conference schedule that features six postseason teams from a year ago and eight that finished among the top 150 in the final RPI rankings sets the scene for a challenging slate of contests as the defending Big West Conference champion UC Davis women's basketball team released its schedule for the upcoming 2017-18 season, Head Coach Jennifer Gross announced on Friday.

Season ticket plans for this year's campaign start as low as $90 for the 14-game home portion of the schedule and will be available for purchase beginning Friday (Sept. 15) at 10 a.m., by contacting the UC Davis athletic ticket office at (530) 752-AGS1 or online at UCDavisAggies.com.

Coming off a season that saw them finish 25-8 overall and advance to the "Sweet 16" of the WNIT for the first time in program history, the Aggies will take on a pair of NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago in Oregon State and Big West Conference rival Long Beach State, while Washington State (semifinals), Seattle (first round), Saint Mary's (first round), UCF (second round), and Fordham (second round), all made the postseason WNIT field. In all, UC Davis, which finished the year ranked No. 83 in the RPI, is scheduled to face eight opponents that finished last year ranked among the top 150 in the nation in the final RPI.

"Our goal is always to put together a schedule that will challenge us on the road as well as provide our fans the opportunity to see some great games in The Pavilion," Gross said. "We will be playing against some new teams that we haven't faced before, as well as teams that we have built a nice rivalry with over the past few years. We have a very exciting schedule in front of us that will help prepare us for Big West play."

A home-heavy start will give local fans the opportunity to see the defending champs up close as UC Davis opens with its first four contests within the friendly confines of The Pavilion, easing into the schedule with an exhibition against NCAA Division II Academy of Art on Nov. 3. UC Davis' schedule then begins in earnest on Nov. 10, with an opening-night clash against Washington State in a rematch of last year's WNIT "Sweet 16" battle in Pullman which was won by the Cougars.

Home contests against Pepperdine (Nov. 12) and Portland State (Nov. 17) follow, before the Aggies make the short jaunt south to take on Pacific on Nov. 20 in their road opener for the second straight year. The road swing continues with contests at Southern Utah (Nov. 24) and Seattle (Nov. 26) following the Thanksgiving holiday before a run of three straight games against local foes tips off against Causeway Cup rival Sacramento State at home on Nov. 30, followed by a home game against San Francisco (Dec. 6) and a road game at Saint Mary's (Dec. 9).

Following final exams, the gauntlet continues with the second-ever meetings with UCF on Dec. 17 at The Pavilion before the Aggies make a return trip to Corvallis, Ore., to take on NCAA Tournament qualifier Oregon State in a mid-week clash on Dec. 20. Following the Christmas break, UC Davis takes to the skies and heads to New York as one of four teams to compete at the 11th Annual Rose Hill Classic in The Bronx hosted by Fordham, opening against Yale from the Ivy League on Dec. 28, before taking on either the Rams or Hartford a day later.

The Aggies ring in the new year on the road to open their defense of their Big West Conference crown on Jan. 4 at UC Irvine -- marking the fourth consecutive season that UC Davis will begin the conference schedule away from home -- before hosting Hawai'i in their league home opener two days later.

This year's Big West Tournament tips-off with the first two rounds at Titan Gym on the campus of Cal State Fullerton on March 6-7, with the semifinals (March 9) and championship (March 10) held at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The NCAA Tournament begins on March 16 with the opening round games and concludes with the "Final Four" and national championship game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on March 30 and April 1.

"Our coaching staff is very excited about the group of student-athletes that we have the opportunity to coach this season," Gross said. "We have a nice mix of veteran leadership and young talent, but the best part is that they are all selfless individuals who put the team first. We are excited for the upcoming season to get started."

UC Davis returns all but one player from last season's run, bringing back all five starters off a roster that helped lead the Aggies to their most wins in a season since 1998-99 (25-4) and set school single-season records for three-pointers made (252), assists (533), and blocks (129), while pacing the Big West in six different categories including scoring (68.9 ppg), scoring defense (61.0 ppg), scoring margin (+7.9 ppg), field goal percentage (.437), field goal percentage defense (.362), and three-point percentage (.364).

