Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Different Way to Winning

For someone who once saw a game-winning shot made from a player's knees about 25 years ago, I think it's safe to say that I've become prepared for just about any kind of crazy finish this profession can throw at me. 

I wasn't ready for Saturday night, though.

If you haven't had a chance to watch the replay of the end of regulation of the Aggie women's basketball win at Cal State Fullerton, do yourself a favor and click here, and then thank me later.

What made it so unusual? It wasn't Fullerton's game-tying three-pointer with nine seconds left that's out of the ordinary. That didn't make UC Davis feel good but it certainly wasn't unusual. 

Now, the Aggies' turnover with four seconds to go that resulted in a breakaway by the Titans' Alex Thomas - and subsequent foul by Alyson Doherty - with a half-second left? You're getting warmer.

But trailing 59-57 with less time on the clock than it takes to type "clock", the Aggies needed to dig deep into their bag of tricks to pull this one out. It wasn't like Christian Laettner was waiting for the inbounds pass at the other end of the floor, or that somehow the 1972 Soviet Union Olympic basketball team was setting up shop near the hoop.

"We have a notebook full of (last-second plays)", head coach Jennifer Gross said Tuesday afternoon. "But with .5 of a second, there's not a whole lot you can do."

Fullerton called a timeout after the free throws, putting 6-foot-1 post Natalie Williams on the baseline to try and impede any long pass by Celia Marfone. Once Gross saw how the Titans planned to guard the last split-second of game time, she countered with a timeout of her own and enlisted the help of assistant coach Matt Klemin.

"He took the board and drew up a play for Molly (Greubel) to sneakily come in and take the charge," she said. 
Molly Greubel

With only Greubel in the backcourt and a player guarding the inbounds heave, the idea was simple - have Marfone move along the baseline, hopefully draw the defender with her and then have Greubel step into her path to maybe draw a foul. But the play still needed something else. Enter assistant coach Joe Teramoto.

"He made the point that we have to get the girl moving," she said. "The defender was just kind of standing still so we didn't think she'd be running fast enough to get us a charge. So he had the key detail to get Celia running one way hard before she came back the other way."

Still, there was still one more thing Gross had to do and that was to have a quick chat with the nearest official.

"I kind of said, 'this is what we're trying to do' and take a look at it."

She wasn't asking for a call, nor baiting the ref, but she didn't want their attention to be solely focused on the other seven players on the court. Following a 30-second timeout by Fullerton - the third in a row by both teams as they tried to out-manuever each other - the play was put into action.

It worked perfectly… and beautifully. Marfone drew Williams one way before leading her back the opposite direction where Greubel was waiting to, well, take one for the team. And boy did she take one. Gruebel went down hard, whistles started blowing - including, Gross said, the first whistle which came from an official who was not aware of the play - and a foul was called.

You can't fault Williams for the foul. She was just trying to make a play and do her job as a defender. She shadowed Marfone like she was supposed to, just like a thousand other players do in similar situations. So, rather than blame her, everything she be directed to crediting the Aggies for designing and executing a play that Gross said she has never seen successful with a foul call. Even men's coach Jim Les, who dropped into her office to congratulate her on Tuesday afternoon, said he'd never seen a team pull it off. 

Desperate times call for desperature measures. But things weren't done yet.

The Aggie bench was celebrating, the Titans' bench was stunned. It was if UC Davis had already won the game and it hadn't. Greubel, who had just met the floor up close and personal, still needed to make two free throws with the game on the line. She's an 83.3-percent free throw shooter.

"She's the person you want on the line at that particular moment," said Gross. "Obviously, there are a lot of our kids I would trust but she's the one where I just feel she's as tough as nails. She'll take the hit and step up and knock the shots down."

Which she did, sending the game into overtime. Of course, even though the Aggies took a five-point lead in the extra period, the fireworks weren't done. Another game-tying trey from the Titans preceded do-everything Sydnee Fipps driving the left side of the lane for a layup with 25 seconds left and a 69-67 lead. 

Oh yeah, then there was the matter of the Titans' final play which included a great save of the ball from going out of bounds and a wide-open three-point shot that rimmed out in the final seconds. Greubel grabbed the rebound, ran out the clock and a couple of minutes later turned to her dad who was in the stands and said, "Happy Birthday" and giving him a pretty good gift.

