Under coach Bunky Harkleroad, the Sacramento State women’s basketball team has attacked school and national offensive records by playing its entertaining, frenetic version of “The System.”
The Hornets shattered the NCAA record for 3-pointers in a game by making 25 twice during the 2015-16 season. The old record was 23.
For the third consecutive year, Sac State led NCAA Division I in 3-pointers and steals per game. It also was tops in offensive rebounds and turnovers forced. The Hornets averaged a program-best 87.5 points per game, second only to four-time defending NCAA champion UConn.
Surely the Hornets have hit the statistical ceiling. Right?
“The way we play so fast on offense and with our full-court traps on defense, I really think we’ll beat some of those records this year,” said senior forward Margaret Huntington said.
“We’re trying to be more extreme,” he said. “We’re changing some things in terms of X’s and O’s. We’ll have some different looks, though the philosophy will be the same.”
That philosophy includes shuttling five-player rotations into the game every 60 seconds or so and putting up 100 shots, including 50 3-point attempts – each game. It requires massive amounts of forced turnovers and offensive rebounding dominance, even though the Hornets are often smaller than their opponents.
Ideally, Harkleroad will use 12 players or more a game. Despite the constant substitutions and that most play fewer than 20 minutes during a 40-minute game, senior forward Gretchen Harrigan says the pace is exhausting.
“You have to do all the little things, like diving on loose balls or running after rebounds, even if you don’t think you can get it,” she said. “It’s digging deep and doing the dirty stuff other (teams) don’t want to do,” she said.
Last year, the Hornets averaged 12.5 3-pointers, 24.2 forced turnovers, 20.0 offensive rebounds and 14.9 steals per game.
Despite those national-leading marks, Sac State finished 14-17 overall while going 10-8 and placing seventh in the Big Sky Conference . The Hornets fell 100-97 to Eastern Washington in the tournament quarterfinals in Reno.
Harkleroad, who’s entering his fourth season as Sac State’s coach, thinks the Hornets are close to a breakthrough. With six seniors and five juniors, he has his most experienced team since coming to Sac State.
“Experience in the Big Sky is priceless,” Harkleroad said. “If you look at the Big Sky teams that have been very successful, they have had good upper-class leadership.”
Sac State returns senior guard Brianna Burgos (14.4 points per game), junior guard Maranne Johnson (13.1) and Harrigan (11.2) – all starters and three of the team’s four leading scorers last season. Also back are seniors Huntington and Ashlyn Crenshaw, who have played throughout Harkleroad’s tenure.
Senior guard Emily Easom, a Portland State transfer, could be an impact player after averaging 13.9 points for the Vikings as a junior in 2014-15. Harkleroad said junior point guard Justyce Dawson has made dramatic strides, and he expects true freshmen Tiara Scott and Quayonna Harris to contribute at that position.
Forwards Alexia Mefi and Dajhae Mullins, community college transfers, will give the Hornets more physicality inside, where the 6-foot Huntington has carried a huge load throughout her career playing against taller posts.
Despite the optimism, the Hornets enter the season banged up. A foot injury could keep Harrigan out until the start of conference play. Burgos, a preseason All-Big Sky selection, has a hamstring issue and had offseason knee surgery. Crenshaw (back) and senior forward Kyhonta Doughty (knee) also have been dealing with injuries.
“We have six seniors, and four are injured,” Harkleroad said. “But it may be a blessing because it means these new players can step up and grow, and it may make us great in the long run.”
SACRAMENTO STATE WOMEN’S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Nov. 11 at San Francisco 6 p.m.
Nov. 13 Cal Poly 2 p.m.
Nov. 16 Nevada 7 p.m.
Nov. 18 vs New Mexico State (Hawaii Classic) 6 p.m.
Nov. 20 vs Youngstown State (Hawaii Classic) 5 p.m.
Nov. 25 Hofstra 2 p.m.
Nov. 29 Stanislaus State 7 p.m.
Dec. 3 USC 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 8 at Cal 7 p.m.
Dec. 10 at UC Irvine 2 p.m.
Dec. 18 at UC Davis 2 p.m.
Dec. 29 at Northern Colorado* 6 p.m.
Dec. 31 at North Dakota* 12 p.m.
Jan. 7 Portland State* 12 p.m.
Jan. 12 Southern Utah* 7 p.m.
Jan. 14 Northern Arizona* 2 p.m.
Jan. 19 at Montana State* 6 p.m.
Jan. 21 at Montana* 1 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Portland State* 12 p.m.
Feb. 2 Eastern Washington* 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 Idaho* 2 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Weber State* 6 p.m.
Feb. 11 at Idaho State* 1 p.m.
Feb. 16 Montana* 7 p.m.
Feb. 18 Montana State* 2 p.m.
Feb. 23 at Northern Arizona* 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 25 at Southern Utah* 1 p.m.
March 1 North Dakota* 7 p.m.
March 3 Northern Colorado* 2 p.m.
*Big Sky Conference game
SACRAMENTO STATE WOMEN’S BASKETBALL ROSTER
NO. NAME POS. HT. YR.
1 Raegen Rohn G 5-6 So.
2 Taylor Brown G 5-7 Jr.
3 Brianna Burgos G 5-6 Sr.
4 Justyce Dawson PG 5-4 Jr.
5 Kelli Robinson G 5-6 So.
10 Margaret Huntington F 6-0 Sr.
11 Emily Easom G 5-10 Sr.
12 Ashlyn Crenshaw G 5-8 Sr.
14 Quayonna Harris PG 5-6 Fr.
15 Alexia Mefi F 5-8 Jr.
20 Tiara Scott PG 5-4 Fr.
22 Maranne Johnson G 5-7 Jr.
23 Dajhae Mullins G/F 5-10 Jr.
24 Gretchen Harrigan F 5-8 Sr.
30 Kyhonta Doughty F 6-1 Sr.
32 Hannah Friend G 6-0 So.
33 Kennedy Nicholas F 6-3 Fr.