Takara Burse spent most of Sacramento State’s two-week winter break rehabbing from minor knee surgery instead of practicing with her women’s basketball teammates.
The junior guard from East Palo Alto had a staple removed from her left knee that was causing a lot of pain, the remnant of a high school ACL injury.
Burse said the surgery made her feel like a new woman, something that proved to be bad news for rival UC Davis on Saturday at the Pavilion.
Burse had a career-high 22 points, including 17 in the second half, as the Hornets held off the Aggies 84-78 in the annual Causeway Cup battle.
Sac State improved to 8-1, matching the program’s best start since the 1976-77 team, then at Division II.
It also was the Hornets’ first win at UC Davis (4-8) since the 1988-89 season as they prepare to open Big Sky Conference play Thursday at home against Montana State.
UC Davis came in with a strong game plan: try to minimize the Hornets’ prolific 3-point game and shut down senior playmaker Alle Moreno.
Sac State leads the nation in 3-pointers made per game (14.8) and had set an NCAA Division I record for 3-point attempts (55) in their last game against UC Irvine.
The taller, longer Aggies limited the Hornets to 33 3-point attempts (they made 12) and Moreno was held to five points, nearly 13 below her team-leading 17.8 average.
The Aggies also shot 77 percent from the foul line, 52 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range.
Still it wasn’t enough, even though the Aggies, once behind by 14 points, three times closed to within two points late in the game, including 80-78 on Sydnee Fipps’ reverse layup with 23 seconds left.
But Burse sprinted downcourt ahead of everyone and scored a layup off a halfcourt pass from Gigi Hascheff. After Fipps (a team-high 21 points and 14 rebounds) missed a shot near the basket with six seconds left, Sac State guard Fantasia Hilliard (16 points, six assists) added two free throws.
The 5-foot-8 Burse made 9 of 14 shots and was 4 for 4 from 3-point range.
“Coming off this surgery, I was kind of nervous,” said Burse, whose previous career high was 16 points Dec. 7 against San Jose State. “But the surgery was helpful. I felt faster. I was able to bend my knee a little more.”
It was Sac State’s sixth win and fifth in a row by six or fewer points playing first-year coach Bunky Harkleroad’s “The System,” which features constant hockey-style lineup changes and nonstop, fullcourt pressure.
Already-thin UC Davis, playing without one starter and another still recovering from illness, struggled against Sac State’s press throughout much of the game and appeared to tire at the end.
Aggies junior Kelsey Harris, who had a career-high 19 points, missed two 3-pointers in the final 42 seconds that would have tied the score.
Sac State forced UC Davis into a season-high 30 turnovers while committing just 13 for a 37-7 edge in points off turnovers. The Hornets had 19 steals, besting their NCAA-leading 16.1 per game.
“Sacramento State is a heck of a basketball team,” said UC Davis coach Jennifer Gross. “They force you to play a certain way, and they find a way to turn you over. We knew going into the game that we were going to have to limit our turnovers”