SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The Sacramento State women's basketball team officially begins its 2016-17 season at 6 p.m. Friday at San Francisco, facing a Dons team that was a No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year. The Hornets will then have their home opener hosting Cal Poly at 2 p.m. Sunday in The Nest.
The Starting Five
- Sacramento State returns three starters and 10 letter winners but lost five players from the 2015-16 squad. The team has six seniors and five juniors and a total of 20 years of combined experience as playing in Coach Bunky Harkleroad's version of "The System", the most veteran squad he has had.
- For the third consecutive season Sacramento State led NCAA Div. I in 3-pointers made (12.5) and steals (14.9) per game last year. It also led in offensive rebounds (20) and turnovers forced (24.16) per game and was second in points per game (87.5), trailing only national champion UConn.
- Senior Brianna Burgos led the Big Sky and was 8th in NCAA Div. I with 3.19 three-pointers made per game last season and was named to the Preseason All-Big Sky Team entering her senior year. However, she is one of four injured Hornets that were unable to play in the two exhibition games.
- The Hornets shined both offensively and defensively in two exhibitions games, beating Holy Names 92-55 and San Francisco State 81-46. In the two games the Hornets held the opposition to 30.3% shooting and forced 60 turnovers while winning by an average of 36 points.
- San Francisco went 21-12 last year and, as the No. 6 seed, won the WCC Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. The Dons lost their top two scorers from last season and head coach Jennifer Azzi resigned in September and was replaced by Molly Goodenbour.
Scouting San Francisco
San Francisco was the No. 6 seed for the West Coast Conference (WCC) Tournament last season but defeated each of the top three seeds in the league to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, where it fell to Stanford as a No. 13 seed. The Dons finished the season 21-12 and lost just two letterwinners from the 2015-16 squad, though they were the top two scorers on the team. Head Coach Jennifer Azzi made a surprise resignation in mid-September and the team hired former assistant and Stanford star Molly Goodenbour as her replacement. The Dons returned all-WCC honorable mention selection Rachel Howard, who averaged 11.6 points per game last season, as well as two other starters. USF beat Sacramento State 95-94 in The Nest last season and the Hornets are 5-7 all-time against the Dons with two wins in San Francisco, most recently in 2009.
Off We Go
Sacramento State enters the 2016-17 with its most experienced squad under fourth-year head coach Bunky Harkleroad. The team features six seniors and five juniors, most of whom have been a big part of Sacramento State's tremendous success in the short tenure of Harkleroad. The Hornets return three starters and 10 letter winners but lost five players. Sacramento State has its biggest senior class under Harkleroad with six seniors totaling 12 years of experience as Hornets, and in all the Hornets return 20 years of combined experience playing in Harkleroad's high-energy version of "The System".
Sacramento State won by an average of 36 points in exhibition wins over Holy Names (92-55) and San Francisco State (81-46). After slow starts the Hornets trailed after the first quarter in both games before pulling away. Sacramento State outscored Holy Names 51-21 in the second half and outscored San Francisco State 69-24 in the last 29 minutes of the games. The Hornets held their two exhibition opponents to 30.3% shooting from the field and 22.7% shooting from 3-point range while forcing 60 total turnovers.
The only fifth-year senior on the Sacramento State roster, forward Margaret Huntington put together to huge numbers in the two Hornet exhibition games. She had double-doubles in both games, going for 14 points and 16 rebounds against Holy Names and tallying 15 points and 11 rebounds vs. San Francisco State. Huntington, who has seven career double-doubles in the regular season, shot 45.8% in the two games and added six assists and five steals. She enters her senior season ranked seventh in program history with 586 career rebounds.
Seniors Brianna Burgos and Gretchen Harrigan, two of the team's top four returning scorers from last season, both missed both exhibition games and will not be available to start the regular season due to injury. Burgos missed the last four games of the 2015-16 with a knee injury and is still working her way back while Harrigan was injured in the preseason. Senior Kyhonta Doughty and junior Taylor Brown are also sidelined with injuries while senior Ashlyn Crenshaw missed the team's first exhibition game before returning on Sunday.
A Veteran Squad
The Sacramento State roster has 20 total years of experience playing under coach Bunky Harkleroad, a far cry from the experience the team had through Harkleroad's first three seasons leading the program. The six-member senior class and the five-member junior class are both the biggest the team has had in the last four years.
The Nation's Best
For the third consecutive season Sacramento State led NCAA Div. I in 3-pointers made (12.5) and steals (14.9) per game last year. The team finished second in the nation, behind only national champion UConn, scoring a program-record 87.5 points per game, and also led Div. I with 20 offensive rebounds per game and 24.16 turnovers forced per game and were second with a 9.68 turnover margin.
D is Key
Obviously the style the Hornets play is not conducive to great defensive numbers, but the Hornets shined defensively in their two exhibition games, limiting their opponents to just 50.5 points per game. The team was 10-3 last year when allowing less than 80 points but 4-14 when allowing 80 or more points. In the team's 10 Big Sky wins last season the Hornets allowed just 74.3 points per game; in its eight league losses they allowed 94.2 points per game, a difference of nearly 20 points. Big Sky teams shot 54.4% against the Hornets in their league losses but just 40.8% in the 10 wins.
