SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The Sacramento State women's basketball team officially begins its 2017-18 season at 4 p.m. PT Friday at Kentucky, facing a Wildcats team that was a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year. The Hornets will turn around and play again Saturday at 3 p.m. PT at Morehead State, taking on an Eagles team that made their first WNIT appearance last season.
The Starting Five
- Sacramento State returns just two starters and four letter winners from last year's squad. The two returning starters, however, are last season's leading scorer Maranne Johnson (15.0 ppg) and the team's assist leader, Justyce Dawson (4.3 apg).
- For the fourth straight season, Sacramento State led NCAA Div. I in 3-pointers made per game with 10.7. After leading in 3-pointers made for three straight seasons, the Hornets fell to sixth last year.
- The Hornets open their season with three of four games against 2016-17 NCAA Tournament teams (Kentucky, West Virginia, Arizona State). The fourth, Morehead State, was a WNIT team last season.
- Returning senior Maranne Johnson starts the year with 220 career made 3-pointers, just 18 behind program leader Alle Moreno (238, 2010-14).
- Among returners in Div. I women's basketball, point guard Justyce Dawson's 2.76 assist/turnover ratio is fifth best in the nation.
The Wildcats finished their regular season ranked 20th in the nation with a 20-9 record (11-5 SEC), good enough to earn the No. 4 seed in the 2017 Southeastern Conference Tournament. After falling to South Carolina in the semifinals, Kentucky advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed. After defeating the No. 13 seed Belmont, the Wildcats fell to Ohio State in the second round. Kentucky finished the year 22-11 and has lost just three players from last year's squad, though two of the three were starters and the team's leading scorers. They are led into the 2017-18 season by head coach Matthew Mitchell in his 11th season. Among Kentucky's returners are Maci Morris and Taylor Murray, each who averaged double-digit points per game last season. Kentucky was selected to finish sixth in the SEC in both the coaches and media preseason polls.
Scouting Morehead State
Morehead State finished their regular season 21-10 (11-5 OVC) and earned a No. 2 seed in the 2017 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, matching their highest tournament seed ever. Despite dropping their first game, they advanced to their first-ever WNIT, facing Middle Tennessee. The 20-win season was MSU's seventh in program history and their first since the 2010-11 season (also 21-10). The Eagles return eight of 14 players from last year's squad, including three starters, and have added six newcomers. They are led into the 2017-18 season by returning senior Eriel McKee, who was second in scoring for MSU last season (13.0 points). At the helm for his fourth season is Greg Todd. After finishing second last season, Morehead State was picked to finish fourth in the 2017-18 OVC Preseason Poll, as selected by coaches and media.
Off We Go
Sacramento State enters the 2017-18 season with one of its youngest and smallest rosters under fifth-year head coach Bunky Harkleroad. The team features just three seniors and two juniors while including four sophomores and four freshmen. Only two starters return from last year's postseason squad, but those returners - senior guards Maranne Johnson and Justyce Dawson - led the 2016-17 team in points per game (15.0) and assists per game (4.3), respectively. The team is coming off a 10-20 season (6-12 Big Sky Conference) in which they lost a heartbreaker in the first round of the Big Sky Tournament.
An Exhibition Story
Sacramento State defeated Holy Names, 100-53, in their only preseason Exhibition game of the season. The Hornets came out firing early, jumping out to a 33-9 lead after just one quarter of play. Sacramento State's aggressive style of play, known as "The System," was on display in the team's win as they forced 35 turnovers - 26 steals - and put up 38 3-point field goals. As a team, they shot 41.3% (31.6%) from three and held Holy Names to just 35.2% shooting overall. Senior guard led the way with 24 points and seven steals, but newcomer Hannah Friend, a redshirt sophomore, stole the show with a double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds) in her first Hornets action.
The Hornets return just two starters from last year's postseason squad: senior guards Maranne Johnson and Justyce Dawson. Johnson led the team in scoring last season, averaging 15.0 points per game. She was also the team's leading 3-point shooter, shooting 33% from outside the arc. She was top-20 in NCAA Div. I in 3-pointers attempted (10th, 282), 3-pointers made (20th, 93), and 3-pointers made per game (13th, 3.10). Dawson, a 5-4 point guard, led the club in assists, average 4.3 per game. With 130 assists all season compared to just 47 turnovers, Dawson was 11th in NCAA Div. I with a 2.77 assist/turnover ratio. Among those returning to NCAA play this year, Dawson's 2.77 mark is the fifth best in the nation.