All-Big West first team selections junior Morgan Bertsch (15.8 ppg) and senior Pele Gianotti (11.2 ppg), as well as second-team honoree senior Dani Nafekh (11.0 ppg), pace the offense, which also returns sharp-shooting senior guard Rachel Nagel, who averaged 17.8 ppg in the Aggies' four postseason games last season, and junior guard Kourtney Eaton, whose 142 assists last year were tied for second on the school's all-time list.

2017-18 UC DAVIS WOMEN'S BASKETBALL NON-CONFERENCE OPPONENTS AT-A-GLANCE
Fri., Nov. 3 -- ACADEMY OF ART (Exhibition): The NCAA Division II Urban Knights finished 16-12 overall and 12-8 in the PacWest Conference, finishing seventh in the league and just missing out on a conference tournament berth... The team is scheduled to return eight letter winners for the 2017-18 season and its top two scorers from a year ago in senior guard Rodericka Ware (17.8 ppg) and junior forward Helena Orts (15.3 ppg).

Fri., Nov. 10 -- WASHINGTON STATE: UC Davis' season opener will be a rematch of last year's season finale as the Aggies and Cougars renew their rivalry that began in the "Sweet 16" of last year's WNIT... Washington State finished 16-20 overall and 6-12 in the Pacific-12 Conference, winning six of its final eight games of an injury-plagued year before eventually falling to Georgia Tech in the WNIT semifinals, ending the year ranked No. 101 in the final RPI... The Cougars return their top five scorers from last season led by junior guard Alexys Swedlund, who averaged 11.9 ppg in 36 contests, while three others averaged double figures, but did not finish the year due to injuries: sophomore forward Borislava Hristova (14.7 ppg in nine games), sophomore guard Chanelle Molina (12.8 ppg in 17 games), and junior forward Louise Brown (10.4 ppg in seven games).

Sun., Nov. 12 -- PEPPERDINE: The Waves are coming off a 7-23 season, but are under new leadership as WNBA veteran and two-time Olympic gold medalist DeLisha Milton-Jones was named head coach of the program in March... Milton-Jones played 17 seasons in the WNBA with five different teams, and won gold medals at the 2000 and 2008 summer games... Leading scorer Yasmine Robinson-Bacote returns for her third season after averaging 14.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, and shooting .440 from the floor for the year... A young roster that featured 12 underclassmen (including seven redshirt or true freshmen) last season received a boost with the addition of a pair of post players in graduate transfers in Tylinn Carter (Delaware State) and Peyton Langston (Evansville) to go along with four incoming freshmen.

Fri., Nov. 17 -- PORTLAND STATE: The Vikings produced one of the top turnarounds in the nation last season, finishing 16-17 overall and seventh in the Big Sky Conference with an 8-10 record -- just one year after finishing 4-26 to tie for the eighth-best improvement in the win column in NCAA Division I women's basketball...  Portland State gained the Big Sky Tournament semifinals before falling to Idaho State, tentatively returning eight letter winners and three starters for 2017-18... Leading scorer junior guard Ashley Bolston leads a trio who averaged double figures a season ago, putting up 15.8 ppg while shooting .437 from the floor.

Mon., Nov. 20 -- AT PACIFIC: The Tigers are coming off a season that saw them finish 10-21 overall and 5-13 in the West Coast Conference, advancing to the quarterfinals of the league tournament before falling to eventual tournament champion Gonzaga... Pacific returns seven letter winners and its top three scorers from last season, led by leading scorer GeAnna Luaulu-Summers, who averaged 14.5 ppg as a junior in 28 games and shot 38 percent from the floor... The Tigers welcome five true freshman and one redshirt freshman to the fold for head coach Bradley Davis' third season at the helm.

Fri., Nov. 24 -- AT SOUTHERN UTAH: The Thunderbirds finished 7-23 overall and 2-17 in the Big Sky Conference a year ago, losing 17 of their final 19 games with a roster that featured 10 underclassmen and only two seniors... Southern Utah loses two of its top three scorers as sophomore forward Darri Frandsen leads the way into the 2017-18 campaign after averaging 12.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg while shooting 45 percent from the floor.

