Hornets saddle up for Montana trip

Chris Bullock

The Sacramento State women’s basketball team will be making Montana its temporary residence for a few days.

Starting Thursday, the Hornets (7-12, 4-4 in the Big Sky Conference) will be on the road for a two-game swing against Montana (11-9, 4-5 Big Sky) and Big Sky leaders Montana State (15-5, 8-1 Big Sky).

Thursday’s game against Montana has a lot on the line. In the history of Sac State women’s basketball, they have never won on the road against Montana.

Head coach Bunky Harkleroad knows the difficulty of playing in both those places all too well.

“We have to play really well to win,” Harkleroad said. “[Montana and Montana State] are two rough places to play. Loud, aggressive crowds in both places; these are two very well-coached teams.”

Montana is having a rough season by their standard, having lost four straight games. However, the Lady Grizzlies can never be counted out, having won seven Big Sky championships since 2000. The two leading scorers, Kayleigh Valley (19.9 points per game) and McCalle Feller (17.6 ppg) are second and third, respectively, in the Big Sky in scoring.

Sac State has already beaten Montana once this season at the Nest, squeezing out an 83-75 overtime win on Jan. 9. This was the third straight time the Hornets had beaten Montana in Sacramento, but the Hornets are winless in Missoula, MT (0-20 all time).

Montana State, after finishing sixth in the Big Sky last season, are on a tear this season, having only lost once in conference play (an 81-69 loss to Eastern Washington on Jan. 21). Montana State has already beaten Sac State once this season in Sacramento, an 80-79 nail-biter on Jan. 7. The Bobcats have also won nine of their last 10 games, and lead the Big Sky in field goal percentage.

Sac State junior forward Margaret Huntington was stressing the importance of this road trip at a recent practice.

“This is the time we need to fix things up,” Huntington said. “We need to be really dialed in and start winning out.”

After Sac State’s record-breaking win at Portland State on Jan. 23 (the team set an NCAA record with 25 made 3-pointers), the Hornets have struggled from the 3-point line, only making 17 threes combined in their last two losses. However, the Hornets have tended to do better on the road against their Big Sky opponents this season, going 2-1 and averaging 37 percent from the 3-point line.

Senior guard Ericka Magana thinks that the last two losses have humbled the team in a sense, but the problems can be resolved.

“Our lack of team effort has fallen a little short, but it’s fixable,” Magana said.

Sac State faces Montana at 6 p.m. on Thursday, and they face Montana State at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Both games can be streamed via watchbigsky.com