Even more impressive than the Sac State women’s historic 7-1 start is how the height-challenged Hornets have held their own against taller teams.
The Hornets seldom use any player taller than 6 feet and usually start a lineup that averages 5-7.
Though the Hornets are being outrebounded almost 10 per game (54.1 to 44.9), they are consistently beating their opponents on the offensive boards (19 to 15.6), a huge positive in coach Bunky Harkleroad’s up-tempo “System.”
And the Hornets’ guard duo of 5-3 Fantasia Hilliard and 5-5 Alle Morenoare combining to average nearly eight rebounds despite often being the shortest players on the floor.
In Saturday’s 99-94 win over visiting UC Irvine, Hilliard and Moreno combined for four offensive rebounds and nine total. And when one of them grabs a rebound, it often elicits a buzz from the partisan Sac State crowd.
“They’re smart, they’re quick, and they have big hearts,” Harkleroad said. “You know when they are crashing they are doing it from 15 or 20 feet out.
“I’d hate to try to box either one of those two out that deep on the floor. They can take the height out of it with their quickness and ability to track down balls.”
Saturday also was a milestone day for Moreno, who scored a team-high 22 points to became the 11th Sac State women’s player to surpass 1,000 career points.
Moreno, a senior from Stockton, scored her 1,000th point on a free throw with 37 seconds left in the first half, then had 18 second-half points, including a 3-pointer that broke a 94-94 tie with 29 seconds remaining. She made two free throws with six seconds left to clinch the win.
“(Scoring 1,000 points) feels great, especially in a great environment like this at home,” Moreno said. “It’s a great accomplishment that I can only be thankful for from my teammates and all my coaches.”
Hilliard had 13 points and a career-high 12 assists.
The Hornets are taking a break this week and next for finals and the holidays. They play next Dec. 28 at UC Davis in a Causeway Cup contest.
Katz, in his sixth season, said it doesn’t hurt that his coaching staff has strong area connections.
Assistants Brandon Laird (El Camino), Ajay Riding (Davis) and Chris Walker (Foothill) all played locally.
Riding and Walker also played for Katz at Delta College in Stockton and were on his 2004-05 team that went 30-2 and reached the community college state semifinals.
Laird was on the UC Davis team in 1998 that went 31-2 and won the Division II national championship, and he also was an Aggies assistant before coaching at Menlo College. He joined Katz’s staff in 2009.
“Guys with ties to the area and former players, you can’t beat them,” Katz said. “Those who have played for you know what you want and understand your DNA.
“When a kid struggles a little bit, doesn’t understand a play or thinks you may have been hard on him that day in practice, the guys who have been there with you can say, ‘Here is what he wants.’ ”
Katz still marvels at Walker’s success as a player.
Walker helped Foothill win a CIF state championship, then led Delta to the final four en route to being named the Northern California Junior College Player of the Year and first team all-state. He then played at Oklahoma.
“Chris Walker is one of the best players I ever coached,” Katz said. “Within a week of working with him, I knew he’d be a coach someday. He’s really smart, and a fast learner. You told him to do something once, and you never had to tell him to do it again, ever.”
The Hornets, seeking to improve on last year’s breakthrough 14-win season, will try to even their nonconference record to 4-4 when they playSaturday at Cal State Fullerton (4-7).
Sac State got a strong performance last Saturday from UC Davis transfer Alex Tiffin. The 6-9 junior forward had career highs of 21 points and nine rebounds in an 85-54 win over visiting William Jessup of Rocklin.