The Sacramento State men’s basketball team still has eight regular-season games left – four at home.
But while the Hornets’ coaches and players remain cautious, there’s a quiet confidence this group may be special in the annals of the long-struggling program.
Sac State’s bid to post the school’s first winning season since moving to Division I in 1991 was reinforced after the Hornets (10-11, 6-6 Big Sky Conference) posted their first 4-0 homestand in 32 years. They beat Idaho State, Big Sky leader Weber State, Northern Arizona and Southern Utah to move into a three-way tie for sixth place.
“These guys really want to win,” said Sac State coach Brian Katz. “They’ve been through some tough times. They feel it. Right now we’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
In beating Southern Utah 68-56 Monday, the Hornets improved to 5-1 at home in conference play and 8-2 overall at The Nest. But on the road they are 1-5 in conference and 2-9 overall as they play at Eastern Washington tonight and at Portland State on Saturday.
Nine of the 11 teams in the conference are within two games of each other with four weeks remaining in the regular season. The top seven qualify for the conference tournament.
Katz hopes that these Hornets don’t feel the weight of the program’s baggage, which includes just four winning seasons in 40 years.
“I’ve told the guys that you have to be fearless, not fearful, and they have taken that to heart,” Katz said. “Maybe it’s been the history of the program, and that in the D-I era we’ve never got it done.
“There’s something to that. But I keeping telling them whatever happened here before is ancient history. It has nothing to do with us. So don’t let it become an issue.”
Junior Mikh McKinney, a 6-foot-1 guard and community college transfer in his second season at Sac State,
said the Hornets’ turnaround started with their last road loss at Northern Colorado on Jan. 25, a game in which he said the 72-62 score didn’t really indicate how well the Hornets played.
“We started playing a different kind of basketball than in the past,” McKinney said. “We played tough against a really good team. We weren’t rewarded that night, but (that intensity) carried over into the homestand.”
Aggies improved, too – Just when it appeared it would be a lost season, the UC Davis men are 3-3 in the past six games in the Big West Conference.
Although they squandered a 21-point lead to Cal State Northridge last Thursday, they rebounded to win 90-86 on freshman Georgi Funtarov’s three-pointer with seven seconds left in overtime.
Two days later against Big West-leading UC Irvine, redshirt freshman Darius Graham missed a three-pointer with three seconds to go in a 61-59 Aggies loss.
“Our team is getting better,” said UC Davis coach Jim Les. “They are battling and giving themselves a chance to win every night. ... Our defense has been markedly better. The mindset of our guys going into games, and throughout the games, has been really positive.”
Junior Corey Hawkins continues to carry the Aggies at both ends in averaging 18.3 points and making a team-high 34 steals, and junior Avery Johnson has provided a spark on defense with 30 steals while adding a dash of offense since conference play began.
The Aggies (8-16, 3-6) play tonight at last-place Cal State Fullerton (7-15, 2-6).
Hornets women – Sac State (15-6, 7-5) hosts Eastern Washington (11-10, 7-5) tonight and Portland State (6-15, 4-8) Saturday at The Nest, where the Hornets are 10-1.
Last Thursday, Sac State (15-6, 7-5) got a big road win, 99-91 over Northern Arizona.
Tonight’s game will be the Hornets’ annual Pink Game to raise breast cancer awareness. The team will wear pink warmups and fans are encouraged to wear pink.
Aggies women – UC Davis shot 60 percent (24 for 40) from the field, 50 percent (9 for 18) from three-point range and 89 percent (25 for 28) from the free-throw line in an 82-74 victory over host Northridge last Thursday. Five Aggies finished in double figures, led by Sydnee Fipps’ 21 points, to avenge a Jan. 9 loss.
UC Davis (10-12, 5-4) is in a four-way tie for third place in the Big West entering tonight’s game against visiting Cal State Fullerton (8-13, 4-4).
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.