SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Off to the best start to a season in the Div. I era of the program, the 5-1 Sacramento State women's basketball team returns to The Nest to face San José State (4-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday. The game will be the first for the Hornets against former coach Jamie Craighead, who less than three months ago left Sacramento State after four seasons to become the head coach of the Spartans.
"I'm really just trying to concentrate on the game itself," Hornet senior guard Alle Moreno said. "Playing our system and doing our thing is the most important factor; emotions will come and go, but that's basketball. (Jamie and I) have talked a lot and we've recognized that both of us are the highest kind of competitive people."
Joining Craighead in the move to San José State were former Hornet assistant coaches Jourdan Willard and Ashley Cadotte. The bonds between the Hornet players and their former coaches have remained strong, but when the ball is tipped on Saturday the focus will undoubtedly be fully on the game at hand.
"At the end of the day basketball is basketball and friendships are friendships, so somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose and keeping our friendship separate from that is important," Moreno added. "I'm very excited to see them. It will be all about focus before and during the game but after the game it will be great to visit with them."
Sacramento State assistant coach Bill Baxter was the only coaching holdover from the previous regime, as he was a part of Craighead's staff for two seasons. He also worked with Willard and Cadotte as well as coaching Willard as a player at El Camino High School.
"I don't think it should be about the coaches at all; it's about the Hornets and how we play and what we do," Baxter said. "Its team-against-team but I'm sure they want to win really bad. It will be very good to see them, and then hopefully with a win I can walk out there smiling ear-to-ear after the game."
Craighead led Sacramento State to its first two Big Sky Tournament wins in program history over the last two seasons, turning a team that went 4-25 in 2010-11 into a contender in the Big Sky conference. The squad equaled the Div. I program record with 19 wins last season, and new head coach Bunky Harkleroad has continued the great progress of the program into a 5-1 record through the first month of his tenure. It is the best start to a season in Div. I program history and its best since the 1976-77 team opened at 8-1.
Harkleroad's squad leads all of NCAA Div. I with 14.2 three-pointers per game, as the Hornets added to their total with 16 three-balls on Thursday night in a 94-92 win over previously unbeaten Saint Mary's. The Gaels saw their 7-0 start to the season come to an end as Sacramento State forced 29 turnovers and had a season-best 37-10 scoring advantage in points off turnovers. The Hornets moved their season turnover margin to +10.3 as forcing and converting on opponent mistakes has been a calling card of the squad through the first month of the season.
San José State dropped to 4-4 this season after a 40-point loss, 113-73, at No. 9 Baylor on Tuesday. The Spartans have used just eight players in each of their last four games and have had no other dressed players. In its four wins this year San Jose State has averaged 96.3 points per game, but in its four losses the team has scored only 67.0 points per game.
After starting 4-1 the Spartans have lost their last three games by an average of 34 points, including a 95-61 setback at UC Davis. The Spartans have used the same starting five in every game this season and lead the Mountain West with 8.9 three-point makes per game (though that's 5.3 less three's per game than the Hornets). Junior Ta'Rea Cunnigan leads the team with 18.6 points per game and is one of four Spartans averaging 12 or more points this season.