College Sports

Sac State men’s basketball team seeks Big Sky rebound at home

Sacramento State’s Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa, right, battling UC Davis’ Siler Schneider for the ball Nov. 21, has been heating up from 3-point range.
Sacramento State’s Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa, right, battling UC Davis’ Siler Schneider for the ball Nov. 21, has been heating up from 3-point range. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Now is the time for college basketball teams to establish momentum they hope can propel them beyond the first two weeks of March.

For the Sacramento State men, that means it’s time to start winning home games again.

56.3 Sac State men’s 3-point percentage over the past three games

After opening Big Sky Conference play 0-3, including two losses at the Nest, the Hornets (5-11, 2-3) beat Southern Utah and Northern Arizona on the road last week to right the ship. Now, on their longest homestand this season, the Hornets aim for their first home conference victory. They face Montana State (7-12, 2-4) on Thursday and Montana (10-9, 5-1) on Saturday, both at 7:05 p.m.

Sac State has started to find an offensive rhythm. The Hornets scored their most points in regulation this season in their 88-83 win over Southern Utah on Jan. 12. On Saturday, they defeated Northern Arizona 74-62 thanks to a 20-0 run, erasing a 10-point halftime deficit.

“I could see it coming the last few weeks,” coach Brian Katz said. “We were playing well but losing close games, and I think we just finally got over the hump.”

The start of conference play was uncharacteristic for the Hornets, who are 47-16 at home since the beginning of the 2012-13 season and hadn’t won back-to-back Big Sky road games since January 2015.

Improved long-distance shooting has contributed to the offensive uptick. Sac State shot 26.5 percent (65 of 245) from 3-point range through the first 13 games. But in the past three games, the Hornets shot at least 50 percent from beyond the arc and 56.3 percent (18 of 32) in that stretch.

Katz instructed his team to be more selective.

“We just said, ‘Let’s make sure the ones we shoot are really good. Let’s focus on getting the ball inside more and play through our bigs,’ ” Katz said.

Senior forward Nick Hornsby had career highs of 28 points and 14 rebounds against Southern Utah. He posted another double-double against Northern Arizona – 17 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa made 8 of 10 3-point attempts the past three games.

Katz said Montana State’s small-ball style and Montana’s depth could present difficult matchups.

“I think we’re starting to play in a proactive fashion defensively, which makes a huge difference,” Katz said.

The Hornets end their homestand Jan. 28 against Portland State.

I could see it coming the last few weeks. We were playing well but losing close games, and I think we just finally got over the hump.

Brian Katz, Sac State men’s coach

Women – Sac State (6-10, 2-3 Big Sky) seeks its first conference road win. The Hornets, 1-4 on the road overall, visit Montana State (11-5, 4-2) on Thursday and Montana (3-14, 0-6) on Saturday.

▪ UC Davis (12-5, 3-1 Big West Conference) visits Cal State Fullerton (4-13, 1-3) on Thursday. The Aggies’ only loss in conference play came Jan. 12 against first-place Long Beach State (12-6, 3-0).

Jessup men rise – William Jessup received its highest ranking in school history at No. 16 in Tuesday’s NAIA Division I Top 25 coaches poll, the Rocklin school reported.

The Warriors (13-5, 3-1 Golden State Athletic Conference) are 2-0 against ranked opponents this season, most recently beating then No. 7 Westmont 103-96 in overtime Jan. 12.

Michael McGough: 916-326-5508, @mike_mcgough

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