MEN'S HOOPS OPENS REGULAR SEASON FRIDAY AT COLORADO STATE

MEN'S HOOPS OPENS REGULAR SEASON FRIDAY AT COLORADO STATE

Full set of game notes (28 pages) - pdf

GAME PREVIEW

• Sacramento State kicks off the 2017-18 season when the team travels to Fort Collins to take on Colorado State on Friday. Tip-off at Moby Arena is set for 6:35 p.m. PST.
• The Hornets and Rams have played each other just four times, and Colorado State has been victorious on each of those occasions. Three of those wins have come in Fort Collins, and one victory came in 1999 at the now defunct Arco Arena in Sacramento.
• The teams' last meeting came on Nov. 28, 2000, when Colorado State was victorious by a 73-46 margin. Each of the Rams' four wins have come by at least 16 points.
• In that Nov. 28, 2000 game (box score on page 10 of the notes), Colorado State outscored the Hornets, 44-15, in the first half. Pablo Gonzales led the Hornets with 10 points.
• The Hornets played one exhibition game, and that came in a 94-75 victory over Div. III UC Santa Cruz on Nov. 3 inside the Nest. In that game, senior forward Justin Strings scored 44 points on 19-of-23 shooting from the field.
• Sacramento State is coming off a 2016-17 season in which the team went 13-18 overall and 9-9 in the Big Sky Conference. The Hornets began the season with a 3-8 non-conference record, and then fell to 3-11 overall and 0-3 in the Big Sky. However, an 88-83 win at Southern Utah on Jan. 12 began a streak in which the Hornets won 10 of their final 17 games. Included in that run were five wins away from home after losing their first nine games outside of Sacramento.
• The Hornets welcome back eight players from a year ago, including three starters. However, one of those starters (senior guard and co-captain Marcus Graves) was lost for the season after undergoing back surgery. Last season, Graves started all 31 games while averaging 13.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 35.1 minutes per game.
• The two starters that are back and healthy are senior forward Justin Strings and sophomore guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa. Strings was a second team all-conference selection after leading the team with 15.9 points per game, and Mauriohooho-Le'afa averaged 4.6 points while, often times, guarding the opponent's top scoring threat.
• Entering its 27th season as a Div. I member, the Hornets are 8-18 in season openers since making the jump to Div. I prior to the 1991-92 season. However, the team has won four of the last six season openers, including a 66-63 win at Arizona State in 2015 in the ASU head coaching debut of Bobby Hurley.
• Colorado State, a member of the Mountain West Conference, returns five players and three starters from last year's team which qualified for the NIT after finishing 24-12 overall and a second-place finishing 13-5 in league play.
• The Rams played two home exhibition games, which included an 86-75 win over Colorado Mesa, and an 83-79 victory over Big Sky Conference foe Northern Colorado.

MULTIMEDIA OPTIONS

• Friday's game will be video streamed live and free via the Mountain West Network.
• Every game this year will be broadcast live on KTKZ 1380 AM The Answer with 20th-year play-by-play man Steve McElroy calling all the action.
• Fans outside the Sacramento area can listen to all games via www.hornetsports.com.
• Beginning with the Hornets' home opener on Nov. 14, free HD video streams will be provided for all games inside the Nest via Pluto TV and www.WatchBigSky.com. In addition, all road games played in a Big Sky Conference venue will be video streamed free.
• Links for all multimedia options can be found next to each game on the men's basketball schedule at www.hornetsports.com.

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP

• Senior Justin Strings was unconscious, scoring 44 points on 19-of-23 shooting as the fourth-year senior led the Hornets to a 94-75 home exhibition win over UC Santa Cruz.
• Strings had 23 points in the first half, and 21 more in the second half as the forward made an array of shots, including dunks, layups, runners, fadeaways, 3-pointers and free throws. He shot a ridiculous 19-of-23 from the field, 3-for-5 from the 3-point line and 3-of-5 from the free throw line. Had the game been played during the regular season, the 44 points would have set a Sacramento State Div. I era scoring record.
• Strings wasn't the only Hornet to have a proficient shooting night as Sacramento State shot a robust 69 percent (38-of-55) from the field and 47 percent (9-of-19) from the 3-point line. The team held a 48-37 advantage in the first half and 46-38 in the second half against a well-coached UC Santa Cruz team (box score on page 9 of the notes).

