Jamie Craighead knows a thing or two about home-court advantage. The Sacramento State women's basketball coach played at Oregon, where visiting teams dreaded to play in what was affectionately called by the Ducks, at least "the Pit."
Formally named McArthur Court, the facility was replaced in 2011 by Matthew Knight Arena, but Craighead remembers when Ducks fans got so close to the action and so loud that opposing players had trouble hearing one another on the court. In 2001, the Sporting News named the Pit the best gym in America.
Craighead graduated from Oregon in 2002 after helping lead the Ducks to three NCAA Tournament appearances in her first three seasons. In her senior season, the Ducks won the 2002 Women's National Invitation Tournament championship.
The Nest, Sac State's cozy gym, probably won't ever equal the Pit, and the school continues to search for the funds to replace the Hornets' home court. But Craighead and the Hornets (8-7, 3-3 Big Sky Conference) are making it awfully uncomfortable on visiting teams. They entered Thursday night's game against visiting Idaho State (8-7, 3-3 Big Sky) 5-0 at home this season, but lost to the Bengals 62-52. The Hornets will host Weber State (0-15, 0-6) Saturday at 2 p.m.
"The Pit was a fun place to play, no doubt," Craighead said. "I've told the team we will be very competitive this season if we win our home games, and they've bought into it."
The Hornets have beaten Portland State, Eastern Washington, Utah Valley, USF and rival UC Davis at the Nest. Counting last season, Sac State had won seven consecutive home games before Thursday loss.
Before Thursday's game, the Hornets were averaging 74.8 points at home compared to 69.3 on the road. Home-court advantage is usually reflected on the defensive end, and the Hornets are no different. Opponents were scoring 66.8 points in the Nest but averaging 76.0 points on their respective courts. However, in a twist, the Hornets are shooting better from the field, from three-point range and from the free-throw line away from the Nest.
Hilliard shines Fantasia Hilliard (Sacramento High) was named the Big Sky Player of the Week for her efforts against Portland State and Eastern Washington.
Against Eastern Washington on Jan. 12, the sophomore point guard scored a career-best 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting. She made all three of her three-point attempts and all five of her free throws. She also had seven assists.
On Jan. 10, Hilliard had 12 points and nine assists against Portland State. She's scored 10 or more points in every Big Sky game this season. Hilliard joins teammates Se'nyce Parrish and Kylie Kuhns in being named conference Players of the Week this season.
"Against Eastern Washington, she was 7-of-9 shooting and I told her she can still get better," Craighead said. "Our team is starting to find some rhythm, and she's a big reason for that."