The special season for area college basketball isn’t over yet.
Sure, the Sacramento State and UC Davis men saw their historic Division I seasons end last week.
But the Sac State women are still going strong and getting stronger while making history in the program’s first postseason.
In arguably their best game of the season, the Hornets crushed Big Sky Conference rival Eastern Washington 84-49 Monday night in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament at The Nest.
The Hornets, who started the season 2-10, won for the seventh time in the past eight games and 16th in the past 21.
Sac State (18-15) hosts Saint Mary’s (22-10) in the round of 16 on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Gaels beat Fresno State 83-64 on Monday.
Eastern Washington (21-12) beat the Hornets 80-79 on Feb. 12 at The Nest, one of only two losses for the Hornets in 13 home games. This time, the Eagles couldn’t keep pace against the Hornets, who wear down opponents with their fullcourt pressure defense and up-tempo offense in coach Bunky Harkleroad’s novel “The System.”
“It’s all about playing your best basketball in March,” said sophomore forward Margaret Huntington, who had 11 points, 11 rebounds and three steals. “We all knew that this could be our last game together in The Nest, so we played together and we played for our seniors.”
Sac State used a 16-0 first-half run to go ahead by 17 points, led 38-28 at halftime, then sprinted to a 20-point lead five minutes into the second half. The lead peaked at 38 with 4:14 to play.
“Our players were determined to play as hard as they could and good things happen,” Harkleroad said. “Our seniors really stepped up and led us.”
The senior trio of Takara Burse, Andrea Chenier and Fantasia Hilliard delivered. Burse had a team-high 17 points, all in the second half; Chenier scored 12 points, all on three-pointers; and Hilliard, an All-Big Sky first-team selection, had eight points, nine assists and four steals. Freshman Maranne Johnson had 12 points as 10 players scored and 14 played for the Hornets.
Lexie Nelson led Eastern Washington with 12 points, playing 37 minutes against relentless pressure.
Sac State, the Division I national leader in four categories, forced Eastern Washington into 33 turnovers, including 22 steals, and converted them into 41 points. The shorter Hornets outrebounded the Eagles 51-34 and held them to 34 percent shooting in their best defensive performance of the season.
Now Sac State gets a rematch against Saint Mary’s, which beat the Hornets 99-91 in Moraga on Nov. 24.
“It’s been awhile since we faced them,” Harkleroad said. “We know they’re good. But it’s March. We’re still alive. This WNIT has been a great thing for us.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.