SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Winners of three of its last four games, Sacramento State (7-11, 3-4 Big Sky) looks to close its longest road swing of the season with a win in its second meeting of the year with Portland State (10-9, 4-3 Big Sky) at noon Saturday in Portland. The Vikings narrowly edged the Hornets, 88-86, when the teams met in The Nest Jan. 7.
The Starting Five
The Hornets have won three of their last four games, allowing just 72.2 points per game after permitting 93.5 points per game through the first 14 contests of the season, a difference of 21 points. This year the Hornets are 5-0 when allowing less than 80 points and 2-11 when allowing 80 or more.
Junior guard Maranne Johnson, who is sixth in NCAA Div. I with 3.5 made 3-pointers per game, is just 44 points shy of becoming the 13th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points. She can become just the fifth player in program history to score 1,000 points in only three seasons.
The Hornets once again lead the Big Sky in scoring, offensive rebounds, steals, 3-pointers, turnover margin, and turnovers forced. The team has led the league in each of those categories in all four seasons under coach Harkleroad and led nationally in threes, steals, and offensive rebounds.
After missing the first 13 games of the season with a toe injury senior Gretchen Harrigan has scored at least 11 points in each of her first five games back and has led the team in scoring in four straight contests. Since her return on Jan. 7 she leads the team with 16.4 points per game shooting 48.5%.
Portland State has already doubled its Big Sky win total from last season, when they were and 2-16 in conference play. The Vikings, who are 5-0 at home this season, beat the Hornets 88-86 in The Nest Jan. 7. The Hornets hit an NCAA record 25 threes in a 126-78 win at Portland State last year.
Scouting Portland State (10-9, 4-3 Big Sky)
Portland State has already doubled its Big Sky win total from last season, when the Vikings were 4-26 overall and 2-16 in conference play. The Vikings, who are 5-0 at home this season, won four straight games starting with the 88-86 win against the Hornets on Jan. 7 before an 83-76 loss at Montana State. Portland State leads the Big Sky and ranks 26th in NCAA Div. I shooting 45.2% and is second in the league in assists, blocks, and free throws made. However, the team's turnover margin of -5.95 is the worst in the Big Sky and sixth worst in Div. I. Point guard Ashley Bolston, who leads the league in assists and free throws made, tallied 29 points, six rebounds, six assists, and four steals against the Hornets. Maranne Johnson hit six 3-pointers and had 23 points and five steals as the Hornets forced 27 Viking turnovers but missed a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
D Key in Winning Stretch
The Hornets have won three of their last four games, and a vastly improved defensive effort has been a huge factor. In the last four games the Hornets have allowed just 72.2 points per game after permitting 93.5 points per game through the first 14 contests of the season, a difference of more than 21 points. The team's opposing field goal percentage has dropped from .516 to .468 in the last four games and the Hornets have allowed nearly seven fewer shots per game, thanks in part to a +11.8 turnover margin in the stretch compared to a +6.2 margin through the first 14 games. For the year the Hornets are 5-0 when allowing less than 80 points and 2-11 when allowing 80 or more.
Junior guard Maranne Johnson is just 44 points shy of becoming only the 13th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points. If she reaches that plateau this season she would be just the fifth player in program history to score 1,000 points in just three seasons as a Hornet.
A First in Missoula
Sacramento State's 73-60 win at Montana on Saturday was the team's first road victory over the Lady Griz in program history. The Hornets had been 0-21 all-time against the Griz in Dahlberg Arena, losing by double-figures in 18 of those 21 games. Sacramento State did have two previous victories in the building, however, winning two neutral site Big Sky Tournament games in Missoula in 2013 and 2015. The win on Saturday marked the second consecutive year in which the Hornets won their first road game against a Big Sky opponent, having beaten Idaho State for the first time in 20 games in Pocatello last January.
After missing the first 13 games of the season with a toe injury, senior forward Gretchen Harrigan has scored at least 11 points in each of her first five games back and has led the team in scoring in four straight contests. She scored a season-high 20 points, just one shy of her career high, at Montana after leading the team with 19 points at Montana State. Since her return Harrigan leads the team with 16.4 points per game shooting 48.5% from the field.
Stingers Up in Portland
The Hornets have won two straight road games and made history at Portland State in blowout fashion. Sacramento State beat the Vikings 92-60 in 2015 and 126-78 last year in the Stott Center. The Hornets' 25 made 3-pointers in Portland last year broke the NCAA single game record while the 48-point road win tied for the largest margin of victory against a Div. I school in program history. The Hornets had won five straight meetings between the teams, winning by an average margin of 42 points over the last four, before Portland State pulled out an 88-86 win in The Nest Jan. 7.
Big Sky Best
Junior guard Maranne Johnson leads the Big Sky in 3-pointers and steals per game. She is sixth in NCAA Div. I averaging 3.50 made 3-pointers per game, Johnson made a career-high eight 3-pointers against Stanislaus State, scoring 37 points for the ninth highest single-game scoring total in program history, and has made at least five 3-pointers in six other games. She has made at least one 3-pointer in 29 consecutive games (dating back to last season) and has multiple threes in 24 of those 29 contests. In just her third collegiate season Johnson ranks second in program history in career 3-pointers (190) and is third in in career steals (216).
Close in Conference
Sacramento State's 84-80 loss at Montana State last Thursday was the team's second Big Sky loss by four points or fewer and third by seven points or less. The Hornets were within two possessions in three of their four Big Sky losses, including two road league games. By comparison, the team's three Big Sky wins have come by an average scoring margin of +10.3.
