SACRAMENTO, Calif. – After a 10-day break the Sacramento State women's basketball team (3-1) will return to action on Wednesday at noon Pacific time in a matinee at Utah Valley (1-4) in Orem, Utah.
The Hornets had an extended break from competition after scoring a 97-85 upset of Oregon in Eugene on Nov. 17. Junior Shanti Smith averaged 15.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 41.7% from the field during the team's Oregon road trip en route to earning Big Sky Player of the Week honors, an award won by senior Alle Moreno following the first week of the year.
Through four games Sacramento State is +9.8 in turnover margin and has outscored its opposition 87-57 on points off turnovers while averaging 11.75 more shots per game. The squad also leads the Big Sky in points (90.5/gm), 3-pointers (14.5/gm), assists (21.3/gm), steals (16.0/gm), and rebounds (46.5/gm) and leads the NCAA in 3-point makes per game.
Utah Valley plays five Big Sky teams this season and lost 74-63 in the first of those games last week at Southern Utah to drop to 1-4 with its only win against NAIA school Walla Walla. Junior transfer Katie Kuklok is averaging 22.0 points per game and is shooting 23-of-43 (53.5%) from 3-point range and 54.7% overall this season. The Hornets defeated the Wolverines 74-62 last season in The Nest in the first ever meeting between the teams.
Sacramento State's first two weeks of play under new head coach Bunky Harkleroad was a sight to behold. The Hornets averaged 90.5 points per game while making 14.5 three-pointers per game and twice breaking the school and Big Sky records for 3-point attempts and makes. Sacramento State was +9.8 in turnover margin, forcing 106 turnovers with 64 steals and frustrating their opposition on both ends of the floor. Cal State Northridge and San Diego State were both picked to finish third in their respective conferences while Oregon and Oregon State play in the premiere conference on the west coast, the Pac-12, but with three wins in those four games the Hornets have put the Big Sky on notice that they will be a team that is tough to beat.
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 so far this season that number has skyrocketed. Through four games the Hornets are +9.8 in turnover margin and are averaging a relatively low 16.8 turnovers per game. The margin of nearly 10 turnovers a game has enabled the Hornets to attempt 11.75 more shots per game than their opponents, leading to a spike in points. Sacramento State is +30 this year in points off turnovers (87-57) and has scored nearly 25% of its total points off of opponent giveaways.
Historic three-point shooting has been another catalyst to the Hornets early success. The squad twice broke the single-game program record in 3-point makes, hitting 17 threes against Cal State Northridge and 18 threes against San Diego State. Sacramento State is shooting 32.4% from three-point range and has had 10 different players make at least one three, including five with seven or more three-point makes. The Hornets broke the Big Sky record with 18 3-point makes and 49 3-point attempts against San Diego State, a number the team matched in its win at Oregon. Senior Alle Moreno and freshman Hallie Gennett lead the team and the Big Sky with 13 and 10 three-point makes, respectively.
Downing the Ducks
Oregon had averaged 122.0 points per game and was outscoring its opposition by 33.5 points per game before the Hornets came to town. Sacramento State held the Ducks to 85 points, 37 less than they had averaged, and tallied 97 points of their own for a 12-point win in Matthew Knight Arena. Four Hornets scored in double figures and forced 23 turnovers, outscoring Oregon 23-4 in point off turnovers. Sacramento State held Oregon to 28.3% shooting in the second half and a 18.9% total from 3-point range for the game while nailing 11 three's for themselves.
Sacramento State and Oregon combined to break the NCAA record in single-game 3-point attempts as the squads combined to shoot 86 3-pointers. That shattered the previous record of 75 combined 3-point attempts set in a 1999 game between Ole Miss and Bowling Green. That game also produced the record for combined 3-pointers made with 31 but the Hornets and Ducks combined for just 18 3-point makes (11 for SAC, 7 for ORE). Neither team shot the ball well from beyond the arc (SAC 22.4%, ORE 18.9%) but that did not dissuade them from continuing to fire from long range.
Senior guard Alle Moreno became Sacramento State's all-time leading 3-point shooter on Nov. 10 when she hit her fourth of six 3-point makes against San Diego State. Moreno surpassed the previous career 3-point record of 176 set by former Hornet Kim Sheehy, who concluded her collegiate career in 2007, while she had already established a new record for career 3-point attempts during her junior year. Moreno has had the two most prolific 3-point single season totals in program history, knocking down 78 threes in 2011-12 and 77 threes last season. With 184 career 3-pointers to date Moreno is tied for 16th in Big Sky history and is just 11 three-point makes away from cracking the top-10 on the all-time conference list. She is also just 62 points away from becoming the 11th player in program history to score 1,000 career points.
Junior Shanti Smith played less than six minutes per game over the last two seasons, but with increased minutes this season she has become a potent scoring and rebounding threat. She scored a career-high 15 points in each of Sacramento State's games in Oregon, while averaging 6.0 rebounds and shooting 41.7% from the field and 35.7% from 3-point range. She also had only one turnover in 43 minutes and has tallied just three turnovers in 78 minutes on the year. She garnered Big Sky Player of the Week honors after senior Alle Moreno earned that award after the first week of the season.
Sacramento State's points scored this season is split nearly 50-50 between starters and bench players. Through four games the starters have scored 193 points and the bench has scored 169, with the starters accounting for just 53.3% of the points. Ten players have made at least one start, as each game's starters are selected based on statistics from the previous game. The difference between the abilities of all 10 players in the rotation is minimal, with nine or 10 players splitting time evenly in each game. Different players have stepped up in each game as the distinction between starters and reserves does not fit the tradition college basketball style of substitutions and minute distribution.