There weren’t any tears for the Sacramento State women’s basketball team, whose historic postseason run came to an end Thursday night at The Nest.
In falling to Saint Mary’s 77-69 in the “Sweet 16” of the WNIT, the Hornets knew they had left every ounce of energy on the court against a taller more physical rival with a lot more postseason experience.
“We don’t want to have any energy to cry,” said Sac State coach Bunky Harkleroad. “There are no tears left.
“We worked hard, tried our best and it wasn’t good enough tonight. But you can’t say enough about Saint Mary’s. They came in here and played so poised and executed their game plan. That’s impressive.”
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Saint Mary’s (23-10) will play at UCLA Sunday in the WNIT quarterfinals.
Sac State (18-16) took 33 more shots, made 16 three-pointers and forced the Gaels into 27 turnovers. But the Hornets rarely got close to the basket against the taller and longer Gaels. They were outrebounded 59 to 29.
“The way we play is all about the runs and tiring people out,” said senior guard Fantasia Hilliard. “But we couldn’t get any rebounds and we couldn’t get the shots to fall and we weren’t able to tire them out.”
Sac State took 85 shots, including 56 threes.
But the Hornets shot 29.4 percent from the field and 28.6 from three. Saint Mary’s shot 57.7 percent and made two of its three point attempts.
Lauren Nicholson, a 6-foot- junior guard, had 19 points and six rebounds; 6-foot senior forward Hayley Hendrickson had 16 points and seven rebounds and 5-9 guard Shannon Mauldin 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
The 5-3 Hilliard, capping off one a brilliant four-year career in which she set school assists and steals records, had 13 points and six assists. Sophomore Brianna Burgos had 13 points and Maranne Johnson 11 points.
Sac State played from behind most of the game. During a 6 minute, 18-second stretch in the first half, the Hornets missed 14 consecutive shots and trailed by as many as 13 points.
But the Hornets kept battling back despite the streaky shooting.
Three consecutive threes by Johnson, Burgos and Adella Randel-El put the Hornets ahead 57-52 with 10:25 to play. But the Hornets went cold and Saint Mary’s continued to attack the basket as it pulled away.
Saint Mary’s was making its sixth consecutive postseason appearance, including the last three seasons in the WNIT. They now hold an 18-1 advantage in the all-time series with Sac State.
But Hilliard said there was no reason for the Hornets to hang their heads.
“We were disappointed tonight, but our team is very excited about what we’ve done this season and for what’s ahead in the future,” said the former Sacramento High standout. “To reach the third round of the WNIT for the first time was a pretty good end for our team.”
Harkleroad was proud of a group that started the season 2-10 but rebounded to finish second in the Big Sky Conference and win two postseason games.
“We tested them,” Harkleroad said of his players. “This was not an easy season for them. We had a good run and we improved a lot. So I’m proud of them.”
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