WOMEN’S BASKETBALL HOSTS DEFENDING BIG SKY CHAMPION MONTANA SATURDAY
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – With a school record 9-1 start and a record-breaking 107-95 Big Sky-opening win over Montana State on Thursday Sacramento State prepares to host defending Big Sky champion Montana State (7-3, 1-0 BSC) at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Nest.
The Lady Griz knocked the Hornets out of the Big Sky Tournament last season in the semifinal round en route to winning the conference title. The Hornets did earn a win over Montana on their home floor last year, but the Griz still hold a 33-2 all-time record against Sacramento State.
"If we don't play our best game of the season then its going to be a long Saturday," Sacramento State head coach Bunky Harkleroad said. "I'm sure they'll be very good and ready to go and we better be too. We have to play well, but looking at the conference and the scores it's going to be tough in every Big Sky game and we have to be prepared for that."
The Hornets lead NCAA Div. I in three-point makes per game (14.4) and steals per game (16.4), are third in turnover margin (+10.60), and fourth in points per game (93.6)...Sacramento State's 9-1 record is the best start to a season in program history while its current seven-game winning streak has equaled the program record set in 2009-10...The Hornets entered 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...Sacramento State broke the non-overtime program scoring record in its 107-95 win over Montana State on Thursday in which the team shot a season-high 43.0% from the field...Montana, the defending Big Sky champion, ranks third in the NCAA with 6.5 blocks per game and also leads the Big Sky in opponent scoring, allowing just 59.6 points per game.
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 call. 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 leads 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 2.3 more steals than any other team in the nation. The squad also ranks third in the NCAA with a 10.60 turnover margin and is fourth in scoring (93.6 points per game), fifth in assists per game (20.7), and seventh in assist to turnover ratio (1.41). Sacramento State leads the Big Sky in all of those categories as well as offensive rebounds (18.8 ORPG).
With seven straight victories Sacramento State has equaled the 2009-10 squad for the longest winning streak in program history. That team had the entirety of its winning streak come in Big Sky play and finished the year 15-15 overall and 10-6 in conference.
The Hornets' 9-1 record is the best start to a season in program history, surpassing the 8-1 start of the 1976-77 team. The 2013-14 squad also won more non-conference games than any year in the Div. I era and equaled the most since the 1982-83 squad was 8-5 in non-conference play.
Rank and File
Behind a 9-1 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 6-0 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).
Dishing and Scoring
Junior point guard Fantasia Hilliard ranks fourth in the NCAA with 7.9 assists per game this season. She equaled her career-high of 12 assists against Montana State and now sits in second place on Sacramento State's career assist leaderboard with 413 career helpers. Hilliard totaled 184 assists last season, easily bettering Heather Baker's previous single-season school record of 160 set during the 1991-92 season, and she should break Baker's record of 453 career assists during the 2013-14 season. Hilliard has also picked up her scoring this season and ranks second on the team with 13.5 points per game while leading the squad with three double-doubles. Over the last five games she is shooting 50.8% from the field and 53.3% from three-point range with 18.4 points per game.
Clutch In Crunch Time
Sacramento State 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 had used a different starting lineup in every game this season before using 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 Alle Moreno, Fantasia Hilliard, and Takara Burse lead with eight starts apiece.
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 eight 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 432 of 936 total points this season on 3-pointers, as 144 made long balls have accounted for 46.2% of the team's points while just 38.5% of the points have come on 2-point shots.
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 a .303 opponent three-point percentage and have allowed just 47 opponent three's through 10 games. Four of Sacramento State's opponents have shot .300 or lower from long range. The Hornets have made 97 more three-pointers than their opposition (144-47) and have outscored opponents 432-141 overall from beyond the arc.
Sacramento State leads the NCAA with 16.1 steals per game and has had more steals than its opponent in all but one game this season. The team has also recorded double-digit steals in all but one game this year and broke the single-game program record with 26 steals against San Diego State. For the season the Hornets are +86 in steal margin for (164-78) and as a result have also had fewer turnovers than their opponent in every game this year.
'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 eight games and is second on the team in rebounding (6.6 RPG) and fourth in scoring (11.4 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 tied for the team lead with 29 steals and, after playing just 5.8 minutes per game through her first two collegiate seasons, Burse is third on the team with 25.1 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 +10.60 in turnover margin to rank third in the nation. The margin has enabled the Hornets to attempt 15.2 more shots per game than their opponents, and the squad is +117 this year in points off turnovers (242-125). The team has scored 25.9% 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 seventh in the nation in assist to turnover ratio (1.41).
Scouting Montana (7-3, 1-0 Big Sky)
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. So far the Griz have left little doubt that they are the best defensive team in the conference, ranking third in the NCAA with 6.5 blocks per game while leading the Big Sky in points allowed (59.6 per game) and opponent field goal percentage (.359). The team also ranks 21st nationally with just 13.0 turnovers per game and leads the conference in scoring margin (+6.8). Three Griz players average double-digit points with senior Torry Hill leading the team with 12.4 points and 5.3 assists per game. Montana opened Big Sky play with an 87-67 win at Northern Arizona on Thursday.