Juric not backing down at Davis

After phenomenal freshman year, she overcomes injuries
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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Lauren Juric was the Big West Conference’s Freshman Player of the Year last season in women’s basketball. It might surprise some to learn, then, that the Bear River High graduate has seen her playing time cut roughly in half and spent much of her sophomore season at UC Davis coming off the bench. “It’s been a struggle throughout the whole year,” Juric admitted. “I’ve just had to accept that role and be a team player, I guess.” Juric’s playing time has been reduced in part because she’s battled the injury bug all season, according to Aggies coach Sandy Simpson. “She’s had some back issues – some more debilitating than others,” Simpson said. Juric has undergone two cortisone shots and seen both a physical therapist and a chiropractor in an effort to address her back problems. Nothing has seemed to work. “I’ve battled injuries and back pain the last couple of years,” Juric said. “By now I’m used to it. But it’s tough because your back is a big part of your whole body, and sometimes it does affect part of my game, unfortunately. I just have to work through it.” UC Davis (15-7, 7-2 Big West) also got a lot deeper at the power forward position, with junior transfer Heidi Heintz becoming eligible after sitting out last year and senior Haylee Donaghe gaining an extra year of eligibility after suffering a knee injury last season. As a result, Juric has gone from starting in 28 of 29 games and averaging roughly 30 minutes a game as a freshman to starting just six of 21 games and averaging 16.4 minutes as a sophomore. Still, not having to play as much has had its upside. Juric has had more time to let her injuries heal – time she wouldn’t have had last season. “I haven’t had to put so much strain on it compared to last year,” she said. “While she was working through her injury situation earlier in the year, she wasn’t moving quite as well as she was last year,” Simpson said. “Her mobility has improved, and she’s looking more and more like she did last year. We’re very happy with that.” Though the quantity of Juric’s playing time has been reduced, the quality of her play has not. At 6-foot-2, she can be just as dangerous from the outside – she currently leads the Aggies in 3-point shooting at 45.8 percent (11-for-24) – as she is from the inside, where she has spent much of her time on the court this season. “Last year was nice – a lot of teams let me shoot because they didn’t know,” said Juric, who has shot 40.7 percent from the field overall while averaging 4.8 points a game. “Now there’s a lot more film out there telling them not to let me shoot the three.” Juric has also been a stalwart on defense. She is second on the Aggies in blocked shots with 14, and her 19 steals don’t quite reflect just how many turnovers she’s caused. “She just plays the angles real well,” Simpson said. “She gets her hands on a lot of balls. Her teammates get credit for the steals, but lots of times she gets her hands on it first. Without Lauren deflecting the ball those steals probably wouldn’t happen in the first place.” UC Davis currently trails Big West leader Cal Poly San Luis Obispo by a half game in the conference standings entering tonight’s game at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. As the Aggies gear up for a run at their second conference tournament final in three seasons, Juric expects to help her team to stay at or near the top of the Big West. “Last year was a rough season,” she said. “We were young and inexperienced and didn’t do too great. We want to go out there and win – we’ve wanted that since last spring, and we’re willing to put it all on the line and fight for it.” Simpson has a great deal of respect for Juric’s toughness. “She’s been a warrior throughout,” the coach said. “She’s played through some pain that would have had a lot of players sitting out. I have a lot of admiration for her.”