SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Following a record-setting non-conference portion of its schedule the Sacramento State women's basketball team (8-1) opens conference play against two of the stronger teams in the Big Sky, hosting Montana State (5-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday and defending Big Sky champion Montana (6-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday in The Nest.
The Hornets lead NCAA Div. I in three-point makes per game (14.4) and steals per game (16.4), are second in turnover margin (+10.78), and fourth in points per game (92.1)...Sacramento State's 8-1 record is the best start to a season in the Div. I era of the program and equals the best overall start as the 1976-77 team also opened the year at 8-1...The Hornets have scored 47.0% of their total points this season on 3-pointers (just 37.9% on 2-point shots) and have outscored their opposition 217-111 in points off turnovers...Sacramento State enters the week ranked No. 19 in the CollegeInsider.com Women's Mid-Major Top 25 and is the only Big Sky team to appear in the poll...The Hornets have won their last three meetings with Montana State and topped reigning Big Sky champion Montana last year before falling to the Griz in the Big Sky Tournament.
All Big Sky games have a free live video stream available at WatchBigSky.com. This week's games will also stream live on HornetSports.com/Radio with Brian Berger providing the play-by-play on Thursday and Nate Goodyear on the call on Saturday. Live stats are available above and for more content and game updates like Sacramento State Athletics on facebook and follow @HornetSports and #BigSkyWBB on twitter.
The Nation's Best
Sacramento State enters play this week leading all of NCAA Div. I (343 Teams) with 14.4 three-pointers made per game and 16.4 steals per game. The Hornets are averaging 2.7 more 3-pointers and 2.4 more steals than any other team in the nation. The squad also ranks second in the nation with a 10.78 turnover margin and is fourth in scoring (92.1 points per game), sixth in assists per game (20.4), and eighth in assist to turnover ratio (1.39). Sacramento State leads the Big Sky in all of those categories as well as opponent 3-point percentage (.285) and offensive rebounds (18.8 ORPG).
Rank and File
Behind an 8-1 record and eye popping stats the Hornets have earned a No. 19 ranking in the latest CollegeInsider.com Women's Mid-Major Top 25 poll. The Big Sky is one of 23 conferences classified as Mid-Major along with many other western conferences including the West Coast Conference (WCC), the Big West Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). The Hornets are 5-0 this season against other Mid-Major schools and also have two wins against Mountain West Schools (High-Major) and one against the Pac-12 (Major).
The Hornets' 8-1 record is the best start to a season in the Div. I era of the program (since 1991) and equals best start since the 1976-77 team also opened its season with an 8-1 record. The 2013-14 squad has also won more non-conference games than any year in the Div. I era and equaled the most since the 1982-83 squad posted an 8-5 mark in non-conference play.
Clutch In Crunch Time
Sacramento State has won its last five games by a total of 20 points and is 6-0 this season in games decided by six points or less. In the last two minutes of those six games the Hornets outscored their opposition 39-23 and in the final minute had a 23-9 scoring edge.
Sacramento State has used a different starting lineup in every game this season, but is expected to use its first repeat lineup on Thursday. The starters for each game are picked from a statistical formula using the individual totals from the previous game, and with 10 different players seeing starts this season the combinations are, barring injury, almost endless. No Hornet has started every game this year as senior Alle Moreno leads the way with eight starts.
Historic three-point shooting has been a catalyst to the Hornets early success, as the team has led the nation in 3-pointers made per game throughout the 2013-14 season. The squad has thrice broken the single-game program record in 3-point makes, hitting 17 threes against Cal State Northridge, 18 against San Diego State, and 21 against UC Irvine. The Hornets also re-broke the Big Sky record with 21 3-point makes and 55 3-point attempts against UC Irvine. Sacramento State is shooting 33.6% from three-point range and has had 10 different players make at least one three, including seven with 10 or more three-point makes already this season. The Hornets have made at least 11 three-pointers in every game and have scored 390 of 829 total points this season on 3-pointers, as 130 made long balls have accounted for 47.0% of the team's points while just 37.9% of the points have come on 2-pointers.
While lighting up the scoreboard from beyond the arc on the offensive end, the Hornets have also shut down opponent 3-point tries on the defensive end. The Hornets have posted a Big Sky-best .285 opponent three-point percentage and have allowed just 41 opponent three's through eight games. Four of Sacramento State's opponents have shot .300 or lower from long range, with Saint Mary's the only team to shoot well from beyond the arc in double-digit attempts (7-of-11). The Hornets have made 89 more three-pointers than their opposition (130-41) and have outscored opponents 390-123 overall from beyond the arc.
'Burse'ting onto the Scene
Junior guard Takara "TK" Burse has arguably been Sacramento State's most consistent performer this season on both ends of the floor. She has started seven games and is second on the team in rebounding (6.2 RPG) and tied for third in scoring (12. PPG). She scored a career-high 22 points, including 17 points in the second half, while shooting 9-of-13 overall and 4-of-4 from three-point range to lead the Hornets past UC Davis last week. On the season she is second on the team lead with 24 steals and, after playing just 5.8 minutes per game through her first two collegiate seasons, Burse is third on the team with 25.0 minutes per game this year.
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 eight games the Hornets are +10.78 in turnover margin to rank second in the nation. The margin enabled the Hornets to attempt 15.7 more shots per game than their opponents, and the squad is +106 this year in points off turnovers (217-111). The team has scored 26.2% of its total points off of opponent giveaways this season with a season-best 37-7 edge in points off turnovers at UC Davis and a 37-10 advantage vs. Saint Mary's. Sacramento State also leads the Big Sky and is eighth in the nation in assist to turnover ratio (1.39).
Scouting Montana State (5-4)
Picked to finish fourth by both the coaches and media in the Big Sky preseason poll, Montana State enters conference play with a 5-4 record, going 4-0 at home but 0-3 on the road with a 1-1 mark in neutral-site games. The Bobcats and Hornets had one common non-conference opponent in Cal State Northridge, a team both squads scored double-digit wins over on their home floor. Montana State has a solid +5.1 turnover margin and ranks third in the conference in blocked shots and defensive rebounds. Senior Ashley Brumwell leads the team with 12.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game. Last year Sacramento State swept its season series against Montana State for the first time in program history.
Scouting Montana (6-3)
The Hornets will be looking for vengeance against Montana after the Griz scored a 74-53 win over Sacramento State in the Big Sky Tournament Semifinals last season en route to winning the conference title. Montana was also the regular season Big Sky Champion last year but returned just two starters this season. Through non-conference play the Griz have left little doubt that they are the best defensive team in the conference, ranking third in the NCAA with 6.7 blocks per game while leading the Big Sky in points allowed (58.8 per game) and opponent field goal percentage (.357). The team also ranks sixth nationally with just 12.0 turnovers per game and leads the conference in free-throw percentage (.759). Three Griz players average double-digit points per game with senior Torry Hill leading the team with 12.1 points and 4.3 assists per game.