Sacramento State men’s basketball coach Brian Katz likes to use a boxing analogy when describing the competitive play in the Big Sky Conference.
“It’s like being in 18 fistfights,” Katz has said several times.
Even in its best season since moving up to Division I in 1991, the Hornets (16-8, 10-3) have hit the canvas a few times this year in conference games. They are 3-3 on the road, including back-to-back losses at Eastern Washington on Feb. 12 and at Idaho on Saturday.
Those two losses dropped Sac State into a second-place tie with Montana (14-10, 10-3), a half-game behind Eastern Washington (19-6, 10-2).
Never miss a local story.
But at home, the Hornets have been like a heavyweight champ. They are 7-0 and can finish the season undefeated in conference games at the Nest with victories against Northern Colorado (12-12, 7-6) on Thursday and North Dakota (8-16, 4-9) on Saturday. Both games are sellouts, though standing-room-only tickets will be sold one hour before tipoff (both at 7:05 p.m.)
The Hornets, No. 20in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, have won a school-record eight consecutive conference home games dating to last season and are 32-8 overall at home the past three years, including 11-1 this season.
In their 13 Big Sky games this season, the Hornets have outscored opponents by an average of 3.4 points. The margin of victory at home, however, is 11.7 points. They also have shot 53.4 percent from the field and 44.3 percent from three-point range on their home court.
The 12-team, nine-state Big Sky Conference is notoriously home-court friendly, but last weekend was an exception. Northern Colorado, which beat Sac State 84-73 on Jan. 10 in Greeley, and North Dakota each lost twice at home, swept by Montana State and Montana. And on Saturday, defending regular-season champion Weber State lost to Northern Arizona, its fourth consecutive loss at home, and Eastern Washington was upset by Portland State, its first loss in 14 home games.
Road warriors – UC Davis enters Thursday’s men’s game at Long Beach State with a little breathing room over the 49ers and UC Irvine in the Big West Conference.
The Aggies (19-4, 9-1), who have won 10 of their past 11 games, were idle Saturday while Long Beach State and UC Irvine both lost. UCD has a two-game lead over UC Irvine (14-10, 7-3) and a 21/2-game lead over Long Beach State (13-14, 7-4) with six conference games to play.
That lead might allow coach Jim Les to rest guard Corey Hawkins another game, especially with Hawaii coming to the Pavilion on Saturday. UCD’s only conference loss was against the Rainbow Warriors, 84-76 on Jan. 22 in Honolulu.
Hawkins has missed the past three games because of a lower leg injury.
Hawkins had one of his best games of the season (28 points, 10 rebounds) in the Aggies’ 73-67overtime victory over Long Beach State on Jan. 10 at the Pavilion. Long Beach State has lost its past three Big West games, though the 49ers are 9-1 over the Aggies at the Pyramid since 2005.
UC Davis, No. 11 in the Mid-Major Top 25, continues to lead the nation in three-point shooting percentage (46.1 percent) and is third in field-goal percentage (50 percent) behind The Associated Press No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 10 Notre Dame.
Aggies women can shoot, too – UC Davis senior Kelsey Harris (58 for 124, 46.8 percent), freshman Rachel Nagel (21 for 48, 43.8 percent) and senior Sydnee Fipps (54 for 128, 42.2 percent) lead the Big West in three-point field-goal accuracy.
Fipps had a season-high 27 points in a 74-67 overtime win at Cal State Fullerton on Feb. 12 that moved the Aggies into sole possession of second place. It was her seventh 20-point game of the season and 30th of her career, one short of the team record.
It’s a big week for UCD (12-10, 7-3). The Aggies host third-place Long Beach State (20-5, 7-4) on Thursday before traveling Saturday to play first-place Hawaii (17-7, 9-2), which has won nine in a row.
Hornets women also second – Sac State, which defeated Idaho 92-84 last Saturday, is in second place in the Big Sky, one game behind conference-leading Montana and one-half game ahead of third-place Eastern Washington.
In the team’s final trip of the season, the Hornets (11-13, 9-4) play Thursday at Northern Colorado (13-11, 7-6), then play in a showdown game at North Dakota (16-9, 8-5) on Saturday. The Hornets hold the tiebreaker over North Dakota, which they beat 93-86 at the Nest in January.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.
UPCOMING BASKETBALL GAMES
Men: Thursday vs. Northern Colorado, 7:05 p.m., 1380; Saturday vs. North Dakota, 7:05 p.m., 1380
Women: Thursday at Northern Colorado, 6 p.m.; Saturday at North Dakota, noon
Men: Thursday at Long Beach State, 7 p.m., 105.5; Saturday vs. Hawaii, 7 p.m., 105.5
Women: Thursday vs. Long Beach State, 7 p.m., 90.3; Saturday at Hawaii, 9 p.m., 90.3