A Young Squad
Sacramento State's roster features five newcomers and two returning from redshirt seasons. Among the seven total players joining the roster this season, four are true freshmen: Tiana Johnson, Dana DeGraffenreid, Anna Weibel, and Skylar Jackson. Of the 13 players on the roster, eight are underclassmen.
The Nation's Best
For the fourth straight season, Sacramento State led NCAA Div. I in 3-pointers made per game (10.7). The Hornets set and all-time NCAA Div. I record when scoring 12.5 3FG/game in both 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Sacramento State finished in the top-10 in multiple stats per game last season, including steals (3rd, 12.3), turnovers (7th, 21.13), offensive rebounds (5th, 18), and overall scoring (8th, 82.4). Since the arrival of Coach Harkleroad, the Hornets have finished top-5 in steals for four straight seasons, including first from 2013-16.
Senior guard Maranne Johnson made 93 3-pointers last season, setting a new single-season record for Sacramento State women's basketball. The previous record was 86 and was held by both Brianna Burgos (2016-17) and Hallie Gennett (2015-16). Johnson made 76 3-pointers her sophomore year and now has 220 in her career. She is just one of two players to ever break the 200-mark and is only 18 made 3-pointers behind Alle Moreno's program career record of 238 career threes.
In addition to chasing the program record for career made 3-pointers, Maranne Johnson also enters the season second in career saves. After an 87-steal season last year, Johnson has 248 in her career and is poised to overtaking the all-time program leader Fantasia Hilliard, who has 308.
Happy to Share
Senior point guard Justyce Dawson led the Big Sky and ranked 11th in NCAA Div. I with a 2.77 assist to turnover ratio last season. Among returners in NCAA Div. I women's basketball, Dawson's 2.77 assist/to number ranks fifth. She had a career-high 13 assists last season at Southern Utah, the second most assists in a game in program history and the most by a Hornets player in the Div. I era. She has 224 career assists and is just outside the top-10 all-time.
All The Threes
The Hornets knocked down 21 threes in two games last season, the most by a team in NCAA Div. I. Sacramento hold the NCAA Div. I record for 3-pointers made in a game with 25, a feat they achieved twice during the 2015-16 season. Sacramento State owns the NCAA Div. I record for both 3-pointers made (25) and 3-pointers attempted (80) in a single game.
Big Sky Preseason Polls
Sacramento State was picked to finish 10th in the Big Sky preseason media poll and ninth in the coaches' poll. The Hornets earned 61 points in the media poll, just five behind Weber State and 27 ahead of Northern Arizona. In the coaches' poll, Sacramento State received 37 points, 26 back of Idaho State and three ahead of Weber State. The polls were unanimous on the Big Sky Champion, with Northern Colorado taking the top spot in both. North Dakota was selected to finish second in both polls, as well.
Presence in the Post
While Coach Harkleroad has built his program around "The System," a style of play that calls for aggressive traps, steals, and lots of quick outside shots, the Hornets have one of their tallest teams in recent history, averaging 5-9 across the roster. Senior Kyhonta Doughty, a 6-1 forward is back from injury while sophomore guard Hannah Friend (6-0) is back after redshirting last season. They are joined by freshmen newcomers Tiana Johnson (6-2) and Anna Weibel (6-3) and returning sophomore Kennedy Nicholas (6-3) as the six-footers on the roster. With the added height, the Hornets could see more post-play this season than in years past.
Sacramento State faces one of their most challenging non-conference schedules to date, taking on three 2017 NCAA Tournament teams in their first four regular season games. They will face Kentucky and West Virginia for the first time before traveling to Arizona State. Their fourth matchup is against Miami on the road. In addition, all but one of Sacramento State's non-conference opponents advanced to the postseason last year.
On the Road Again
The Hornets play 11 of their first 12 games on the road. Their only non-conference home game is on Dec. 6 against Antelope Valley. Sacramento State will not return to the Nest until Big Sky Conference play has begun as they host Idaho on Jan. 4. Last season, Sacramento State went 4-8 on the road and was 0-3 in neutral sites.
Sacramento State enters the 2017-18 season having led the Big Sky in scoring for eight straight seasons. Last year, their 82.4 points per game were 10.2 more than second-place Montana State (72.2 ppg). Their 82.4 ppg was the eighth highest in the nation.