Nov. 11, 2010
DAVIS, Calif. -
Since joining the Big West Conference in 2007, the UC Davis women's basketball team has been to the league's tournament championship twice, falling short of a coveted berth in the NCAA Tournament on each occasion. The Aggies hope the third time is the charm in 2010-11.
With nearly the entire lineup from last year's 21-11 team returning and added motivation to send out retiring head coach Sandy Simpson on a high note, plenty of excitement brims for UC Davis which opens its season on Friday night at the University of San Francisco. The Aggies will make their home debut on Sunday against Washington State.
It's easy to see why optimism is prevalent for the Aggies. They welcome back four starters from last year's squad that captured the Big West's regular-season title with a 12-4 record and eventually advanced to the Women's National Invitational Tournament for the second time in three seasons. Nine letterwinners return overall.
UC Davis enters the year as the media's favorite to capture this year's Big West title.
As was the case last season, depth will be a strength for Simpson who announced in October that the upcoming season would be his last. Simpson, who's amassed a program-best 227 wins in 13 seasons, will turn the reins over to associate head coach Jennifer Gross who's been named to the post on a permanent basis.
That depth begins with a pair of All-Big West honorees in senior 6-foot-2 post Paige Mintun and senior wing player Heidi Heintz. Mintun, who needs just 94 points to reach 1,000 for her career, was honored on the Big West's first team for the second straight year after leading UC Davis in scoring (13.0), rebounding (4.6) and blocks (35). She is a preseason All-Big West pick this year.
She also proved adept from long range, canning 31 three-pointers. Mintun added 65 assists - second-most on the team - and 37 steals and was named the league's Player of the Week near the end of the season after highlighting a win over Cal State Fullerton with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Mintun ended the season strong, averaging 18.8 points and 4.6 rebounds over the final five games.
Heintz transferred to UC Davis from San Francisco in 2008 but didn't make her debut until last season, doing so in a big way. Her versatility and all-out hustle were key factors for UC Davis, leading to her garnering second-team accolades.
The 5-10 Heintz was the only other player besides Mintun to average double-figures, scoring at a 10.8 clip while narrowly trailing her senior teammate in rebounding at 4.5 per game. She shot a team-best 48.6% from the floor and 85.6% at the line, and pitched in with 25 steals and 59 assists. Heintz punctuated her year with a season-high 22 points against UC Riverside in the Big West semifinals.
Juniors Kasey Riecks and Hana Asano round out the talented quartet of returning starters whose experience with the Aggies' complex and patient Princeton-style offense has helped the program define itself in the Big West.
Riecks, a 5-11 wing, was an all-conference honorable mention pick as a freshman two seasons ago and continued to make major contributions last year. She was one of four players to start all 32 games, busting a team-high 52 three-pointers while scoring 9.7 ppg. She twice scored 21 points, including the opener at Seattle when she canned a career-high five treys.
Asano returns to the point guard position where she also started every game last year while contributing a team-high 86 assists and also 66 steals, second on the squad behind graduated senior Haylee Donaghe. Her season also started well last year at Seattle when she had nine assists against no turnovers, helping her post a 1.53 assist/turnover ratio for 2009-10.
While Mintun, Heintz, Riecks and Asano started all 32 games, Simpson made use of a deep bench with nine players overall averaging at least 10 minutes a game, experience that should prove to be a key again this year.
Sophomore Vicky Deely, who like Mintun regained a year of eligibility after injuries derailed their true freshman seasons, returns along with juniors Lauren Juric and Samantha Meggison, and sophomore guard Blair Shinoda. Senior Anna Harp, who has been sidelined for the last two years, is hopeful to return after the season's start.
Deely, a 6-0 wing, provided an inside presence for the Aggies, averaging 5.2 ppg while shooting 46.9% from the floor. She had back-to-back double-digit scoring efforts against Long Beach State and four times had at least five rebounds.
Juric, who joined Riecks on the Big West's All-Freshman team in 2008-09 as well as being named the league's Freshman of the Year, is a 6-2 post who also has the ability to stretch the defense with a potent three-point shot. She made 18 last year - one of eight players to make at least 13 - while shooting at a 40% clip.
Meggison has been another steady performer for the Aggies who adds good defense (32 steals), a nice outside presence (18 treys) and averaged 4.2 ppg. She scored a season-high 12 points at Santa Clara early in the year. Shinoda saw plenty of court time as a true freshman, averaging just 1.3 ppg but providing solid backup to Asano at the point.
The returners will be complemented by four newcomers, three of them freshman. Sophomore point guard Hannah Stephens transferred from Utah prior to last season but sat out due to transfer rules. She brings added depth to the guard position and a season's worth of experience during practice running the offense.
Post Brianna Salvatore, a four-time All-Century League performer at Villa Park High School in Southern California, will make her debut, as weill 6-3 center Kelsey Beard from Centennial High School in Corona who set a Big 8 League record with 45 blocks last year.
Idit Oryon, from Hebrew University Secondary School in Jerusalem, Israel, is a 6-0 freshman forward who brings more depth inside the paint. She has solid international experience, having been part of Israel's national team program since she was 14, including averaging 11.6 ppg for Israel during the 2006 FIBA U16 event.
Junior Cortney French, a three-point specialist who made 32 last year, will redshirt for UC Davis this season.
The schedule will be another challenging one for the Aggies who play two Pac-10 teams, including preseason top-20 UCLA (Nov. 21), along with the remainder of a nonconference slate that also includes South Carolina (Nov. 28) at home and road matchups at Kansas State (Dec. 12) and Wichita State (Dec. 14).
The Big West schedule will also be tough with defending champion UC Riverside, perennial power UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly highlighting a conference that is increasingly close from top to bottom.
It'll be the final trip through the league for Simpson who announced his retirement in order to spend more time with his young family. He's the program's all-time leader for wins, has twice already been named the Big West Coach of the Year, and has led UC Davis into the WNIT twice in the Aggies' first three seasons at the NCAA Division I level.