Opponents had been left frustrated and exhausted during the Sacramento State women’s historic opening-season run.
But on Saturday at The Nest in front of a near-capacity crowd, it was the Hornets who were left puzzled and gassed.
In a shocker, Southern Utah rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit to defeat the Hornets 97-79, ending Sac State’s program-best nine-game winning streak and handing the Hornets (11-2, 3-1) their first home and Big Sky Conference losses of the season.
It killed the party atmosphere on Pack the House Day in which children ages 5-12 were admitted free, received an autographed team poster and were treated to a free clinic with the Hornets after the game.
But during the game, it was Southern Utah (8-4, 2-1) that put on the clinic of how to disrupt the Hornets’ up-tempo “System,” which, entering the game, had them leading the NCAA in 3-pointers made (14.7) and steals per game (16.7) and third in turnover margin (plus-11) and points per game (94.2).
Southern Utah was able to slow the tempo by breaking the press, then passing and dribbling the ball against pressure while milking most of the time off the 30-second shot clock before successfully attacking the basket.
“We knew we couldn’t beat them at what they do,” said Southern Utah coach JR Payne. “We figured our best chance was to do something different and get them to do something different.
“They’re so good at switching people and taking quick shots, we knew we couldn’t keep up with them if we tried to match up, so it was a clash of styles.”
Southern Utah outscored the Hornets 62-37 in the second half. For the game, the Thunderbirds shot 65 percent from the field, with 54 points coming inside the key.
They had only one more turnover (17 to 16) than the Hornets, and they made one more steal (9 to 8), areas where Sac State has feasted off opponents’ mistakes.
“We didn’t play our style, and we let them dictate the pace of the game,” said senior captain Alle Moreno, one of three Hornets with nine points. “Today they were the better team, that’s pretty much the bottom line.”
Marissa Robbins led six Southern Utah players in double figures with 16 points. Fantasia Hilliard had 13 points and six assists to lead Sac State.
“Southern Utah is just a good Division I basketball team,” Sac State coach Bunky Harkleroad said. “We didn’t play well. But the good thing about this time of year is you don’t have too much time to hang your head. We’ve got too much work to do.”
After playing seven of the last eight games at home, Sac State will play Thursday at Portland State and next Saturday at Eastern Washington.
UC Davis 63, Long Beach State 60 in Davis – Kelsey Harris’ 3-pointer from the left corner with 14 seconds to play was the game winner, and Sydnee Fipps tallied her third double double of the season with a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Aggies (6-9, 1-1) topped the 49ers (9-7, 1-1) in a Big West Conference game at the Pavilion.
Alyson Doherty had 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocks and Harris finished with 11 points and four rebounds.
Sac State 77, Southern Utah 49 in Cedar City, Utah – Junior guards Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney combined for 36 points and nine assists, and the Hornets (5-8, 1-3) shot 60 percent from the field and held the Thunderbirds (1-11, 0-3) to 32 percent shooting in a Big Sky Conference game.
It was the largest road win (based on point differential) since the program went to Division I in 1991 and the largest since a 34-point victory, 79-45, at Chaminade midway through the 1989-90 season.
Long Beach State 99, UC Davis 74 in Long Beach – Trailing 44-40 at the half, the 49ers went on a 30-0 run to open the second half and to coast past the Aggies in the Big West Conference game.
Ryan Sypkens had 21 points, including six 3-pointers, and Corey Hawkins added 19 for UCD (5-12, 0-2). Travis Hammonds led Long Beach State (5-11, 1-1) with 20 points, six rebounds and three steals.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.