Volume 28 · Number 4 · Summer 2011
Women's Basketball: Historic Season
(Karin Higgins/UC Davis)
In the end, "Davis" didn't slay Goliath, and it didn't really matter. The goal wasn't about winning the battle. It was more important to just pick up the rock and try.
The 2010–11 UC Davis women's basketball season began with high expectations and a big dose of motivation. It ended with a game against mighty Stanford, ranked second in the nation, on college basketball's biggest stage — the NCAA Tournament.
The 16th-seeded Aggies didn't beat the second-ranked Cardinal on March 19; that UC Davis would lose was expected. The 86–59 loss brought to a close the most successful season at the Division I level for UC Davis, which was making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The women put up a good fight for themselves, their two seniors, and just as importantly, their head coach, Sandy Simpson.
Simpson announced before the season's start that he was going to step aside from coaching after 33 years and a program-record 251 wins at the end of the season. He wants to spend more time with his family.
Jennifer Gross ’97, the new UC Davis women's head basketball coach, comes into her job with an Aggie résumé like few others. More…
Simpson's extended family — that is, his team — wanted to send him out in the best possible way, with a Big West Conference championship and its first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament. As head coach, Simpson won four conference titles and four league Coach of the Year honors, and led the Aggies through the Division I transition.
Expectations were high from the start. UC Davis had a veteran lineup, led by seniors Paige Mintun and Heidi Heintz, and the team was the media's preseason pick to win the Big Western Conference title.
The first half of the season went according to plan, too. The Aggies raced to a 10–2 record heading into their conference schedule and established themselves as one the top mid-major programs in the country. They had beaten teams from the Pac-10 and Southeastern Conference, heavy-hitters in college basketball.
A few bumps
Athletics director retires
UC Davis began a national search for a new athletics director after Greg Warzecka announced his June 30 retirement after 16 years in the post. During his tenure, Warzecka led UC Davis through a Division I transition.
New men's hoops coach
Jim Les is the new head coach for men's basketball. A former NBA player, Les most recently served as head coach at Bradley University in Illinois. "I am very excited to be coming back to the Sacramento region and joining the UC Davis family," said Les, who played for the Sacramento Kings and whose son, Tyler, plays basketball for the Aggies.
But a few bumps down the Big West road in January and February forced UC Davis to climb uphill to reach its ultimate goals. After beating UC Irvine in the first round of the Big West Tournament, the Aggies upset third-seeded UC Riverside in the semifinals.
The Aggies could still taste the bitter defeat of losing to UC Riverside in last year's title game and used that motivation to help push them past top-seeded Cal Poly in the Big West championship on March 12 — and into the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Sandy Simpson
(Wayne Tilcock/Davis Enterprise)
It didn't matter that the NCAA set UC Davis up against Stanford in the Cardinal's home court. (One of college basketball's best teams, Stanford made it to the NCAA Final Four, where they lost by one point to Texas A&M, the eventual national champion.)
The Aggies had smiles all around, knowing their team would represent the school well. And it did.
The Aggies hung with Stanford past halftime — not many teams could say that this year — and despite being the regional's lowest seed, won over countless fans with their inspired effort. An ESPN columnist even focused on UC Davis rather than Stanford, noting the day was about the Aggies' effort and not so much the Cardinal's win.
When it was over, the players and coaches peered into the upper rafters of Maples Pavilion, saluting many of their fans and the Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh. Then they walked across the floor and waved to their courtside fans. While Simpson and his seniors waved for the final time, the others vowed to return next year.
Many will likely forget the final score, and they should. The real story wasn't the final score. UC Davis reached where no Aggie team had gone, for themselves for their coach and for their university.