Happy birthday, indeed. And a pretty routine Aggie win to boot.

Mike Robles is assistant athletics director who wasn't in Fullerton but followed it courtside during the men's home game. He had essentially given up on a win after the Titans' free throws with a half-second to go. Yes, he's learned a lesson. The shot from the knees referenced above came circa 1988 when Cal Poly's Shaun Reed delivered the dagger at UC Riverside. It was also the first and last time Robles cheered at a press table -- a major no-no in this profession. An even crazier ending came on the final football play between the Mustangs and Cameron (Okla.) University around that same year (yes, Robles worked at CP). With the game tied, Cameron threw a last-second pass that was intercepted. The Cal Poly player who picked it off then tried to circle from one side of the field to the other, hoping to get up the sideline for a touchdown. (College football didn't have OT yet). As he was about to get hit, he threw a lateral behind himself to a teammate who never materialized in that spot. The ball bounced into the endzone where a pile of players scrummed for it. Cameron came away with it and jaws dropped throughout the stadium. That play is rumored to be on some kind of ESPN bloopers show airing in the middle of the night on one of ESPN's hundred channels. Look for it.

Aggie Basketball Enjoys Successful Weekend

A memorable homecoming, instant classic, scoring explosion and first league win were just a few of a slew of highlights involving UC Davis men’s basketball that took place this past weekend.

With a litany of Aggie basketball greats in attendance at The Pavilion as part of this year’s Alumni Weekend, UC Davis quickly erased its six-point halftime deficit with a 21-11 run and shot 61 percent from the field to capture its first league victory.

Saturday’s game against Cal State Fullerton also marked the return of former Aggie Dedrique Taylor, current first-year head coach of the Titans.

While the Aggie faithful watched Corey Hawkins post a team-high 22 points, Ryan Sypkens continue his assault on all UC Davis and Big West Conference three-point records, Olivier-Paul Betu earn his second career start and Justin Dueck battle the Titans’ bigs for 22 minutes in his inaugural appearance in the starting lineup, a future Aggie turned heads with his awe-inspiring performances to help his team finish its week with a 2-0 record.

Last Friday night against Normandy High School, Isaiah Walton singlehandedly carried his team to victory thanks to his 37-point performance. In addition to helping Elyria High School earn an eight-point victory, Walton’s scoring total was the highest recorded by a Pioneer in six years–enough to crack the school’s all-time top 10 list for the most points scored in a single game.

Less than 24 hours later, Walton was the difference, literally, in the 19th “Battle of Elyria” involving the Pioneers and cross-town rival Elyria Catholic.

By collecting a rebound on his own miss, Walton scored the eventual game-winning basket with 18 seconds remaining, then came up with a huge play on defense on the subsequent possession to help his team avenge last season’s loss to Elyria Catholic, and earn city bragging rights on its home court.

In his final regular season cross-town contest, the future Aggie finished with a double-double of 27 points and 10 rebounds.

Thanks to Walton’s heroics, Elyria enters this week’s action with a 10-3 overall record.

As for his future teammates, the Aggies will close their three-game homestand against the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors. Tip time for Thursday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m.

- Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, cannot wait for Thursday's home game against Hawai'i as the Aggies look to end their homestand with another victory. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Football News: Now and Then

Colton Schmidt got booted once by the San Francisco 49ers but the former Aggie punter has been given second life by the team which is headed to Seattle this weekend for the NFC Championship.

Schmidt, who set school records for season (44.48, 2012) and career averages (41.12), signed a contract as undrafted free agent with the 49ers last summer and played well during the exhibition season. He averaged 48.7 yards per punt, 11th-best in the NFL during the preseason, and routinely put balls into the endzone while handling kickoffs.
Colton Schmidt

He even had a celebrated tackle of Denver speedster Trindon Holliday on a kickoff, saving a potential touchdown.

But, admittedly, it was an uphill climb for Schmidt who was brought in primarily to give all-pro punter Andy Lee a rest before the regular season. Still, he was able to perform well enough that after he was released to be picked up briefly for the Cleveland Browns.

Schmidt, an All-Big Sky Conference first-team pick as a senior, didn't catch on with an NFL team during the regular season but is being given another chance with the 49ers after signing a futures contract with the club earlier this week. He said via email that it's essentially the same contract he had last year but this time he'll be able to go through San Francisco's spring workouts leading up to next season.

