Editor’s Note: Throughout the last decade, sports fans enjoyed memorable moments and unforgettable experiences involving UC Davis’ winter sports teams. UCDavisAggies.com will highlight 10 of those events in a weekly series that began in the fall, and continues this quarter called “10 for the 10s.”
The 2013-14 season represented a starting point for UC Davis. including Corey Hawkins’ 40-point game at Hawai’i (on 10 of 14 shooting, the first event highlighted during the winter quarter’s 10 for the 10s feature series), that was the year that basketball fans and pundits from across the country witnessed a team become a championship-caliber program as the 2014-15 season progressed.
In addition to the amount of talent and potential on the Aggies’ roster, the team’s defensive intensity and chemistry — two pillars of any Jim Les-led program — helped UC Davis quickly become a legitimate contender for a Big West title. Even though men’s basketball started the season with six straight wins, which created instant momentum and confidence, it was the way the team earned those wins that quickly caught the attention of every Big West coaching staff.
Consecutive road wins at Eastern Illinois and Furman, by a combined five points, showed UC Davis’ character firsthand since a pair of gritty performances were highlighted by clutch defensive stops in the final minute of each matchup.
As evident by its seven-point overtime victory versus Utah State, UC Davis also displayed a championship instinct by stepping up its play on both ends of the court when it mattered the most, especially against a nationally-respected opponent.
And as the 2014-15 season continued, it was undeniable fact that UC Davis was successfully evolving from a talented team with high upside into one of the top programs in the Big West Conference. And when this historic season concluded, another undeniable fact was created in the process: UC Davis earned its spot on college basketball’s national map.
Championship teams find ways to win, and that is exactly what took place all season long. In addition to finishing with a 25-7 overall record, the most successful season in the program’s Division I era, the 2014-15 season provided numerous highlights that fueled the team’s future success.
If you ask any basketball head coach, three things must take place to give a team a legitimate chance to earn a national postseason appearance: remain healthy, protect your home court and win games on the road, which is exactly what took place for the Aggies that year.
Fourteen teams visited the Pavilion that season, and every one of them left Davis with the same result. For the first time as a Division I program, and the second occasion in the 104-year history of the program, UC Davis protected Bob Hamilton Court by posting an undefeated 14-0 home record.
That home-court success joined the Aggies whenever they traveled; included within their 10-6 overall road record that year were six wins out of eight Big West road games.
What started with 12 wins in the team’s first 15 games, another record for the best start in the team’s D-I history, continued throughout the team’s league schedule, which led to another program first for the Aggies. Entering the final week of the season, they earned an opportunity to clinch the program’s inaugural Big West title in the first of a season-ending two-game homestand that started against UC Riverside.
Entering that game against the Highlanders, the Aggies’ mission was simple: win, and you become league champions.
Even though UCR held a 16-point lead early in the game, UC Davis kept its composure and trimmed that deficit to five points at halftime. Eager to play the role of spoilers, the Highlanders scored nine unanswered early in the second half and eventually held a 54-47 lead with just under four minutes left to play.
All it took was one minute and 18 seconds for the Aggies to dramatically change the game’s momentum as their defense completely shut down UC Riverside for rest of the game while their offense caught fire and became unstoppable.
Capped by a deep three-pointer by Darius Graham, UC Davis turned a seven-point deficit into a one-point lead. Unable to score on its end of the court, the Highlanders watched the Aggies hit their final four free throws down the stretch to secure a 61-59 victory, the program’s first championship at the Division I level and first league championship since 1999 when it competed in the California Collegiate Athletic Association as a Division II team.
Two days later, UC Davis officially posted a perfect home record by sweeping UC Irvine, the defending Big West champions. However, it was that victory against UC Riverside that ultimately led to another historic accomplishment for the Aggies — their first D-I postseason appearance.
As the Big West’s regular season champions, UC Davis earned an automatic bid to compete in the National Invitation Tournament and drew a familiar foe in its opening-round matchup.
Farm vs. Farm matchups always draw the interest and attention from Aggie fans, but this local rivalry became unique since this marked the first time that UC Davis, ranked No. 9 in College Insider’s final mid-major national poll of the season, faced Stanford in a playoff basketball game.
Even though the Cardinal ended up with the victory that day — their postseason run that ended with a NIT championship — this matchup at Maples Pavilion not only provided UC Davis basketball fans with an opportunity to watch this historic event in person, it allowed the Aggies to gain vital postseason experience that would pay dividends in future seasons.
Since this playoff game took place during Finals Week, every men’s basketball student-athlete learned firsthand how to prepare for exams, papers and their opponent. A common situation, yet one unique to UC Davis, took place at the team hotel leading up to (and in the early hours) of game day: student-athletes would take a final exam in one conference room before heading to another room to watch film, study their opponent and digest the team’s game plan.
Even though the Aggies were disappointed to end the 2014-15 campaign with a loss at Stanford, everyone in the program understood how the events that took place throughout the season created the foundation for a championship-caliber program that is among the top teams in the nation today.
UC Davis’ first-ever Big West championship and Division I postseason appearance highlight a list of accomplishments that turned a season filled with potential and excitement into one of the most successful years in the program, and Big West Conference’s history.
Not only was the team’s 14 home wins the highest total in the program’s D-I era, that team also set additional new school records with its 25 overall, 14 conference and 10 road wins. The team’s 25 overall victories also doubled as the second-highest total in school history, trailing only the 1997-98 Div. II national championship team’s 31.
UC Davis ended the 2014-15 season as the NCAA’s three-point champions by posting the highest team (.447) and individual (.488) percentages.
Responsible for the top individual three-point shooting clip in the country, Hawkins also became the Big West Conference’s scoring champion, for the second time within a three-year timespan, by finishing with a 20.9 points per game average.
UC Davis men’s basketball received a league-high six awards when the Big West announced its all-conference teams and list specialty award winners prior to its postseason tournament. In addition to Hawkins, who was selected to the conference’s first team for the second time in his career, senior guard/forward Josh Ritchart earned second team recognition and junior forward Josh Fox received honorable mention.
Three of the league’s top individual awards were bestowed to Aggies when Hawkins received Big West Player of the Year and Fox collected Sixth Man of the Year. Rounding out the Aggies’ awards haul, their biggest since joining the league in 2007, was Les who earned Coach of the Year accolades.
Hawkins’ senior year honor roll also included all-district recognition from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and National Association of Basketball Coaches; he was the first Aggie in program history to earn All-American honors from the Associated Press, the first invited to compete in the national three-point championship and the second to participate in the College All-Star Game.
In that showcase of the nation’s top talents, which took place during Final Four weekend, Hawkins stole the show by scoring a game-high 20 points, on 7 of 9 shooting, and was named Most Valuable Player. Both all-star teams were composed of seniors and were selected by NABC member coaches.
The 2014-15 campaign was truly a historic one for UC Davis, and certainly one that no basketball fan, student-athlete, coach or staff member will ever forget. As excited as Aggie Nation felt following that season, based on the sheer number of new records, accomplishments and program firsts that took place, only a short amount of time passed until everyone enjoyed another historic season that strengthened the program’s national reputation — another topic the 10 for the 10s series will feature in the upcoming weeks.