Sac State women’s basketball team shakes up its strategy for new season

3 seniors leading the charge for Hornets after disappointing prior season


Eucario Calderon

From left, Sacramento State women’s basketball seniors, guard Camariah King, forward Kennedy Nicholas and guard Gabi Bade pose for a photo Thursday, Oct. 31 at Yosemite Hall. The Hornets ended the 2018-19 season with a record of 10-19 and a six-game losing streak.

The 2018-19 season did not go the way that anyone on the Sacramento State women’s basketball team wanted. 

Last season, the Hornets went 10-19, recording their fifth consecutive losing season. The losses continued during the offseason, as four players chose to leave Sac State for opportunities with other programs.

Head coach Bunky Harkleroad and players alike agreed that 2018-19 was a difficult experience that ended in disappointment, but also agreed the upcoming 2019-20 season holds a lot more promise.

That promise, they say, comes from the prospect of playing a free-flowing style of basketball that focuses on ball movement and multiple offensive options, rather than leaning on one primary scorer.

“We didn’t share the ball very well,” Harkleroad said. “I think (this season) will be much different.”

Last season Hannah Friend, one of the now-departed transfers, attempted 488 field goals — one quarter of the entire team’s total shots. She also attempted over one-third of the team’s total free throws.

RELATED: 4 players, including leading scorer, leave Sac State’s women’s basketball team early

Harkleroad said that type of top-heavy shot distribution will not continue this season.

“We have to not have one or two people shooting it,” Harkleroad said. “We’ve got to have three or four perimeter players on the court at all times that are willing to let it fly.”

One of the now-departed transfers, who spoke with The State Hornet under the condition of anonymity in April, claimed there was “a problem with the culture top to bottom” affecting the team’s chemistry.

Returning senior forward Kennedy Nicholas did not voice the same opinion, but did acknowledge a rift among the locker room last season.

Eucario Calderon
Sacramento State senior forward Kennedy Nicholas holds the ball Thursday, Oct. 31 at Yosemite Hall. Nicholas averaged 13.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game in the 2018-19 season.

“The fight between veterans and newcomers never seemed to really die down,” Nicholas said. “But because of that, we have a whole new perspective of what didn’t work and what we don’t want to have happen again.”

RELATED: Kennedy Nicholas: From battling the courts to battling for boards

Despite the departure of their leading scorer and shot-taker to Pepperdine University, the Hornets still have plenty of talent, including Nicholas, who averaged 13.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season.

Both numbers represent the highest figure among any returning player in the entire Big Sky Conference. The senior forward also earned third team All-Big Sky honors last season.

If you ask Nicholas about those impressive accolades, however, she’ll tell you that she wouldn’t know anything about them.

“I couldn’t have told you my stats from last year,” Nicholas said. “All I care about is team wins.”

The Hornets only have one other returning senior expected to play this season in guard Gabi Bade. Tiara Scott would have been a third if not for a knee injury that will keep her on the sidelines this season.

Eucario Calderon
Sacramento State senior guard Gabi Bade dribbles the ball Thursday, Oct. 31 at Yosemite Hall. Bade averaged 10.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 22.4 minutes per game in the 2018 season.

Bade, who spent the summer playing for the Philippines women’s national team, is Sac State’s resident sharpshooter. She hit 39 percent of her three-point shots last season, best on the team by a wide margin.

“I still got to work on my shot,” Bade said, also downplaying her own numbers. “That’s all I have to say.”

Despite coming off the bench in most of her games last season, Bade finished third in team scoring. Harkleroad said he will utilize her as a starter going forward, but Bade echoed Nicolas’s focus on the team over her individual role.

“We’re playing better as a team,” Bade said. “Last year there were only one or two players that were taking a lot of shots. Now other players have the ability to make shots and make plays.”

While Sac State lost four players via transfer, they are also gaining four more. Key among those additions is senior guard Camariah King, who joins the Hornets after three seasons with the University of Nevada, Reno.

Eucario Calderon
Sacramento State senior guard Camariah King dribbles the ball Thursday, Oct. 31 at Yosemite Hall. King joins the Hornets for her first season with the team after three seasons with the University of Nevada, Reno.

“I’m looking to continue my role as a leader on and off the court, and doing what I can to win games and hopefully to win a championship,” King said.

King started 27 games for the Wolf Pack last season and was the team’s third highest scorer as well as their leader in assists. The Hornets will be looking to King to help bolster their new pass-first offense.

Sac State will kick off the 2019-20 season against King’s former team with a trip to Nevada Nov. 9. King said she is fired up to face off against the Wolf Pack Saturday afternoon.

“(I’m) extremely excited,” King said. “It’s definitely a homecoming game for me.”

The Hornets’ first home game will come Nov. 13 against the California State University Maritime Academy, before the Hornets take to the road for five consecutive away games.

“While we are on the road a lot, it’s mostly just with buses or maybe a two-hour plane flight,” Nicholas said. “The travel schedule shouldn’t be as rigorous on our bodies as it has been in the past.”

Sac State also visits Seattle University Dec. 6, where three Hornets will play close to home. Nicholas, King and freshman forward Sharaya Coe all hail from the Seattle area.

“I’ve never been more excited for a game than I am for that one,” Nicholas said. “We might have more fans than the home team there.”

Wherever they play, one thing is clear — the Sac State women’s basketball team is ready to put the past behind them and show a new identity on the court.

“We have more skilled players surrounding each other this year,” said Harkleroad. “We have more kids capable of scoring. We have more kids that see things a little better. I think we’re a little deeper than we were at skill positions last year.”

Harkleroad doubled down on his faith in the team and their new outlook on the court.

“We will improve on our win-loss mark,” said Harkleroad. “I think the Big Sky is wide open and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

Sac State opens the 2019-20 season Saturday at 1 p.m. on the road at University of Nevada, Reno.