It was a blazing start from the field for the Aggies, who raced out to an 18-9 lead, forcing the Eagles to make a defensive adjustment. Junior Chima Moneke got the Aggies going, scoring eight of his 18 points during the spurt. UC Davis also connected on two early three-pointers off hard dribble penetration and pick rolls.
The counter to the early Aggie offensive explosion, a switch to a 1-3-1 zone, actually worked in NC Central’s favor, as it created turnovers, got out in transition, and changed the game to the Eagles’ style of play. Everything began to crank up for the Eagles off of their defense, who put together a 12-0 response to take a 21-18 lead, igniting Dajuan Graf.
The Eagles and Aggies would go back and forth to complete the first half with NC Central going into the break up 34-31.
A 9-0 UC Davis run to start the second half put them ahead 40-34 to take back momentum. Moneke and Lawrence White continued to be aggressive, attacking the basket and creating for others. White’s defense has been a huge reason the Aggies are in control, making it difficult for Eagles leading scorer Patrick Cole to find his touch.
Just as the Aggies looked to seize the moment, the Eagles forced three consecutive turnovers out of a half court 1-3-1 trap, getting them right back into the contest. Turnovers plagued UC Davis throughout the game, but the Aggies always had a response for NC Central.
To the surprise of no one familiar with either team, their true identities kicked in midway through the second half, and a defensive battle ensued. Both defenses left their imprints, forces scoring droughts and contested shots on each end.
The final three minutes was a war of attrition, managing the clock, taking care of the basketball, and making big-time plays. A crucial turnover by the Eagles, trailing 62-60 with just over two minutes left, made it an uphill climb. Moneke sank two free throws on the ensuing possession, but Graf followed by sinking a huge three to cut the lead to 64-63 with 1:52 remaining.
A questionable three by Graf with nine seconds on the shot clock was off the mark, leading to two free throws from Lawrence White, making it 66-63. The Eagles had two opportunities to tie but couldn’t get the shot to fall.
UC Davis will now play Kansas as the Aggies look to pull a shocker. That game will tip at approximately 6:50 p.m. on Friday.