Narrow loss motivates Aggies

Riecks, Juric look to lead UC Davis to NCAA tourney
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Correspondent
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Kasey Riecks and Lauren Juric have been traveling companions on the UC Davis women’s basketball team’s road to success. To begin with, the former Pioneer Valley League rivals play the same position – wing. Riecks, a Placer High graduate, and Juric, a Bear River grad, both received a great deal of playing time as freshmen when UC Davis was plagued by injuries. Both were named to the Big West Conference’s all-freshman team in 2009 – Juric, in fact, was Freshman of the Year – and also earned all-conference honorable mentions. “They were forced into action sooner than I might actually have inserted them into the lineup, and both responded beautifully,” Aggies coach Sandy Simpson said. Both were also key cogs last season for an Aggies team that reached the Big West Tournament final and advanced to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament for the second time in three years. “It seems like we’ve been on a journey together,” said Juric, who arrived at UC Davis a year before Riecks and redshirted the 2007-08 season. “It seems we’ve played the same games, gotten the same experience, faced the same opponents and we’re on the same page as far as our goals.” Now juniors, their journey isn’t over yet. Riecks and Juric both hope to help UC Davis take the next step – reaching the NCAA Tournament. UC Davis came agonizingly close last season, falling to UC Riverside in the Big West tourney championship game by just four points. “That feeling, for every girl who experienced that last year, it stuck,” Riecks said. “That feeling is sticking with us this year. It’s the worst feeling ever, to be that close, and it’s going to be a driving force for us this year. We want to take care of business.” The Aggies have done a decent job of that so far. They’re 9-2 after Tuesday’s road win at San Jose State, in large part due to Riecks’ and Juric’s efforts. “The thing that’s different about them is their basketball IQ, their sense of the game,” Simpson said. “They understand the angles and can read what the court is going to look like in two seconds. A lot of players play in real time, but they can anticipate a little more and jump on opportunities.” Riecks has received more playing time than any other Aggie this season. She leads the team in steals with 22, is second in 3-pointers (19), is third in assists (18) and is fourth in points and rebounds per game (7.8 and 3.4, respectively). “Her main strength is that she consistently plays well and plays hard,” Juric said. “She’s versatile,” Simpson said. “She can play multiple positions within our offense and different spots on defense as well. At times when I’ve needed to sub someone in, I’ve been able to move Kasey over to the same spot and get the same effect. She also has the ability to knock down big shots.” Juric has been used more in a reserve role, in part because she’s been hampered by injuries, according to Simpson. Still, Juric leads UC Davis in field-goal percentage (51.4) – she’s 19-for-37 — and is averaging 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds a game. “Her presence out there is always calming,” Riecks said. “Her preparation and knowledge of the game give us a comfort factor on the floor.” “She’s one of the smartest players I’ve had in 33 years of coaching basketball,” Simpson said. “If I tell her something, she’s got it. If I ask her to do something, she executes it on the court. She can score from the low post and shoot the three from the perimeter, so that gives us a lot of flexibility.” Simpson won’t be around to coach Riecks and Juric as seniors – he’s planning on retiring after this season. Still, he believes the two of them will help UC Davis make the leap from Big West also-ran to conference powerhouse. “The two of them are the types of players that you want to establish the foundation of a program around long-term, not just short term,” Simpson said. “Their impact’s going to be felt years after they graduate. The impact they’ve had is going to continue on because they do things the right way. “They’re models for young players, which is critical if you want to be good more than one year after every three. We’re fortunate to have them.”