All The Threes
Sacramento State knocked down 25 threes in two games last season, surpassing the previous NCAA Div. I record of 22 set by Florida Gulf Coast in 2013. The team shot a season best 25-of-55 (45.5%) from beyond the arc at Portland State and were 38.5% at Montana State. Sacramento State now owns every Div. I record for single-game and season 3-point makes and attempts. Last season the Hornets hit 20 or more 3-pointers four times while the rest of NCAA Div. I had one such game (Long Beach State).
Preseason All-Big Sky
Senior guard Brianna Burgos was one of just six players named to the Preseason all-Big Sky Women's Basketball team. Last season Burgos led the Big Sky and ranked 8th in NCAA Div. I with 3.19 3-pointers made per game while tying the single season program record with 86 made 3-pointers, doing so despite missing the last four games of the season due to injury. Burgos shot 36.1% from 3-point range last season and is a career 36.8% shooter from long range. Last season she also tied the program record with nine made 3-pointers in a game, and she sits eighth in program history with 143 made 3-pointers in her career.
Big Sky Polls
Sacramento State was picked to finish seventh in the preseason Big Sky Media Poll and tied for seventh in the Big Sky Coaches' Poll. The Hornets earned 86 points in the media poll, coming in just three points behind Idaho State and 10 points ahead of Weber State. In the coaches' poll, Sacramento State and Weber State were tied for seventh with 60 points, four behind Idaho State. The polls were split on the Big Sky champion, with Montana State earning the first-place vote in the media poll and Idaho taking the top spot in the coaches' poll.
Staying on 17
Sacramento State has an unprecedented 17 players on its 2016-17 roster. Sophomore Hannah Friend has to redshirt after transferring from Delaware, but the other 16 players could all see action this season. Injuries may prevent that from happening, but, in theory, the team could have three full lines of players to sub in and out should they decide to do so. Fifteen Hornets saw action last season, with 14 playing in almost every game in which they here healthy.
In With the New
Sacramento State has six newcomers on the 2016-17 roster. The Hornets added true freshmen Quayonna Harris, Tiara Scott, and Kennedy Nicholas as well as three transfers in juniors Alexia Mefi and Dajhae Mullins and sophomore Hannah Friend. Coach Bunky Harkleroad has brought in at least three transfers in each of his three recruiting seasons at Sacramento State, and Mullins came from the same junior college (Trinity Valley) as senior Kyhonta Doughty. The freshman class adds tremendous depth at the point guard position in Harris and Scott while Nicholas, at 6-3, becomes the tallest player Harkleroad has had as the Hornet head coach.
Sacramento State faces another challenging non-conference schedule this season. The Hornets will face multiple Pac-12 teams for the fourth straight year, hosting USC and playing at California, which received votes in the preseason polls. The Hornets open against NCAA Tournament team San Francisco, face WAC champ and NCAA Tournament team New Mexico State and WBI semifinalist Youngstown State in Hawaii, and host WNIT team Hofstra. In all the Hornets will play 10 games against teams that reached the postseason last year.
Winning on the Road
Sacramento State won five Big Sky road games last year to tie the program record set by 2014-15 squad. The program had never had a winning record in league road games in a season until it has now happened in two straight seasons. The Hornets won three of their last four road games last year.
Junior guard Maranne Johnson had a fantastic end to her sophomore season, scoring at least 15 points in eight of the last 11 games. She scored a career-high 31 points and 25 points in the team's two Big Sky Tournament games and finished the year with 22 double-digit scoring games and eight 20-point games. She ranked fourth in the Big Sky averaging 2.4 steals per game and sixth in the league making 79 three-pointers, the fourth most in a season in program history. Last year she was named Big Sky Player of the Week twice and was on the all-tournament team for the Cal Classic.
The JC Route
Coach Bunky Harkleroad is a big proponent of adding junior college players, and doing so has been a big part of the success he has had leading the program. He brought in five JC players in his first recruiting class in 2014-15, one more in 2015-16, and two more this year, while he also added two NCAA Div. I transfers as well. Among the quality JC transfers Harkleroad has brought in, Adella Randle-El was all-Big Sky First Team last season while leading the team in virtually every statistical category and Gretchen Harrigan has been named all-Big Sky honorable mention and the league's Top Reserve
Sacramento State used 22 different starting lineups in 31 games last year with just four lineups used more than once. The starters for each game are typically picked from a statistical formula using the individual totals from the previous game and 15 players started last year with none starting more than 28 games. The team used 30 starting lineups in 34 games during the 2014-15 season.
Pac The Nest
For the second consecutive season Sacramento State will host a Pac-12 team in The Nest when the team faces USC on Dec. 3. The Hornets hosted No. 19 UCLA in The Nest last season and will be playing multiple Pac-12 teams for the fourth straight season, playing at Cal for the third straight year. The Hornets have three wins all-time against Pac-12 teams but are 0-4 all-time hosting Pac-12 schools.
Sacramento State again led Div. I in steals last year, averaging 14.9 per game, after it surpassed the single-season program and Big Sky records with 573 steals in 2014-15. The Hornets have led NCAA Div. I in steals for three consecutive seasons and averaged 2.3 more steals per game than the second place school in the nation, Santa Clara, last year. The Hornets also own the Big Sky record for steals in a game, tallying 30 at Portland State in 2015.
Sacramento State ended the 2015-16 season winning seven of nine games before narrowly falling to Eastern Washington in the Big Sky Tournament quarterfinals. After another challenging non-conference schedule the Hornets had a winning record in Big Sky play for the third time in the last four years.