SEASON OPENERS

• Entering its 70th season, the men's basketball program has not fared well in season openers since the first year of play in 1948-49.
• The Hornets are 22-47 all-time in season openers, including an 8-18 record since joining the Div. I ranks in 1991-92.
• However, the Hornets have won four of their last six season openers, which included a 66-63 win at Arizona State two years ago. In that victory, Sacramento State closed on a 19-8 run over the game's final six minutes.

STARTING LINEUP STREAK WILL BE BROKEN

• Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz used the same starting lineup in each of the final 26 games of last season, consisting of Marcus Graves and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa at guard, Justin Strings and Nick Hornsby at forward, and Eric Stuteville at center.
• However, that streak will be broken as both Hornsby and Stuteville graduated after excellent four-year careers. In addition, Graves, who is a team co-captain, will miss the season after undergoing back surgery in October.
• Strings is the only lock to start again this season as the senior co-captain started 30 of 31 games a year ago while leading the team with 15.9 points per game.
• Mauriohooho-Le'afa, who is a sophomore, started 28 of 29 games a year ago while averaging 4.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. He could be back in the starting lineup again this season, but did not start in last week's exhibition game.

JUST THREE POINTS AWAY FROM 1,000

• Despite entering his sophomore season with just 21 points, junior Justin Strings (997 pts) is now just three points shy of reaching the 1,000 career point milestone.
• Strings has gotten better every season, being named honorable mention all-league as a sophomore after averaging 15.9 points and 6.7 rebounds, to then being selected second team all-conference as a junior after averaging 15.9 points and 5.5 rebounds.
• He scored in double figures in each of the final 20 games of last season, and has scored in double figures in 41 of his last 43 games dating back to his sophomore year.
• Scored 494 points as a junior and 482 points as a sophomore, and will become just the 15th player in Sacramento State history (1948-pres.) to score 1,000 points.
• Last week, he scored 44 points on a ridiculous 19-of-23 shooting in the Hornets' exhibition win over UC Santa Cruz. Had that been a regular season game, the 44 points would have set the new Sacramento State Div. I-era (1991-record) for most points in a contest.

QUICK TEAM NOTABLES

• Over the last three years, Sacramento State's 28 combined conference wins (9.3 per season) are tied for the fifth most among the Big Sky's 12 schools. The 28 wins trail Montana (39), Eastern Washington (37), Weber State (35) and Idaho (32). Like the Hornets, North Dakota also has 28 wins over that span.
• Prior to that three-year span, the Hornets had won more than five conference games just four times during their first 18 years in the Big Sky Conference (1996-pres.).
• Overall, Sacramento State has won at least 13 games in five consecutive seasons, the first time that has happened since the program accomplished the feat seven straight years from 1966-73. In fact, prior to the current streak of five straight seasons, the team had won at least 13 games just twice (2005-06 went 15-15, 2003-04 team went 13-15) during the program's Div. I era (1991-pres.).
• Sacramento State won its Big Sky Tournament first round game over Idaho State (91-76) a year ago, and has now won at least one conference tournament game each of the last three years. That marks the team's longest streak since joining the league prior to the 1996-97 season.

PLAYING BETTER AWAY FROM HOME

• Sacramento State began last season by dropping each of its first nine games away from home, including 0-6 on the road and 0-3 at neutral courts.
• However, the Hornets have won five of their last 10 games away from home, including a 57-53 win at Big Sky regular season and tournament champion North Dakota. Also, during the 10-game streak, they weren't far off victories in a 77-72 loss at Eastern Washington or 62-59 at Montana State.

