UC Davis began the process of becoming a Division I program 10 years ago. The Aggies have played No. 3 Stanford every year since 2007. The program is about to take the next big step.
"There's no better way to measure ourselves than to play the best," Aggies coach Jennifer Gross said after the Cardinal beat UC Davis 66-48 on Sunday. "As a program we are striving to get better. These are chances to see who we are and where we are."
The Aggies added top-ranked and defending national champion UConn to the schedule and will travel to Storrs in early December.
Gross met Huskies' associate head coach Chris Dailey, who has been with Geno Auriemma for 28 years, on the recruiting trail and discovered they had mutual friends.
"She had a niece who went to Davis," Gross said. "She brought the idea to Geno and we met to talk it other. Coaches like Geno and Tara are willing to come to UC Davis occasionally and that's great for women's basketball and tremendous for Northern California. They recognize that."
UConn is slated to play at UC Davis next year as part of the Huskies trip to Stanford.
"That will create an amazing atmosphere for our players, the fans and the students," said Gross, who was an assistant coach at Davis when the Cardinal came to town in 2009 and played before a sellout crowd.
The Aggies dropped their eighth straight to Stanford, though Gross said there were things her players could take away from the game.
"Stanford has weapons at every position but there were times we played the best basketball of the season," she said. "The kids really battled and made some big plays."
The Aggies had a difficult time dealing with Stanford's All-America Chiney Ogwumike, who had 28 points and 15 rebounds.
"We've been spoiled with Chiney," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We need more help and more people doing it. We need to see what we can do to help her."
Ogwumike, who missed her first two shots, recorded her fourth double-double of the year and has 62 for her career. The senior had her way with the shorter Aggies. Stanford missed its first five shots, though the Aggies were only slightly more successful.
Amber Orrange added 10 points for the Cardinal (3-1), who evened the series with UC Davis, dating to 1971, at 9-9.
VanDerveer continues to search for a supporting cast around Ogwumike and Orrange, inserting Erica McCall into the starting lineup for the first time. McCall became the third freshman to get a start. Karlie Samuelson, the younger sister of junior Bonnie Samuelson, may become the fourth. She was the first off the bench and played 33 minutes.
"She did a great job defensively and we can play her at the 2 or 3," VanDerveer said. "Whoever gets the job done, I don't know who it is, we need more help."
Karlie Samuelson had eight points and six assists and defended Aggies' top scorer Sydnee Fipps, who had 13 of her 14 points for the Aggies (0-3) in the first half.
Fipps was 5 of 9 from the field in the first half and 0 of 5 in the second half.
"They clogged up the paint on her drives," Gross said. "Sydnee usually does a good job of finding the open player but we needed her to get us going. They keyed on her a little more."
VanDerveer, in her 35th season and 28th at Stanford, earned her 897th career win, three shy of becoming the fifth women's basketball coach to record at least 900 victories.
Stanford led 34-20 at the half.
"We try to focus on the improvement," Gross said. "Every game has provided a different challenge. We started with a difficult schedule and we feel like we can get some momentum."
UC Davis' Brianna Salvatore made her second start since returning from last year's season-ending injury. She hit both of her 3-point attempts and is 6 of 7 from long range for her career. Kelsey Harris had nine points and seven rebounds.