It may have been fitting that the Sacramento State women’s basketball team was within a short walk of the casinos on Monday night.
The seventh-seeded Hornets hit on most of the right numbers in a 102-89 victory over 10th-seeded Southern Utah in the opening round of the Big Sky Conference tournament at the Reno Events Center.
The Hornets (14-16) move into Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. quarterfinal against No. 2 Eastern Washington (19-11), a team the Hornets split with during the regular season.
Sac State coach Bunky Harkleroad expects the Hornets to achieve lofty statistics in his up-tempo “The System,” a big reason the Hornets already hold several NCAA Division I and Big Sky records.
Sac State entered the game against the Thunderbirds (4-25) leading D-I in three-pointers (12.3), steals (15.2) and offensive rebounds (20). The Hornets are second in turnovers forced (24.66) and turnover margin (10.14) and third in scoring (86.7).
Helped by strong offensive games from sophomore guard Maranne Johnson and senior guard Ericka Magana and impressive all-around games from senior guard Adella Randle-El and junior forward Gretchen Harrigan, the Hornets hit on most of Harkleroad’s favorite numbers.
They made 19 threes in 58 attempts. They forced 21 turnovers, resulting in 31 points. They had 12 steals, and 30 of their 51 rebounds came on the offensive end.
Johnson had a career-high 31 points and seven threes, and Randle-El, playing her first game since being named to the All-Big Sky Conference first team on Sunday, had 20 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and five steals.
Magana tied her career high with 18 points, and Harrigan added 17 points five rebounds and two charges taken. Senior forward Sydonia Daniels and junior forward Margaret Huntington combined for 17 rebounds.
“That’s how it’s supposed to work – sometimes it doesn’t – but I’m really proud of our team right now,” Harkleroad said. “When we shoot 33 (percent) from the arc, get up 58 shots and we’re crashing the boards, good things typically happen for us.”
Said Southern Utah coach Chris Boettcher: “You want to take the three-point shot away or offensive rebounds, and we weren’t able to do either one tonight. They just outworked us.”
Junior forward Jessica Richardson led the Thunderbirds with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Johnson, whose previous high was 22 points earlier this season against Villanova, helped compensate for the loss of junior Briana Burgos, the team’s top deep threat who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 27 against North Dakota.
“Having her out of the team, I felt I had to step up a little more,” Johnson said. “Shoot as many shots as possible, and I knew my team would have my back in trying to hit the boards.”
Other tournament openers
Big Sky Conference
- Sacramento State men: vs. Montana State, today, 5:30 p.m., at Reno Events Center
Big West Conference
- UC Davis men: vs. UC Santa Barbara, Thursday, noon, at Honda Center, Anaheim
- UC Davis women: vs. second-lowest remaining seed, Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., at UC Irvine