WHO WILL FILL THE VOID FOR GRAVES?

• One huge question mark for the Hornets will be who will step up and fill the void for the injured Marcus Graves. The team co-captain underwent back surgery in October and will miss the season.
• Not only is Graves a leader, he was also one of the team's best players a year ago, averaging 13.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.9 steals and a +2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio. Over his final 17 games of the season, he averaged a team-high tying 16.3 points per game.
• Graves, who is a combo guard, will see his streak of 62 consecutive starts come to an end. He started all 31 of Sacramento State's games each of the last two years.
• Fourth-year guard Jiday Ugbaja, who is questionable to play on Friday with a leg injury, has played in 59 career games, posting averages of 2.5 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.4 assists a year ago.
• Third-year guard Jeff Wu missed 18 games during an injury-ravaged sophomore season, but is now healthy and the Hornets are looking to get even more production than his true freshman campaign when he averaged 6.2 points and 17.1 minutes per game. Wu became the first men's basketball player from Taiwan to receive a Div. I athletic scholarship.
Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa, who is a 21-year old sophomore from New Zealand, started 28 games a year ago, averaging 4.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 25.1 minutes. Often times, Mauriohooho-Le'afa drew the assignment of guarding the opponent's best scorer, and did a very nice job.
• The Western Texas College back court of Jordan Tolbert and Kevin Hicks both transferred to Sacramento State during the offseason and started the Hornets' exhibition game. Both impressed as Hicks scored 16 points, including four 3-pointers, and Tolbert had six points, five assists and three steals.

GRADUATING PLAYERS/GETTING IT DONE IN THE CLASSROOM

• Of the 31 Hornets that have expired their eligibility during head coach Brian Katz's tenure, 30 have graduated, good for a 97 percent success rate.
• In addition, the team currently has an overall grade point average of 2.905, and has recorded a team gpa of better than 3.0 three times in the last seven semesters.
• Prior to the start of that run in the spring of 2014, the men's basketball program had never posted a 3.0 gpa during any semester in school history.
• In May of 2017, the Hornets received the NCAA Public Recognition Award for having an Academic Progress Rate (APR) score that ranked among the top 10 percent nationally. In the process, Sacramento State became the only public school in California, and the only school in the Big Sky Conference to ever receive the Public Recognition Award in men's basketball.

TOUGH EARLY SEASON SCHEDULE

• Friday's game at Colorado State begins a stretch that will see the Hornets play seven of their first eight games away from their home floor. Sacramento State has been dominant on the home floor, recording a 52-18 record inside the Nest over the last five years.
• That early-season grind includes games at Colorado State (Nov. 10), San Francisco (Nov. 17), a neutral floor game against rival UC Davis at the Golden 1 Center (Nov. 21), and a date at 22nd-ranked Saint Mary's (Dec. 4).
• In addition, the team will play three games in four days as part of the Wooden Legacy in Fullerton from Nov. 23-26. The Hornets open the bracketed tournament on Thanksgiving night against San Diego State at 10 p.m. on ESPNU.

HORNET INDIVIDUAL NOTABLES

• Sacramento State currently has two former players on an NBA G-League roster, including center Eric Stuteville (2013-17), who was the No. 1 overall pick in the G-League draft and currently plays for the Northern Arizona Suns. Guard Cody Demps (2012-16) earned a spot on the Reno Bighorns roster after being signed as a free agent. Both received minutes in their team's season opener over the weekend. Forward Nick Hornsby (2013-17) is playing overseas for the Giessen 46ers of Germany's Basketball Bundesliga.
• Sacramento State's coaching staff of Brian Katz, Brandon Laird, Chris Walker, Nate Smith and Ajay Riding begin their seventh season together.
• The Hornets will play two games in the new downtown Golden 1 Center, including a game against rival UC Davis on Nov. 21 and Portland on Dec. 21. The Portland game is part of a doubleheader that will see Stanford take on Kansas in the nightcap.