Women’s basketball starts new season at Big Sky Tournament

State Hornet Staff

They left today with the hope of returning with a championship title. 

Although Sacramento State women’s basketball has never won a Big Sky Tournament in school history, this year’s team goes in with a handful of broken records and momentum off its last two conference wins. 

Sac State is going into the tournament tied in fourth place with Idaho State (18-11, 13-7 BSC) and will face the Bengals in a quarterfinal matchup on Wednesday.

The farthest the Hornets have ever made it in the tournament was to the semifinals last season until they defeated them, 70-57.

“I think when you get to the point in the season that every team has seen us two times, we have to go even faster,“ said head coach Jamie Craighead. “You go faster than you think that other team can go and that will be the game plan on Wednesday – to see how fast Idaho State can play.”

The Bengals swept Sac State this season in their two game matchup, but Craighead said her team is going in with a plan to make sure it does not happen again. 

“I feel like we let their style win out the last two times and we really need to crank it up,” Craighead said. “I think we have to make sure we’re not in foul trouble in these games (and) I also think we have to limit second chances. We can’t let them get a bunch of offensive rebounds. If we can do those two things, I think we’ll be in the game.”

The Hornets ended their regular season last week with two wins at The Nest against Montana State and the No. 1 conference seed Montana for just the second time in school history. 

“The fact that we just beat the No. 1 team in the conference is huge,” said team captain Alle Moreno. “I think we’ve got some team camaraderie right now and some confidence. I think that’s great going into the tournament.“

The Hornets have been training all season long, but there is no preparation for a one-game elimination system. Craighead said she hopes the energy of these wins will carry over to the tournament.

“I think we feel pretty good that we’re peaking at the right time,” Craighead said. “I told them I think we played the best basketball we have ever played this last week and at this point it’s a one-game season – 40 minutes that you’re guaranteed.” 

Moreno said the team chemistry is the best it has ever been and it is important not to lose sight of the team’s goals and expectations. 

“I just want everyone to be focused,” Moreno said. “This isn’t just a normal road trip. This is the biggest road trip of the year and this is what we’ve been preparing for. I just want everyone to be focused, be there for each other when times get hard during the game and just play with everything they have.” 

Senior forward Mallorie Franco said coming off the wins put the Hornets in a good light, because they were considered underdogs and now they are a threat to the conference leaders.

“Since it’s a one-and-done season now, we’re all focused and just going to try and make it through all three games,” Franco said. “We’re an underdog. We’re the highest seed of the lower seeds and I think I would rather it be that way.”

This will be the last tournament Franco will play in along with the other seniors Kylie Kuhns, Natasha Torgerson and Megan Kritsher. 

“I think they’re ready and I know we’ve got four hungry seniors that don’t want their season to end. I’m hoping we can go and shock a lot of people,” Craighead said. 

If the Hornets come out on top of the Big Sky Tournament, they will be admitted into the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament, which would be a first for the Sac State program. 

“I just want to go out on a good note both individually and as a team,” Franco said. “Obviously, my goal is to win all three games and make the NCAA Tournament. It would be a big step for this program and I’d like to be a part of it, especially as a senior.” 

Craighead has used her full-court style defense to her advantage and thinks it could be the biggest benefit for her team during the tournament. 

“I like when my team is on the edge,” Craighead said. “They’re a little bit more focused and better. I like it when they have that killer in them and it seems like they do.“

Sac State will play in the Big Sky Quarterfinals against the Idaho State Bengals Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Missoula, Mont. 

“We’ve got to play smart, hit our shots and win the game,” Moreno said.

Jillian can be reached on Twitter at @jillian1035