WOMEN’S BASKETBALL HITS THE ROAD AT PORTLAND STATE, EASTERN WASHINGTON
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Sacramento State women's basketball team (11-2, 3-1 Big Sky) looks to rebound from just its second loss this season as it plays its first conference road games of the year at 7 p.m. Thursday at Portland State (4-10, 2-3 Big Sky) and 2 p.m. Saturday at Eastern Washington (6-8, 2-3 Big Sky).
The Hornets had played seven of their last eight games at home with the only road game just 20 miles away at UC Davis, having not faced significant travel since playing at Utah Valley the day before Thanksgiving. The team will now play 10 of its 16 remaining regular season contests on the road, but has fared well away from The Nest so far this season with a 3-1 road mark.
Both games this week and all Big Sky contests have a free live video stream available at WatchBigSky.com. Links for the broadcasts and live stats are available above and on the women's basketball schedule page.
Sacramento State is ranked No. 15 in the CollegeInsider.com Women's Mid-Major Top 25 and is 66th in NCAA Div. I in RPI, moving down from 32nd last week...The Hornets lead NCAA Div. I in three-point makes per game (14.4) and steals per game (16.1), are second in turnover margin (+10.23) and are third in points per game (93.1)...Fantasia Hilliard ranks 5th in the NCAA in assists per game (7.2), Takara Burse ranks 8th in steals per game (3.15), and Hallie Gennett ranks 10th in 3-pointers per game (3.23)...Sacramento State's 11-2 record is the best start to a season in program history, as was its 3-0 Big Sky start, while its nine-game winning streak also broke the program record...The Hornets have scored 46.4% of their total points this season on 3-pointers (just 36.4% on 2-point shots) and have outscored their opposition 335-178 in points off turnovers.
Scouting Portland State (4-10, 2-3 Big Sky)
Portland State opened Big Sky play at 2-1 with wins over Eastern Washington and Weber State but lost twice last weekend at Montana and Montana State. The Vikings rank last in the conference in 3-point defense (.352), steals per game (6.4), and scoring margin (-16.4) but shoot a decent 29.3% from 3-point range. The team also hosted Saint Mary's and played at Oregon and got blown it in each game, including a 113-78 loss against the Ducks, and is just 3-5 at home this season. Portland State does have four players averaging double-digit points, led by 13.0 points and 4.7 assists per game from senior Kate Lanz. Sacramento State has won four consecutive games against Portland State but all have been decided by six points or less.
Scouting Eastern Washington (6-8, 2-3 Big Sky)
Eastern Washington was picked to win the Big Sky by both the coaches and media in the conference preseason polls after returning four starters and nine letterwinners from its 2012-13 squad that finished third in the conference and played in the WNIT. The Eagles opened this season 0-5 before going on a four game winning streak, and the team is 6-2 this year at home. The Eagles lead the Big Sky in both free throw and 3-point percentage and rank 13th in the NCAA shooting 38.7% from beyond the arc. Individually, junior Lexi Nelson is sixth in the NCAA shooting .474 on 3-pointers while making 2.6 three-balls per game and averaging 17.5 points, third most in the conference. Two other Eagles average double-digit points and junior Kylie Huerta leads the Big Sky and ranks 13th nationally with a 3.00 assist to turnover ratio.
The Nation's Best
Sacramento State leads all of NCAA Div. I (343 Teams) with 14.4 three-pointers made per game and 16.1 steals per game. The Hornets are averaging 4.0 more 3-pointers and 2.8 more steals than any other team in the nation. The squad also ranks second in the NCAA with a 10.23 turnover margin and is third in the NCAA with 93.1 points per game, sixth in assists per game (19.9), and 10th in assist to turnover ratio (1.35). Sacramento State leads the Big Sky in all of those categories, other than assist to turnover ratio, as well as offensive rebounds (18.9 ORPG).
The Hornets' 11-2 record is the best start to a season in program history, surpassing the 8-2 starts by the 1976-77 and 1988-89 teams. The 2013-14 squad also won more non-conference games than any year in the Div. I era and equaled the most since 1982-83. The Hornets also got off to a record start in Big Sky play at 3-0.
Rank and File
Behind an 11-2 record the Hornets have earned a No. 15 ranking in the latest CollegeInsider.com Women's Mid-Major Top 25 poll. The squad stood at No. 13 last week after moving up from No. 18 two weeks ago. The Big Sky is one of 23 conferences classified as Mid-Major along with many western conferences including the West Coast Conference (WCC), the Big West Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). The Hornets are 8-1 this season against other Mid-Major schools and also have two wins against Mountain West Schools (High-Major) and one against the Pac-12 (Major).