Pinned in his own endzone with little room to kick during a preseason encounter against the Kansas City Chiefs, Schmidt launched a 62-yard punt that, undoubtedly, opened a few eyes around the league.

Here's hoping more eyes find Schmidt before the next season.


What's a Grant Bowl?

Mark Honbo, assistant director of athletics communications, isn't easily stumped on matters of Aggie history. 

Want to know when boxing flourished at UC Davis? Ask Mark. Curious about the extinct men's gymnastics team from the 1980s? Ask Mark. If he doesn't know the answer, he can instantly tell you where to find it or if the answer is even to be found.

His knowledge of all-things-Aggie-history is invaluable, particularly when it comes to the annual Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame. His research on the nominees is vital during the selection process, his acumen in helping the committee analyze all the information is high, and his resulting multimedia presentations that are part of the ceremonies are amazing.

It's no wonder then that every once in a while it's fun to see him truly stumped by something as trivial as the location of a football game. That's right, buried on page 58 of this year's football media guide is a list of locations for every Causeway Classic dating back to the inaugural matchup in 1954. (A 14-0 Aggie win, by the way). 

Among the series records for Toomey Field, Aggie Stadium, Hughes Stadium and Hornet Stadium, there is a notation that the Aggies hold a 2-1 record against Sac State at the Grant Bowl. Nothing in our files says where the Grant Bowl was/is located. Not even the internet gods helped. If Mark couldn't find the Grant Bowl, maybe it didn't exist.

Sometimes, though, you need to use a better source, such as someone that was actually there.

Welcome in Lonnie Cagle, an ardent Aggie supporter and former running back who rushed for more than 1,400 yards in his career, scored 12 touchdowns, had a 100-yard game against San Francisco State and once ripped off an 83-yarder against the Cal Ramblers. He played from 1955-56 and 1958-59.

Turns out Lonnie was my tablemate at November's football banquet and as we talked about the first Causeway Classics, he mentioned a couple of the games were played at nearby American River College. Once I mentioned that to Mark it hit is both that perhaps, just maybe, ARC was site of the Grant Bowl. 

Lonnie's years matched up to the games at the Grant Bowl. Perusing the ARC website, we learned that the campus, established in 1942, used to be called Grant Junior College and then Grant Technical College before taking on its current name in 1955. It started making sense that the facility at ARC must've been called the Grant Bowl.

This lingering question has hounded us for the better part of 15 years and resurfaces every year prior to the Causeway Classic as we look back at the game's history. Knowing that little tidbit may not seem like much but it certainly brought satisfaction to us.

Thanks Lonnie!

Mike Robles is assistant athletics director for communications and will rest easy tonight knowing where the Grant Bowl is located. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Led by Walton, Elyria Strikes Again

With its second-highest scorer and top rebounder out of the lineup, Isaiah Walton lifted Elyria High School to another victory last weekend, improving the Pioneers' overall record to 8-3 in the process.

Drawing the attention of Mayfield High's defense throughout the entire evening, Walton was still able to score a game-high 22 points, grab 13 rebounds and record six assists.

The victory is Elyria's fourth in the last six games, the Pioneers are slated to host Normandy and Elyria Catholic this Friday and Saturday before competing in three straight road games.

- While Elyria battles Normandy, Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, will prepare for Saturday's Big West Conference home game against the Cal State Fullerton Titans. Hopefully, Aggie players will enjoy two victories when everything is said and done Saturday night. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

By a Landslide!

Thanks to your efforts Aggie fans, Isaiah Walton's jaw-dropping, ooh-inducing, alley-oop was selected as Cleveland's play of the week for the final week of 2013.

By capturing more than 50 percent of the votes in that week's highlight poll, Walton beat out a handful of his peers, who turned in quality highlights of their own, but still fell drastically short to the future Aggie's spectacular fast-break play.

Check out Walton's award-winning play here; #AggiePride hit Ohio in a big way thanks to you!

- Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, cannot wait for the start of UC Davis' Big West schedule, one that will take place on Thursday, Jan. 9, at Cal State Northridge. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., watch your Aggie men's basketball team battle the Matadors on ESPN3.