Wednesday, November 28, 2012

No. 1 makes a visit to UC Davis; Are you ready?

The best women's college basketball team in the country is coming to The Pavilion on Friday night and you need to be there, you need to pack the place and you need to be loud. It's as simple as that.

That team is the Stanford Cardinal, currently perched atop the AP and USA Today Coaches polls. Can you imagine the frenzy if Indiana - the top-ranked men's team right now - came to town this weekend? We need that same environment ready to welcome the Cardinal.

It won't be the first time the best college team in a sport has come to UC Davis. I mean, shoot, in 2004 the men's water polo team played No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 UCLA - on the same day! Two years later, top-ranked USC won the NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship right here at Schaal Aquatics Center. Notable moments indeed.

But basketball holds our nation in its hands with its March Madness and, on the women's side, Stanford making it to the Final Four is about as assured as me going back through the Thanksgiving buffet. By the way, it's five straight times and counting. Not me and the buffet, but Stanford and the Final Four. 

The Cardinal, with their Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer, won NCAA titles in 1990 and 1992 and have been to the title game twice in the past five years. This program oozes of excellence. 

No. 1 teams just don't make trips to the homecourts of mid-majors, which makes this visit all the more interesting. Stanford's visit, part of a three-game agreement with UC Davis that ends next season, is the exception rather than the rule.

"We've developed a history with Stanford since we entered D-I," said second-year women's coach Jennifer Gross. "We have such a tremendous amount of respect for the way they do things."

It's a mutual respect that has been parlayed into five games since 2007, including a memorable matchup at Maples Pavilion two seasons ago in the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies' Princeton-style offense is anything but run-of-the-mill which is why the Cardinal like to face it. In the end, Stanford will be better prepared for its annual national championship try. Heck, Gross even went down to The Farm once to help teach it to Stanford.

That's what you call mutual respect.

But this visit is different. It's the first time the Cardinal have come here ranked No. 1. Stanford did win 76-51 on Hamilton Court when it was No. 2, but the general consensus at the time was there was No. 1 UConn and then everyone else. In 2010, the Cardinal ended the Huskies' unfathomable 90-game winning streak and then put an end to defending NCAA champion Baylor's 42-game run almost two weeks ago.

No. 1 indeed.

If you polled 1,000 college basketball players, 99.99% of them would say Stanford's going to win Friday night. The other 00.01%? They'll be wearing Aggie blue and gold and trying to give the Cardinal fits with their back-door passes, crisp screens and, hopefully, accurate shooting.
Former Aggie guard Hana Asano was on Hamilton Court the last time
Stanford came to UC Davis in 2009. (Wayne Tilcock, Davis Enterprise)

"Wer'e going to try and give them our best in every category," Gross said. "We know we're going to have to do that because they're No. 1 for a reason."

But Gross, whose own team by the way has been to three WNIT's besides its NCAA appearance, isn't about to concede the court. 

"We go into every game to compete to the best of our ability and you hope you come out on top," she said. "The things we've been talking about with our team this year is we're not going to back down from anybody. And we're going to improve, and we're going to compete and we're going to get after it."

Check the all-time ledger between the schools and you'll see UC Davis with an 8-6 advantage although Stanford's had the upper hand in the past six.

The Aggies come into the weekend after going 2-0 at Houston Baptist's tournament last weekend, an event that led senior Cortney French to Big West Player of the Week honors. It's a young UC Davis team, in fact five true freshmen are on the roster along with just two seniors.

But life is all about opportunities. That was the message football coach Bob Biggs delivered to his troops in 2009 when they headed up to play No. 5 Boise State. Take advantage of this chance, he told them, because just about every other college football player in the country would love to trade places with you. You never know when life will hand you a golden opportunity. The Aggies gave the Broncos all they could handle in a 34-16 defeat, one of the closer wins in Boise State's perfect 14-0 season.

Opportunity also threw itself at tiny NAIA school Chaminade University in 1982 when it hosted No. 1 Virginia and mighty 7-foot-4 center Ralph Sampson in Hawaii. The Silverswords posted what's regarded as the greatest college basketball upset ever. In the pre-internet, pre-24 hour news cycle era, no one believed the 77-72 final score.

Friday is an opportunity and Gross and her Aggies are ready to embrace it.

"We're fortunate that a team like Stanford does respect our program and will come back because they know the kind of environment that Davis has to offer," she said of the community and the fans. "All of that together, that's the experience of a lifetime, to be able to compete against the best. 

"I don't know how many teams are on Stanford's schedule. Whatever the amount of time that they're No. 1, that's the number of teams that get that opportunity. We're going to make the most of it."

Don't let a familiarity with Stanford cause you to miss out because if you miss the Cardinal this year, you'll have to wait two years for the Aggies to host another powerhouse. 

That's when UConn comes to town. 



While we're on the subject of "No. 1", next Tuesday marks the first edition of "Aggie Sports Update" on KSAC (105.5 FM). It's the next stage in UC Davis' parternship with the local radio station that's in its second year airing our men's basketball games.

So, what's this new show all about? Try interviews with coaches and student-athletes, recaps and updates on all 23 Aggie teams, and ticket and prize giveaways.

Hosted by longtime Aggie broadcaster Scott Marsh, with help from KSAC's Coach Phil Getman, the 30-minute "Aggie Sports Update" will air every Tuesday through basketball season at 6:30 p.m., except for holiday breaks on Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. 