Sun., Nov. 26 -- AT SEATTLE: The Redhawks made a run into the postseason after finishing second in the Western Athletic Conference and advancing to the championship game of the conference tournament before falling to Wyoming in the first round of the WNIT... Led by senior All-WAC selection Alexis Montgomery, who averaged 15.4 ppg and 8.3 rpg as a junior, and WAC Freshman of the Year Kamira Sanders (7.2 ppg, .451 FG%), Seattle finished 15-18 overall and 10-4 in conference play, with wins over Chicago State and Utah Valley in the league tournament before falling to New Mexico State.

Thurs., Nov. 30 -- SACRAMENTO STATE: The annual Causeway Cup rivalry will be held on this side of the Causeway in 2017-18, as the Aggies close out the first month of play at home against the Hornets, who finished 10-20 overall and 6-12 in the Big Sky a season ago... UC Davis has won two of the last three meetings with Sacramento State, following a record-setting 110-78 win last season, as the Hornets lose three of their top four scorers from their high-powered offense that averaged 82.4 ppg (eighth in the NCAA)... Senior guard Maranne Johnson led the way, averaging 15.0 ppg and shooting just under 38 percent from the floor.

Wed.., Dec. 6 -- SAN FRANCISCO: The Dons finished their 2016-17 season with an 18-13 overall record and an 11-7 mark in West Coast Conference play before falling to eventual champion Gonzaga in the semifinals of the league tournament... USF finished strong, winning five of its last six, and tentatively returns nine letter winners off of last season's roster, led by senior guard Anna Seilund, who finished second on the team in scoring at 11.9 ppg and paced the squad at 4.0 apg while shooting .353 from the field.

Sat., Dec. 9 -- AT SAINT MARY'S: Fresh off a berth in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game and a WNIT berth, the Aggies head to Moraga, Calif., to take on Saint Mary's in a rivalry that has seen the last three games decided by seven points or less -- including an overtime UC Davis win in 2015 and a victory at the buzzer by the Aggies last season in Davis... Finishing 20-13 overall and 13-5 in the WCC following wins in 12 of their final 16 games, the Gaels (No. 114 in the final RPI) fell to Gonzaga in the WCC championship game following wins over Santa Clara and BYU, and battled Colorado State to overtime before falling in the first round of the WNIT... Saint Mary's is scheduled to return its top four scorers off of last season's squad, paced just senior guard Stella Beck, who averaged 13.0 ppg and shot .546 from the field.

Sun., Dec. 17 -- UCF: Ending the year among the top 100 teams in the final RPI (No. 97), the Golden Knights advanced to the second round of the WNIT after compiling a 21-12 overall record and a 9-7 mark in the American Athletic Conference -- an improvement of 12 1/2 games in the win column after finishing 7-23 in 2015-16... UCF reached the semifinals of the AAC Tournament and posted a win over in-state rival Stetson in the WNIT opener before falling to Georgia Tech... Senior guard Aliyah Gregory leads the way for the returning group after averaging 16.6 ppg and shooting .443 from the floor, while the Golden Knights gain the services of senior transfer Zakiya Saunders, who sat out last season after ranking sixth in the NCAA in assists (6.9 apg) as a junior at Albany.

Tues., Dec. 20 -- AT OREGON STATE: One of the top teams in the nation in 2016-17, the Beavers finished the year ranked No. 4 in the RPI after winning the Pacific-12 Conference regular season title and reaching the conference tournament championship game before falling to Stanford... Ending the season with a 31-5 overall record and a 16-2 mark in the Pac-12, Oregon State advanced to the "Sweet 16" of the NCAA Tournament following wins over Long Beach State and Creighton, before falling to Florida State in the regional semifinals... The Beavers tentatively return nine players off of last season squad, but lose leading "jill-of-all-trades" Sydney Wiese, who averaged 15.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, and 4.53 apg... Six-foot-five center Marie Gulich is the leading returning scorer after averaging 9.9 ppg and 8.1 rpg while blocking 62 shots and shooting .469 from the floor.

