SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Winner of four of its last five games, Sacramento State (8-11, 4-4 Big Sky) closes the first half of the Big Sky season facing Eastern Washington (11-9, 6-3 Big Sky) at 7:05 p.m. Thursday in The Nest. Maranne Johnson, who is averaging 16.4 points per game this season, needs just 16 points Thursday to reach 1,000 career points.
The Starting Five
- The Hornets have won three of their last four games, allowing just 71.4 points per game after permitting 93.5 points per game through the first 14 contests of the season, a difference of 22 points. This year the Hornets are 6-0 when allowing less than 80 points and 2-11 when allowing 80 or more.
- Junior guard Maranne Johnson, who is second in NCAA Div. I with 3.6 made 3-pointers per game, is just 16 points shy of becoming the fifth player in program history to score 1,000 points in only three seasons. She was named Big Sky Player of the Week after scoring 28 points at Portland State.
- 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.
- 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. In nine home games this season the Hornets have averaged 90.3 points with 13.3 threes per game.
- Eastern Washington is second in the Big Sky, behind the Hornets, in steals and forced turnovers but averages 17.6 turnovers per game. Junior Delaney Hodgins is the leading scorer in the conference averaging 17.7 points. The Eagles eliminated the Hornets from the Big Sky Tournament last year.
Scouting Eastern Washington (11-9, 6-3 Big Sky)
Eastern Washington was just 5-6 in non-conference play but has started 6-3 in the Big Sky, entering the week in fourth place in the league. Two of the team's three losses have come against Montana State while the other was a surprising road loss at Northern Arizona. The Eagles rank second in the league, behind the Hornets, in steals and forced turnovers but average 17.6 turnovers per game this season. Junior Delaney Hodgins, who was a preseason all-Big Sky selection, is the leading scorer in the conference averaging 17.7 points per game to go with 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game. The Eagles ended Sacramento State's season last year, beating the Hornets 100-97 in the Big Sky Tournament quarterfinals after the teams split their two regular season meetings in 2015-16. The two teams have faced off three times in each of the last two seasons, with each team winning three games.
Sacramento State won its second consecutive road game on Saturday in large part thanks to a 22-0 run. Trailing Portland State 58-45 with under three minutes to play in the third quarter, the Hornets scored five straight to end the period and started the fourth quarter 17-0 before the Vikings scored again with 3:33 left to play. During the nine minutes and 19 seconds between Portland State points the Hornets allowed just six field goal attempts and no free throws while forcing seven turnovers.
D Key in Winning Stretch
The Hornets have won four of their last five games, and a vastly improved defensive effort has been a huge factor. In the last four games the Hornets have allowed just 71.4 points per game after permitting 93.5 points per game through the first 14 contests of the season, a difference of more than 22 points. The team's opposing field goal percentage has dropped from .516 to .488 in the last five games and the Hornets have allowed nearly seven fewer shots per game, thanks in part to a +11.4 turnover margin in the stretch compared to a +6.2 margin through the first 14 games. For the year the Hornets are 6-0 when allowing less than 80 points and 2-11 when allowing 80 or more.
Junior guard Maranne Johnson is just 16 points shy of becoming only 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 just three seasons as a Hornet. She is averaging 16.4 points per game this season and 19.0 points in nine home games.
In Big Sky play the Sacramento State men's and women's basketball teams play the same opponents each game day, varying home and road locations. Through eight league games the two teams have had the same result each night, either both winning or both losing against the same opposing school on all eight nights. Several of the games have played out similarly as well; on Saturday against Portland State the Hornet women erased a 13-point deficit to win while the men battled back from down nine points in the last two minutes to earn an overtime win.
After missing the first 13 games of the season with a toe injury, senior forward Gretchen Harrigan has averaged 14.8 points per game through six contests and has led the team in scoring in four of them. 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 is shooting 46.1% from the field and has 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per contests.
Close L's, Bigger W's
Sacramento State's four Big Sky wins have come by an average scoring margin of +10.0. By comparison, the Hornets were within two possessions in three of their four Big Sky losses, including two road league games. The team has Big Sky losses by just two, four, and seven points.
Big Sky Best
Junior guard Maranne Johnson leads the Big Sky in 3-pointers and steals per game. She is second in NCAA Div. I averaging 3.63 made 3-pointers per game and has led the nation in the category earlier this year. She 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 seven other games. She has made at least one 3-pointer in 30 consecutive games (dating back to last season) and has multiple threes in 25 of those 30 contests. In just her third collegiate season Johnson ranks second in program history in career 3-pointers (196) and is third in in career steals (222).
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 and are 2-1 in home league games so far this year.
Sacramento State is second in Div. I averaging 13.3 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 eight straight games, recording 17+ thefts in four straight contests. Sacramento State has led Div. I in steals in three straight seasons and owns the Big Sky record tallying 30 steals at Portland State in 2015.
Happy at Home
In nine home games this season the Hornets have averaged 90.3 points per game shooting 39% overall and 33% from 3-point range. The team is averaging 13.3 made 3-pointers per game and 14.7 steals per game at home with a +10 turnover margin. By comparison, in 10 away games (eight road games and two neutral site) the Hornets have averaged just 78.7 points shooting 36% overall and 27% from three.
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.
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.
A First in Missoula
Sacramento State's 73-60 win at Montana Jan. 21 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.
Sacramento State has used 16 different starting lineups in 19 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.
Turning Over and Over
The Hornets have forced more than 23 turnovers per game this year, creating at least 23 opponent giveaways in nine games with four 30-turnover games. Sacramento State led NCAA Div. I with 24.16 turnovers forced per game last season and currently ranks fourth this year. The Hornets have scored 453 points off 438 forced turnovers while creating 14.6 more shots per game than their opponents this season.
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 43% field goal shooter for her career and has been even better this season, shooting 45% from the field. She has also improved her outside shooting at 41.4% from beyond the arc this year, the best long range shooting average on the team. She averages 10.8 points per game and is second in the Big Sky with 2.5 steals per game. She also pulled down a career-high nine rebounds at UC Irvine.
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 third on the team with 13.9 points per game this year and has scored in double figures in 14 games with two 20-point games.
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 9.2 rebounds per game this season lead the Big Sky and rank 55th in NCAA Div. I. She is fifth in program history with 761 career rebounds.