Women's Basketball

Impromptu point guard helps Sac State women pummel Weber State

Sacramento State point guard Fantasia Hilliard, a left-hander, can score but also has tremendous court vision, a reason she is the Sac State career leader in assists.
Sacramento State point guard Fantasia Hilliard, a left-hander, can score but also has tremendous court vision, a reason she is the Sac State career leader in assists. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Sacramento State senior guard Takara “TK” Burse’s comfort zone has been supremely tested this season.

But it’s turned into a boon for the record-setting Hornets women’s basketball team that started 2-10 but is riding a seven-game winning streak after crushing Weber State 108-65 on Saturday at the Nest, tying the school Division I record for largest margin of victory. The first-place Hornets are off to their best Big Sky Conference start in history at 7-1.

While sophomore Gretchen Harrigan led the Hornets with a career-high 21 points and seniors Andrea Chenier and Fantasia Hilliard each added 15 points, it is Burse who continues to be a critical difference-maker since a position switch at the start of conference play.

The East Palo Alto native’s 11 points, five assists and ball-hawking defense only told part of the story of the former shooting guard’s newfound impact for the Hornets.

“She’s been so strong, so impressive,” said Sac State coach Bunky Harkleroad. “We start conference play and we tell her, ‘Hey, you’re going to play point guard.’ Now that’s a challenge. But we’d be in a tough spot if she hadn’t.”

Harkleroad needed a second point guard behind Hilliard after Sierra College transfer Ericka Magana was injured Dec. 14 at USC.

Harkleroad runs an uptempo offense and defense and rotates players five at a time, a minute at a time. But as it turned out, he wound up with two athletically gifted quarterbacks with comparable and contrasting strengths and the experience of having played four years in the program.

The 5-3 Hilliard, a left-hander, can score but also has tremendous court vision, a reason she is the Sac State career leader in assists. The 5-8 Burse, a right-hander, is an explosive force going to the hoop when her perimeter mates are covered, one reason Sac State had a season-best 64 points in the paint on Saturday.

“It was a shock when Bunky said, ‘I want to trust you with the ball and see what you can do,’” Burse said. “It’s been fun. I love giving my teammates the ball and seeing them make plays. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team.”

Hilliard said the switch made a lot of sense.

“TK can handle the ball well, she knows the plays and she’s been here the longest, so she’s the perfect fit to run the second group,” Hilliard said.

Burse has played the entire season while wearing a mask. She broke her nose and left eye socket going up for a rebound against a 6-7 male practice player a few weeks before the start of the season.

“Every day it’s a different type of struggle with either my face being swollen or it’s aching,” she said. “I was pulling on my mask a lot today because my face was a little swollen.”

Burse even worked one rotation without it.

“I’d rather be mask-less all the time, but without it, in a blink of an eye, I could get hit and have to sit out the rest of the game,” she said. “So I’ll be wearing it all season.”

Sac State now faces three road games – against Montana State, second-place Montana and Portland State – before returning home to play five of its last seven games at the Nest.

“We know we have a big target on our back,” Burse said. “But we have a whole bunch of new players with new energy. We’ve added some new things defensively. And we’re playing harder than ever. It’s all pretty exciting.”

Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

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