Thurs.-Fri., Dec. 28-29 -- AT 11th ANNUAL ROSE HILL CLASSIC: The Aggies close out the non-conference schedule by heading to the East Coast to participate in the 11th annual Rose Hill Classic where they open against Yale on Thursday before taking on either host Fordham or Hartford on day two... Yale, ranked No. 133 in the final RPI, finished the year with a 15-12 overall record and a 6-8 mark in the Ivy League, and is scheduled to return 11 letter winners off of last season's roster that featured 11 underclassmen... Senior-to-be Jen Berkowitz averaged 13.4 ppg and 6.9 rpg while shooting 51 percent from the floor to pace the Bulldogs... Fordham finished No. 119 in the final RPI following a season that saw the Rams finish 22-12 overall and 11-5 in the Atlantic-10 Conference, advancing to the second round of the WNIT after a win over Georgetown and a loss to Penn State... Senior forward G'mrice Davis averaged 14.6 ppg and 12.8 rpg while shooting .481 from the floor last season for Fordham... Hartford finished 17-14 and 7-9 in the America East Conference a season ago, advancing to the semifinals of the conference tournament before falling to Albany by two points... Junior-to-be Lindsay Abed leads the returners after averaging 11.6 ppg and 4.4 rpg while shooting 40 percent from the field and beyond the arc as the Hawks are scheduled to return eight players off of last season's squad.

2017-18 UC DAVIS WOMEN'S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
Nov. 3 vs. Academy of Art (ex.), 5:00 p.m.
Nov. 10 vs. Washington State, 7:00 p.m.
Nov. 12 vs. Pepperdine, 2:00 p.m.
Nov. 17 vs. Portland State, 7:00 p.m.
Nov. 20 at Pacific, 7:00 p.m.
Nov. 24 at Southern Utah, 2:00 p.m.
Nov. 26 at Seattle, 2:00 p.m.
Nov. 30 vs. Sacramento State, 7:00 p.m.
Dec. 6 vs. San Francisco (DH), TBA
Dec. 9 at Saint Mary's, 1:00 p.m.
Dec. 17 vs. UCF, 4:00 p.m.
Dec. 20 at Oregon State, 6:00 p.m.
Dec. 28 vs. Yale (at 11th Annual Rose Hill Classic), 3:30 p.m. ET
Dec. 29 vs. Fordham or Hartford (at 11th Annual Rose Hill Classic), 1/3:30 p.m. ET
Jan. 4 at UC Irvine*, 7:00 p.m.
Jan. 6 vs. Hawai'i*, 2:00 p.m.
Jan. 11 vs. UC Riverside*, 7:00 p.m.
Jan. 18 at UC Santa Barbara*, 7:00 p.m.
Jan. 20 at Cal Poly*, 2:00 p.m.
Jan. 24 vs. Cal State Fullerton*, 7:00 p.m.
Jan. 27 vs. UC Santa Barbara* (DH), TBA
Feb. 1 at Long Beach State*, 7:00 p.m.
Feb. 3 at CSUN*, 2:00 p.m.
Feb. 7 vs. Cal Poly*, 7:00 p.m.
Feb. 10 vs. CSUN* (DH), TBA
Feb. 15 vs. Long Beach State*, 7:00 p.m.
Feb. 17 at Hawai'i*, 7:00 p.m. HT
Feb. 24 vs. UC Irvine* (DH), TBA
March 1 at Cal State Fullerton*, 7:00 p.m.
March 3 at UC Riverside*, 2:00 p.m.
March 6-10 at Big West Conference Tournament (Fullerton & Anaheim, Calif.)
March 16-19 at NCAA 1st & 2nd Rounds (Campus Sites)
March 23-26 at NCAA Regionals (Albany, N.Y.; Kansas City, Mo.; Lexington, Ky.; Spokane, Wash.)
March 30 at NCAA "Final Four" (Columbus, Ohio)
April 1 at NCAA Championship (Columbus, Ohio)

* denotes Big West Conference game
(DH) denotes doubleheader with the UC Davis men's team