Last year, the Sacramento State women’s basketball team opened the season 11-1, the best start in school history, while playing a unique and crowd-pleasing NCAA record-breaking up-tempo offensive style.
It’s been an almost opposite start this season as the Hornets take a 1-8 record into Friday’s home game against Utah State.
But second-year coach Bunky Harkleroad quickly puts things into perspective.
Seven of the Hornets’ first 12 games last season were at home. This year, Sac State has played only two home games and just completed a road swing through four Pacific-12 Conference arenas. He said the Hornets were competitive in losses to No. 24 Cal, UCLA and USC, though they struggled at No. 16 Oregon State.
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And Harkleroad, who inherited a veteran team last season, has had to incorporate nine new players into “The System” without benefit of offseason bonding time.
“With nine players who never played D-I, it’s indeed a challenge,” Harkleroad said. “We knew that we were locked into a top-30 schedule and that our record could be horrible even if we were playing pretty well. We are getting better.”
The Hornets are averaging 84.4 points, 11th best in the country, but they are last – No. 343 – in points allowed at 95.9.
With his hockey-like substitution pattern, Harkleroad has used 15 players in a number of games, something he admits hasn’t always worked.
“When you look at what we do, it’s a lot easier to get seven or eight players in rhythm than 14 or 15,” Harkleroad said. “There are a lot more pieces to this puzzle. ... But in the end, I think it’s the way to go. We played three Pac-12 teams pretty tough. We’re not going to do that by walking the ball up the court.”
Harkleroad said he’s not surprised that seniors Fantasia Hilliard and Takara “T.K.” Burse and sophomore Hallie Gennett have been the team’s most productive players.
All played in “The System” last season.
Hilliard, the school’s career assists and steals leader, averages a team-best 13.6 points and scored a career-high 28 points in Sunday’s 101-99 loss at USC.
Gennett, averaging 12.6 points, scored 22 points against Cal, 19 against Oregon State, 20 against UCLA and 13 against USC.
Burse has been solid on defense and rebounding while averaging nine points.
Hilliard, a four-year starter, said there’s no head hanging among the players.
“I love that we’ve had this tough schedule – I wouldn’t take any games back,” she said. “The teams we lost to exposed all our weaknesses. We’re working on those, and I have no doubt we’ll be ready for conference. We’ll click at the end.”
Despite last year’s strong start, the Hornets finished sixth in the Big Sky Conference because of injuries and the ability of opponents to adjust to the Hornets’ frenetic style.
Et cetera – Sac State’s DeAndre Carter was named to two Football Championship Subdivision All-America teams. The senior was one of two receivers named to the Walter Camp Football Foundation first team and also earned first-team honors from College Sports Madness.
Carter led the FCS with 99 receptions, 1,321 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns.
UC Davis senior tackle and former El Dorado High star Ian Joseph was named to the Sports Madness second-team offense.
▪ Sac State senior Mikh McKinney was selected as the Big Sky’s Player of the Week after averaging 26.5 points, 6.5 steals and 5.5 assists in games against Cal State Fullerton last Thursday and Portland on Sunday.
McKinney, a 6-foot-1 guard, shot 60 percent from the field (21 of 35) while averaging 37.5 minutes. He became the 13th player in school history to surpass 1,000 career points in the 80-75 loss to Portland.
It’s the third time in three seasons McKinney has been Big Sky Player of the Week.
▪ ESPNU will broadcast UC Davis’ Big West Conference men’s basketball game against visiting Long Beach State on Jan. 10 at 8 p.m. It will be the third time ESPN will broadcast a game from the Pavilion.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.
UPCOMING BASKETBALL GAMES
▪ Men: Sunday at Seattle, 7:05 p.m., 1380;
Dec. 27 at Utah Valley, 6:05 p.m., 1380
▪ Women: Friday vs. Utah State, 7 p.m.;
Monday at San Jose State, 2 p.m.
▪ Men: Saturday at Air Force, 1 p.m., 105.5; Monday at Northern Colorado, 6 p.m., 105.5; Dec. 28 at Washington State, 3 p.m., 105.5
▪ Women: Monday at Stanford, 2 p.m., 90.3