MEN'S BASKETBALL TRAVELS TO FLAGSTAFF FOR BIG SKY TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS ON TUESDAY
A Brief Preview
After defeating Montana State (71-70) in Bozeman, Mont., on Saturday in the Big Sky Tournament Quarterfinals, the travel-weary Sacramento State men''s basketball team heads to Flagstaff, Ariz., to face No. 1 seed and host Northern Arizona in the tournament semifinals. The Hornets and Lumberjacks will square off in the single-elimination tournament on Tuesday, March 7, at 6:35 p.m. PST inside the Walkup Skydome.
The Lumberjacks (20-9, 12-2), who are hosting the tournament semifinal and championships rounds after winning the Big Sky regular-season championship, will play for the first time since a 96-83 loss at Montana on Feb. 27 (a span of seven days without a game). By the time Sacramento State reaches Flagstaff on Monday, the Hornets will have logged 25 hours of travel time since Friday. Because of the limited flights into Bozeman and on such short notice, Sacramento State''s travel itinerary to Montana State was not enjoyable by any stretch of the imagination. The Hornets departed Sacramento and flew to Seattle. After a long layover in Seattle, the team flew to Helena, Mont., and followed that up with a two-hour bus ride to Bozeman. The team reversed course for the same route on the way home, mercifully landing in Sacramento on Sunday afternoon before hopping back on an airplane at 8:30 a.m. Monday morning to Flagstaff.
The large amount of travel hours did not stop the Hornets (15-14, 5-9, No. 5 seed) from winning on the road in the Big Sky Quarterfinals for the second time in four years. The victory snapped a five-game losing streak as the team had dropped nine of the last 10 games (seven of those losses coming by six points or less) prior to Saturday''s victory at Montana State.
Tuesday will mark the first time that Sacramento State and Northern Arizona have met in the Big Sky Tournament. After failing to reach the postseason event during each of its first six years in the league, Sacramento State is making its fourth-straight Big Sky Tournament appearance and is 2-3 all-time at the tournament That includes a 1-0 record against Montana and Montana State, and an 0-3 mark against Weber State. In fact, Weber State, which did not qualify for this year''s tournament, defeated the Hornets in the Big Sky semifinals in 2002-03 and knocked the Hornets off at home in the quarterfinals each of the last two years. Sacramento State has yet to advance past the semifinal round in Big Sky Tournament action with its only previous appearance in the semis coming in 2002-03.
Like every game this season, Tuesday''s contest can be heard live on KTKZ 1380 AM and 105.5 FM as well as www.hornetsports.com. Steve McElroy, who is currently in his ninth season as voice of the Hornets, will handle the play-by-play.
The winner of Tuesday''s contest will advance to the Big Sky Tournament championship game to face either No. 2 seed Montana or No. 3 seed Eastern Washington on Wednesday, March 8, at 6:35 p.m. PST. The championship game will be aired live on ESPN2 and the winner of that contest will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Sacramento State is looking for its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since joining the Div. I ranks prior to the 1991-92 season.
Northern Arizona defeated the Hornets in both regular season meetings between the two teams by a combined 26 points. That included a 20-point victory in Sacramento (92-72) just over a week ago (Feb. 25). In fact, that game marked the Hornets'' worst loss at home during head coach Jerome Jenkins'' tenure with the team (2000-pres.). In the teams'' other matchup in Flagstaff on Jan. 28, Northern Arizona led for the final 33:25 of the contest on the way to an 89-83 victory. Northern Arizona and Montana remain the only two Big Sky teams that Sacramento State has yet to defeat this year.
Sacramento State''s 15 victories are a new Div. I record (1991-pres.) and mark the team''s most wins since the 1989-90 season. The Hornets are already assured of finishing with a .500 record for the first time 1988-89, and one more victory would earn the team its most wins since 1987-88. In addition, the Hornets are now 8-9 away from home, the team''s most victories since the 1987-88 squad won nine times outside of Sacramento. The Hornets began the year with a 13-5 overall record and a 4-0 mark in the Big Sky, but have lost nine of their last 11 games.
Northern Arizona won the Big Sky regular season title for the fourth time in school history (1986, 1997, 1998, 2006) and went undefeated in league play at home (7-0) for the first time since 1997-98. Overall, the Lumberjacks are 12-1 at home, and all seven victories over Big Sky teams in the friendly confines came by 10 points or less. NAU, which was selected to finish fourth in the Big Sky preseason coaches poll, has won 10-consecutive games at home, the 15th-longest streak in the nation.
Senior Kelly Golob and junior Ruben Boykin Jr. were both named first team all-conference and lead the Lumberjack attack. Golob has 1,509 career points, the third player in school history to eclipse the 1,500-point plateau. Boykin Jr. is averaging 13.8 points and a Big Sky-leading 7.2 rebounds per game. In Big Sky play, NAU is first in the league in scoring (83.0 ppg), field goal percentage (.515), three-point field goal percentage (.429), free throw percentage (.797) and rebounding defense (28.9 per game).