UC Davis holds off Cal Poly to earn NCAA berth

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- UC Davis gave coach Sandy Simpson the ultimate retirement gift.

Senior Paige Mintun scored 20 points and the fourth-seeded Aggies earned a trip to the NCAA tournament with a 66-49 victory over top-seeded Cal Poly in the Big West tournament championship game Saturday.

"I was a little nervous at the start of the game," said Simpson, who had trouble sleeping Friday night. "I was hoping that I would coach a good game."

He shouldn't have worried. With tournament MVP Mintun shouldering the offensive load at the Honda Center, the Aggies were able to focus on defense and put the clamps on Big West player of the year Rachel Clancy.

Clancy brought a 16.7-point average into Saturday's conference championship. She finished with 20, but most came with the Mustangs (18-12) trying to overcome a double-digit deficit.

"I think that Davis did a really good job of making the players play at angles they don't want," Clancy said. "They did a tremendous job taking away penetrating lanes."

UC Davis (25-8) relied on defense to beat UC Riverside in Friday's semifinal victory and was ready to follow the same game plan against Cal Poly.

"When we come out in games and we bring that defensive intensity and energy, it's hard for anybody to beat us," said Aggies senior Heidi Heintz, who joined Mintun on the All-Tournament team. "We knew that we had to bring our A game."

The Aggies pushed Clancy to the spots on the court where she was least comfortable. They also kept her teammates from getting the ball inside. The strategy allowed UC Davis to build a 35-22 halftime, while holding Clancy to eight points.

Clancy put a scare into the Aggies by scoring her team's first five points of the second half. Clancy had a 21-point second half in a regular-season victory over UC Davis in January and Simpson had not forgotten about that performance.

"If you leave Rachel Clancy open, you're going to pay," Simpson said. "We paid every single time that we lost track of her. She kept them in the game. A couple of times it looked like we could extend her but she kept them in the game."

Clancy's early second-half points and a 3-point basket by Desiray Johnston got Cal Poly to within 36-30 with 16:19 left in the game, but UC Davis was able to pull away at the free-throw line.

The Mustangs' final threat came with 11:04 left in the game when Clancy scored to cut the Aggies' lead to 44-37, but a 3-pointer by Vicky Deely (12 points) put the Aggies back on top by 16 with 6:33 remaining.

"The game was won by their tremendous defense," Cal Poly coach Faith Mimnaugh said. "They created a cushion that was a little bit too difficult for us to overcome."

Clancy and Abby Bloetscher were the Mustangs selected to the all-tournament team.