Sacramento State is 4th in Div. I averaging 12.9 steals per game this season after averaging 14.9 steals per game last year to lead NCAA Div. I for the third straight season. The Hornets have tallied at least 11 steals in seven straight games, recording 17 thefts in three straight contests. Sacramento State owns the Big Sky record for steals in a game, tallying 30 at Portland State in 2015.
Winning on the Road
Sacramento State won five Big Sky road games last year to tie the program record set by the 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 picked up their first road win of this season at UC Irvine and earned their first Big Sky road win of the year at Montana.
In Sacramento State's 82-76 home win over Northern Arizona on Saturday the last 3+ minutes of each half proved to be the difference. The Hornets held the Lumberjacks without a made field goal over the last 3:33 of the first half and over the last 3:20 of the second half. In that time Sacramento State outscored NAU 18-5, permitting just five Lumberjack free throws over the stretch. The Hornets ended the first half on an 8-1 run and ended the second on a 10-4 run to win despite being outscored 71-64 over the other 33+ minutes of the game.
Turning Over and Over
The Hornets have forced just under 23 turnovers per game this year, creating at least 23 opponent giveaways in eight games with four 30-turnover games. Sacramento State led NCAA Div. I with 24.16 turnovers forced per game last season and currently ranks sixth this year. The Hornets have scored 423 points off 413 forced turnovers while creating 14.7 more shots per game than their opponents this season.
Home Cooking in Conference
Sacramento State is 23-8 in home Big Sky games under head coach Bunky Harkleroad. Of the team's eight home conference losses in Harkleroad's tenure just three have been by more than six points. The team was +7.7 in scoring margin and allowed just 80.9 points per game in nine Big Sky home games last year.
Emily Easom has played three seasons of Big Sky basketball but just made her Hornet debut this year after being a two-time all-Big Sky selection at Portland State. Easom is second on the team with 14.4 points per game this year and has scored in double figures in 14 games, tied for the team lead. She missed the Montana State game due to an illness but returned at Montana.
Back in Action
The Hornets are closer to full strength with the return of senior forward Gretchen Harrigan, who played her first game of the season Jan. 7 after being sidelined with a toe injury. Brianna Burgos also began the season injured, having missed the last four Hornet games last season and the first six this year recovering from surgery. Harrigan was the team's third leading returning scorer from last season and Burgos was number one, with the two of them combining to average more than 25 points per game. The team is still missing senior forward Kyhonta Doughty, who is unlikely to play this year.
Dominating the Glass
Senior forward Margaret Huntington pulled down a career-high 21 rebounds at Northern Colorado, tied for the third most rebounds in a game in program history. She posted the first 20-rebound game for any Hornet player since 2013 and the most since Kylie Kuhns had a program-record 23 boards in 2010. Her total tied for the 5th most rebounds any NCAA Div. I player has had in a game this season. She has seven double-digit rebounding game this year and three games with 17 or more boards. Her 9.6 rebounds per game this season lead the Big Sky and rank 45th in NCAA Div. I. She is fifth in program history with 758 career rebounds.
Sacramento State once again leads the Big Sky in scoring, offensive rebounds, steals, 3-pointers, turnover margin, and turnovers forced. The team has led the league in each of those categories in all four seasons under coach Bunky Harkleroad and has also been the national leader in 3-pointers, steals, and offensive rebounds per game as well as turnover margin.
Sacramento State has used 15 different starting lineups in 18 games this season. The starters for each game are typically picked from a statistical formula using the individual totals from the previous game. The team used 22 different starting lineups in 31 games last year with just four lineups used more than once after rolling out 30 starting lineups in 34 games in 2014-15.
Bunky Harkleroad's 500th career game as a head coach will be on Feb. 11 at Idaho State. Coincidentally, Pocatello is also the place where Harkleroad picked up his 300th career win last season. In 17 seasons as a head coach Harkleroad has had a losing record in just three seasons.
Throughout her career senior Ashlyn Crenshaw has been one of the best shooting guards in the Big Sky in terms of field goal percentage. She is a 44% field goal shooter for her career and has been even better this season, shooting 46% from the field. She has also improved her outside shooting at 41.8% from beyond the arc, the best long range shooting average on the team. She averages 10.9 points per game and is third in the Big Sky with 2.4 steals per game. She also pulled down a career-high nine rebounds at UC Irvine.
The 3-point shot has been as critical as ever in Sacramento State's success this year. The Hornets are averaging 13.7 made 3-pointers and 35% shooting from the arc in their seven wins against 9.7 3-point makes per game and 26% shooting from long range in the 11 losses. The team is 6-2 when shooting 30% or better from 3-point range this season but 1-9 when shooting lower than 30% from the arc.
Cleaning the Glass
The Hornets had a season-high 25 offensive rebounds vs. Stanislaus State and rank 7th in Div. I averaging 18 offensive boards per game this year. As a result, the Hornets have outscored their opponent in second chance points in 11 games this year and average 14.7 more shots per game than the opposition. Last season the squad led NCAA Div. I with 20 offensive rebounds per game for the second straight year.
The Hornets rank eighth in the nation scoring 84.6 points per game this season after finishing second behind only national champion UConn in scoring offense last year. Sacramento State has led the Big Sky in scoring in seven straight seasons and this year is averaging 12 more points than the second highest scoring team in the league, North Dakota. The Hornets have scored more than 90 points in six games this season.