Sacramento State men’s basketball has proven it can win at The Nest.
The Hornets extended their home record to 3-0 this season and 24-7 dating to the start of the 2012-13 season by topping Utah Valley 65-56 Monday.
Sac State improved to 4-1, matching the program’s best five-game start since the Hornets joined Division I in 1991-92.
But entering this season, Sac State’s Achilles’ heel has been its inability to win on the road. The Hornets got a huge road win against UC Riverside, 70-69 on Nov. 17, three days after falling 104-58 to No. 9 Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash.
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The Hornets have a shot at a two-game road winning streak tonight against Abilene Christian (2-3), a Southland Conference team that lost 76-56 at UC Riverside on Saturday. Like the Hornets, the Wildcats return all their starters from an 11-20 team last season.
A win tonight would allow the Hornets to match their longest winning streak (five games by the 2005-06 squad) in the past 26 years. The 1987-88 squad won six consecutive games when the program was in Division II.
Senior guard Mikh McKinney, who missed the Gonzaga game, is leading the Hornets in scoring with 16.5 points. More impressively, he is shooting 62 percent from the field and 50 percent from the three-point line while contributing 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. McKinney’s backcourt mate, senior Dylan Garrity, is two points shy of becoming the 12th Sac State men’s player to score 1,000 career points.
While the Texas trip will be a logistical test, the bigger challenge for the Hornets likely will come Saturday at UC Irvine. The Anteaters have been picked to win the Big West Conference after finishing as the regular-season champs last season.
They have the tallest player in college basketball in 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, the returning Big West Defensive Player of the Year. The Senegal native with the 8-foot wingspan has combined with 6-8 senior forward and former Sacramento High star Will Davis II for 290 career blocked shots entering the week. Sophomore guard Luke Nelson was the Big West Conference Freshman of the Year last season.
UC Irvine is ranked No. 13 in this week’s Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 and has beaten Chapman, Pacific and Loyola Marymount and lost to Saint Mary’s and No. 3 Arizona.
“They’re really good,” Sac State coach Brian Katz said of the Anteaters. “They have high-major talent.”
The Hornets could use another strong game from sophomore forward Nick Hornsby, who hails from Irvine.
In scoring a career-high 20 points against Utah Valley, the 6-7 Hornsby was 8 for 8 from the field and 2 for 3 from the foul line and added five rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots in 29 minutes.
Aggies’ fab freshmen – The UC Davis women’s team returned 10 players, including all its starters, from last season.
But freshmen Rachel Nagel, Pele Gianotti and Dani Nafekh are carving out valuable minutes and anchoring a bench that has outscored its counterparts by a combined 49 points through six games.
Nagel, a guard, is averaging 6.2 points in 16 minutes per game and had 10 points in Tuesday’s 73-70 loss to USF at the Pavilion. Nafekh, subbing at point guard for injured junior Molly Greubel (wrist), is averaging 15.6 minutes and has 11 assists, including seven against the Dons. Gianotti, a forward, is playing 10.3 minutes per game and averaging 5.2 points and 2.8 rebounds.
In a 60-53 win over Pacific on Saturday at the Pavilion, Nagel and Nafekh each hit two free throws in the final minutes to help the Aggies improve to 8-4 against their Stockton rivals.
“Our freshmen are stepping up huge,” said senior leader Sydnee Fipps, who finished with a team-high 21 points Saturday. “They’re so good for us right now. Just to come in the clutch and hit those free throws, that’s huge.”
UCD (3-3) plays Santa Clara on Friday and Southern Utah on Saturday in the Air Force Tournament in Colorado Springs, Colo., then visits San Jose State on Wednesday.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.