If you're not near a radio, you can catch a live stream on which will also archive all shows for on-demand listening later on. Plans for podcasts and maybe some show expansion could be down the road as well.

First up next Tuesday will be Aggie men's basketball coach Jim Les and women's coach Jennifer Gross to give fans updates on their seasons and their programs. Pieces are still coming together but we're excited about this new level of partnership with KSAC which has become a strong supporter of Aggie Athletics in a very short amount of time.

What do you want to hear on the show? What do you want to know? Drop us a line or leave a comment.



Actually, I know of something you want to know and that's who our new football coach is going to be, huh?

Well, for all of you that have asked me, think I know, or plan to ask me, the simple answer is:

I don't know.

But as Director of Athletics Terry Tumey told me, "It might be YOU!" 

Then we'd all be in trouble.

Mike Robles is Assistant Athletics Director who still remembers Chaminade's legendary upset of Virginia 30 years ago.... and still doesn't believe it.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Biggs is the gold standard

Bob Biggs is the gold standard by which I measure all other coaches, and from that standpoint, I've been spoiled. 

For me, I've rarely been associated with a coach such as him that's been as accessible, friendly and appreciative with the media. Gameday interviews - sometimes as close as 20 minutes to kickoff - have routinely been met with a "No problem, just find me on the field" response. That type of open-door policy in my business is rare.

Win, lose or draw, he's always made himself available for postgame media interviews. It hasn't always been easy for him, but he's always done it and he's always represented his team and UC Davis in the highest regard. He's been honest, introspective and, most of all, respectful with the media.

His accessibility to the media is second-to-none. Several years ago I had his assistant coaches upset at me because I would refer a reporter to call his office phone - another rarity, by the way, is coaches willing to give out their direct phone number - and he'd take the call and do an interview right in the middle of their meetings. 

"We can't get anything done," they'd tell me. Coach was just too nice to turn the reporters away.

This week hasn't been any different. I set up a radio interview for him for Tuesday. No big deal except the interview was for 6:45 a.m. and, oh yeah, he had to remember and call in, rather than have the station call him in case he forgot. Of course he agreed to do it and of course it went off without a hitch.

Whether it's been a national reporter or the campus paper, he's treated them all the same. In fact, the California Aggie had a reporter a couple of years ago who was still very green when it came to football. Coach Biggs gave the reporter one of his practice plans along with an offer to sit in on team meetings in order to learn as much as possible.

We used to have a day in the preseason when Coach Biggs and the captains would meet with local media to help preview the season. I increasingly found it harder to encourage media to come out until one of them told me it's because our program was so accessible that they knew they could get whatever they needed, whenever they needed it and that they didn't need a "one-day window" of opportunity. Coach would have it no other way.

Coach Biggs made only one request of me when it came to the media and that was he wanted to know the reporters' names before he met them. I've often whispered names to him as we approached TV crews or reporters and he invariably would greet them by their first names and talk to them as if he'd known them all his life. It was never an act, his interest in them has always been genuine.

That's how he treats everyone and that's why everyone around UC Davis Athletics is going to miss him. I've had colleagues at other schools tell me horror stories about their football coaches and I just smile because I know I've had it good. No, I've had it great.

His appreciation for the staff that helps the program is extraordinary as well. Just yesterday, in fact, with the team gathered around, he brought to the front the student athletic trainers who have toiled in the trenches at every practice this fall. Coach Biggs told them how much he appreciated their efforts and the team gave them all a well-deserved round of applause. And then they all took a picture.

Like the rest of his friends and colleagues, I'm going to miss seeing Coach Biggs around Hickey Gym but I know he deserves all the enjoyment that's ahead of him.

He's been gold.



If I've ever had one hesitancy, though, about Coach Biggs, it's been that he thinks he's a doctor. Jeff Hogan, head athletic trainer, and I jokingly refer to him as "Dr. Biggs" because of his willingness to discuss injuries with the media. Most coaches run away from any talk about a player being hurt but Coach Biggs has done everything but show the x-ray.

"He has a second-degree sprain of the medial lateral miniscus," is an example of something he might say followed by "Am I allowed to say that?" (editor's note: That medical terminology above makes absolutely no sense and I know it.)

There's never been ulterior motives in his "doctor talk" but it's been challenging trying to keep up with him.



It's been a long fall season for the Athletics Communications staff which is why we were excited to welcome Eric Bankston to our staff last week. Eric comes to us from Cal State Northridge where he filled a variety of roles on the Matadors' media relations staff. He's also gained experience with nearly every professional team in Southern California.

In the immediate future, Eric will handle men's basketball responsibilities for us and was barely here a couple of days before we shipped him off to Oklahoma State for the Aggies' season opener. His enthusiasm is contagious and I think I've heard "Thank you" at least a thousand times. He's one of the nicest individuals I've ever met and we're happy he's on our team.

He's excited to be here but I know he's missing his wife and new baby boy, Jacob, who will join him up here in the near future. (Shhh, don't tell his wife but I'm sure he's getting some good sleep right now.)

And while I'm at it, this is my opportunity to publicly thank my co-workers Mark Honbo and Amanda Piechowski for their extraordinary efforts in helping fill in the gaps while we were short a staff member the past few months. Thirteen sports saw some kind of action during the fall season and these individuals helped make sure everything got covered. 

We have 23 varsity teams at UC Davis but I'm appreciative and thankful for the three-person team we had working in overdrive during the fall.

Now, Mark and Amanda, get back to work.

Mike Robles is Assistant Athletics Director, Communications and already misses Coach Biggs.