UC Davis emerges as the Big West Conference champion.
ANAHEIM, CA — The UC Davis Aggies punched their ticket to March Madness on Saturday evening with a 58-50 victory over the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine in the championship game of the Big West Tournament.
It is the Aggies first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2011.
It also marked one of the largest comebacks for the Aggies as they found themselves trailing by as many as 17 points in the second half. UC Davis outscored Hawaii, 22-8 in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback.
UC Davis head coach Jennifer Gross said that while she and her staff were in the hallway at the half thinking about how to make adjustments, the team was in the locker room building up confidence and still believing that they could win the game.
“At halftime, we had to make a decision, we were either going to stand up to them and their pressure and the effort that they were playing with, or we were going to go home disappointed,” Gross said after the game. “The all-out effort, and togetherness, and resolve that my team showed today was like a proud parent moment.”
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This was the second time that these two teams have met in the Big West title game. They squared off back in 2016 when Hawaii came away victorious. Hawaii was also the only team to have beaten UC Davis this season during conference play.
The Aggies were led by senior forward Morgan Bertsch, who is set to make her first NCAA tournament appearance. The Big West Player of the Year was a redshirt freshman when the Aggies lost to Hawaii in 2016. She had a tough shooting game, going 9-for-23 from the field, but came through down the stretch.
“We were talking about it before the game about just how confident we felt this year and how we knew this was the year, this was when it was going to happen,” Bertsch said after the game. “Being able to take that punch, getting down 15 at halftime, the togetherness that we felt in the locker room was more than I have ever felt in the total five years that I’ve been here.”
The Aggies also got key contributions from junior forward Sophia Song. Song was a dominant scorer at Mark Keppel High School, but her role has changed in college. She does so many of the little things that don’t always show up in a box score. She hounded Hawaii’s star point guard Tia Kanoa at times and secured a key rebound late in the fourth quarter.
She did contribute offensively though, hitting her only shot of the game, a late three that gave UC Davis the lead and a few clutch free throws.
“There were so many times in my basketball career where I missed that box out, I wouldn’t finish the play, I would miss that box out or I wouldn’t go for the ball,” Song said after the game. “It’s really just play hard as I can, play through every play, and don’t stop playing. Just defend and don’t let my girl score.”
The Aggies will now await Monday when they will find out where they will be seeded for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
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