Cardboard cutouts with the facial likeness of Sacramento State men's basketball coach Brian Katz were debuted Wednesday night at the Nest.
One side featured Katz's toothy grin. The other had a green tinge and surly expression on Katz's face not unlike that of the Incredible Hulk.
Most of the night, the face on the real Katz sported a smile as the Hornets won their Big Sky Conference opener 62-57 over Montana State. It was Sac State's first Big Sky opening win since the 2005-2006 season.
The Hornets, playing for the first time in 11 days, improved to 6-3 overall. Montana State fell to 2-7 and 0-2 in the conference after an 87-80 loss at Northern Arizona on Monday.
"It doesn't surprise me that it was a low-scoring game," Katz said. "(I watched tape of) all eight of their games over the break and I'm sure they've seen all of ours. The hardest baskets to get are always in league."
The 6-3 start is the Hornets' best since that 2005-06 season also began 6-3. That team advanced to the semifinals of the Big Sky tournament and finished 15-15, the best overall record since Sac State moved to Division I in the 1991-92 season.
The Hornets were a little rusty, Katz said, but were able to hold off a late Bobcats charge. Sac State led by 14 points at the 17:03 mark of the second half after two John Dickson three-pointers.
The Hornets' lead stayed around 10 points for much of the second half until Montana State started having success inside. Sac State guard Mikh McKinney stemmed the rally with two free throws to give the Hornets a 59-54 lead with less than a minute to play.
McKinney finished with a game-high 21 points, 11 coming at the free-throw line. He also had six rebounds, four assists and just one turnover in 34 minutes.
"I had a terrible game against San Jose State (a 62-57 loss Dec. 8), and I needed to find myself," McKinney said. "I got up a lot of shots over the break and knew I just had to keep attacking the basket."
Sac State struggled at times with Montana State's 2-3 zone defense and relied on four three-pointers in the first half to build a 28-21 lead at the break.
"That's the first time we've faced a zone all year," Katz said.
The Hornets finally started to have success penetrating the Bobcats' zone early in the second half by dribbling toward the free-throw line and bouncing passes to center Konner Veteto at the low block. Veteto had just six points in the first half but equaled that output in the first 3:30 of the second half. He finished with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
The Hornets debuted new gold uniforms with dark green piping. It's the first time they've worn gold uniforms since 2005-2006.