The Hornets ranked No. 32 in the official NCAA RPI last week, the highest the program has ever ranked and the highest in the Big Sky since Montana reached No. 12 in 2006-07. Sacramento State dropped to No. 66 in RPI this week after placing 45th in the first RPI release of the season. The Hornets still rank ahead of 280 NCAA Div. I programs, including nine of the other 10 Big Sky teams. The RPI (Rating Percentage Index) takes into account winning percentage, opponents' winning percentage, and opponents' opponents' winning percentage. Sacramento State ranks highly based on its 11-2 record but also its strength of schedule, having faced many strong opponents in non-conference play.
With nine straight victories between Nov. 17 and Jan. 18 Sacramento State established a new program-record winning streak, surpassing the seven-game winning streak recorded by the 2009-10 squad.
Dishing and Scoring
Junior point guard Fantasia Hilliard ranks fifth in the NCAA with 7.2 assists per game and has recorded four games with double-digit assists this season. She equaled her career-high of 12 assists against Montana State and now sits in second place on Sacramento State's career assist leaderboard with 428 career helpers. Hilliard totaled 184 assists last season, easily bettering Heather Baker's previous single-season school record of 160 set during the 1991-92 season, and she should break Baker's career record of 453 assists during the 2013-14 season. Hilliard has also picked up her scoring this season and ranks second on the team with 13.4 points per game while leading the squad with three double-doubles. Through four Big Sky games she is leading the team shooting 51.2% from the field with 16.3 points and 6.8 assists per game.
To Every Season Turn, Turn, Turn
Over the last three seasons Sacramento State improved its turnover margin from -3.1 to +1.8 to +3.8, and this season that number has skyrocketed. The Hornets rank second in the NCAA at +10.23 in turnover margin, leading the Big Sky by 6.0 more turnovers per game. The margin has enabled the Hornets to attempt 13.2 more shots per game than their opponents, and the squad is +157 this year in points off turnovers (335-178). The team has scored 27.7 % of its total points off of opponent giveaways this season with a season-best 48-17 edge against NAU and a 37-7 advantage at UC Davis. Sacramento State also ranks second in the Big Sky and is 10th in the nation in assist to turnover ratio (1.35).
Freshman Hallie Gennett has been among the best three-point shooters in the nation in just her rookie season. She ranks 10th in the NCAA and leads the Big Sky with 3.23 three-point makes per game, including six games making five of more 3-point shots. The bulk of Gennett's threes have come in just those six games, as she hit 35 threes in those games and just seven threes in the Hornets' seven other games. Of her 54 made field goals on the season, 42 have been 3-pointers, while 114 of her 137 field goal attempts (83.2%) have come from beyond the arc, where she is shooting 36.8% on the season.
Sacramento State has used 11 different starting lineups in 13 games this season, having used a repeat lineup only twice. The starters for each game are picked from a statistical formula using the individual totals from the previous game, and with 10 different players seeing starts this season the combinations are, barring injury, almost endless. No Hornet has started every game this year as Fantasia Hilliard and Takara Burse lead with 11 starts apiece.
Historic three-point shooting has been a catalyst to the Hornets early success, as the team has led the nation in 3-pointers made per game throughout the 2013-14 season. The squad has thrice broken the single-game program record in 3-point makes, hitting 17 threes against Cal State Northridge, 18 against San Diego State, and 21 against UC Irvine. The Hornets also re-broke the Big Sky record with 21 3-point makes and 55 3-point attempts against UC Irvine. Sacramento State is shooting 34.0% from three-point range and has had 10 different players make at least one three, including eight with 13 or more three-point makes this season. The Hornets have made at least 11 three-pointers in every game and have scored 561 of 1,210 total points this season on 3-pointers, as 187 made long balls have accounted for 46.4% of the team's points while just 36.4% of the points have come on 2-point shots.
Sacramento State leads the NCAA with 16.1 steals per game and has had more steals than its opponent in all but two games this season. The team has also recorded double-digit steals in all but two games this year and broke the single-game program record with 26 steals against San Diego State. For the season the Hornets are +112 in steal margin for (209-97) and as a result have also had fewer turnovers than their opponent in every game this year.
Clutch In Crunch Time
Sacramento State is 6-0 this season in games decided by six points or less. In the last two minutes of those six games the Hornets outscored their opposition 39-23 and in the final minute had a 23-9 scoring edge.
'Burse'ting onto the Scene
Junior guard Takara "TK" Burse has arguably been Sacramento State's most consistent performer this season on both ends of the floor. She leads the Big Sky and ranks eighth in the country with 3.15 steals per game and is also second on the team in rebounding (6.0 RPG) and fourth in scoring (11.2 PPG). She scored a career-high 22 points, including 17 points in the second half, while shooting 9-of-13 overall and 4-of-4 from three-point range to lead the Hornets past UC Davis Dec. 28. After playing just 5.8 minutes per game through her first two collegiate seasons, Burse is third on the team with 24.5 minutes per game this year and is tied for the team lead with 11 starts.