Final four: Women’s basketball team faces stiff competition to end season

Sacramento+State+freshman+guard+Tiara+Scott+scored+a+career-high+25+points+against+Montana+State+at+the+Nest+on+Feb.+18.+%28Photo+by+Matthew+Dyer%29

Matthew Dyer

Sacramento State freshman guard Tiara Scott scored a career-high 25 points against Montana State at the Nest on Feb. 18. (Photo by Matthew Dyer)

Andre Newell

With just four games left in the regular season, the Sacramento State women’s basketball team will be challenged every game as it prepares for the Big Sky Tournament in March.

After suffering a 104-82 loss to Montana State on Feb. 18, Sac State (9-16, 5-9 Big Sky) remains in ninth place in the Big Sky Conference.

Two of Sac State’s last four games of the regular season include matchups against North Dakota and Northern Colorado — the top two teams in the conference. The Hornets lost to both North Dakota and Northern Colorad0 on the road earlier this season.

“Those are very good teams,” Sac State coach Bunky Harkleroad said. “Playing with energy and intensity on defense will be a very good indicator of how we match up with those teams, but the interesting thing about this conference is that on any given night — anyone can win (or) lose.”

At the beginning of conference competition, many of Sac State’s players battled injuries.

Senior forward Gretchen Harrigan missed all of the preseason this year and two conference games with a toe injury, while senior guard Brianna Burgos missed the first six games of the season after suffering an ACL injury almost a year ago (Feb. 27, 2016) against Idaho at the Nest.

On Jan. 7, Harrigan made her season debut and Sac State had its full team for the first time all season. The Hornets won four of the next five conference games.

It seemed the Hornets were starting to gain more momentum, averaging 79.4 points per game while only allowing their opponents to score 70.4 per game.

However, the Hornets ran into more obstacles starting Feb. 2 when the team went on a four-game losing streak. In those four games, Sac State averaged just 60.8 points per game while shooting 32.3 percent from the field,  allowing opponents to score 72.5 points per game.

Sac State finally ended their four-game losing streak on Feb. 16 with a 99-69 win over Montana, where the Hornets forced 25 turnovers, five shy of their conference record.

“This year has been a tough year for us because three of our five seniors have had no luck in terms of injuries,” Harkleroad said. “Gretchen, Brianna and Ashlyn (Crenshaw) had no summer practice. They started late and we have had to adjust along the way — we’ve been trying to get back to our basics and we just have to play the way we did against Montana.”

Despite Sac State’s struggles in conference play, senior forward Margaret Huntington is confident going into the last four games of the regular season and the Big Sky Tournament.

“It’s all about who’s playing the best in the tournament in March — and if we’re getting better every week, then that’s a good thing,” Huntington said. “If we are playing our best basketball in three or four weeks, then that’s what we want.”

Though Sac State suffered a loss to Montana State after snapping its four-game losing streak, the team knows it must stay focused on the remaining games at hand.

“We have to focus on the next game,” junior guard Maranne Johnson said. “Coach (Harkleroad) tells us once midnight hits the next day, we have to forget about that game and move on to the next one.”

Sac State’s next game will be on the road Feb. 23 against Northern Arizona, where the Hornets will look to sweep the season series after defeating the Lumberjacks 82-76 on Jan. 14. The game is set to tip off at 5:30 p.m. at the Joseph C. Rolle Activity Center in Yuma, Arizona.