PREVIEW: Sac State men’s and women’s basketball gears up for clash in next Causeway Classic

Hornets return to Golden 1 Center


Dominique Williams

Sacramento State men’s basketball players gather during a timeout against UC San Diego on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at the Hornets Nest. The men’s basketball team will take on UC Davis at the Golden 1 Center on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m in the return of the Causeway Classic. The women’s teams face off at 5 p.m.

Jordan Latimore and John Cabales

The stage is set for the Sacramento State women’s and men’s basketball teams as they both enter Golden 1 Center on Tuesday for a showdown with UC Davis at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. respectively.

Both the women’s and men’s programs share a lot in common heading into the Causeway Classic, with both teams being operated by first-year head coaches and  owning a 2-2 record through their first four games.

With that being said, both Hornet squads will be looking to make a statement against the Aggies and put themselves above the .500 mark in a rivalry game with UC Davis that is really seeing some competitive flair before tipoff.

“I’m excited to play there,” said senior women’s basketball guard Lianna Tillman. “We’re hearing smack talk from UC Davis already. I’m excited about that. 

For the men’s program, the team through their first four games has seen a mixed bag of enlightening highs and staggering lows. All in all, the thrill of playing in one of the biggest basketball venues in California has the Hornets amped up for what should be a fun clash of Nor Cal hoops.

Everyone loves a rivalry and the opportunity to play on the biggest stage at the Golden 1 Center,” said senior men’s basketball guard William FitzPatrick. “It’s a dream come true. Being a Kings fan, I especially love the arena.The opportunity to be on the floor is a memory I will have for a lifetime.”


Sacramento State men’s basketball assistant coach Sam Kirby instructs players during a drill at practice on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, at the Horne’s Nest. Sac State will be taking on UC Davis on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Golden 1 Center in the return of the Causeway Classic. The women’s teams will face off earlier at 5 p.m. (Jordan Latimore)

Despite the enthusiasm, the Hornets still have to anticipate a difficult matchup with a UC Davis squad who have won two of their last three games. 

If Sac State wants a chance to get out in front of UC Davis Tuesday night, the team must be able to answer the following questions: 

How will Sac State come out defensively?

It’s still a small sample size, but when Sac State gets after it on the defensive end, they’ve proven to be a force to be reckoned with. In their two wins this season against Cal Poly and William Jessup, two teams that are averaging over 70 points per game, the Hornets were able to hold those teams under 60 points.

Out on the perimeter defensively, when Sac State is playing  aggressive on-ball defense and forces turnovers for easy baskets in transition, it makes the game easier for everyone on the floor. Sac State is in the top five in steals per game in the Big Sky, and if Tuesday’s matchup with the Aggies is a reflection of that, the Hornets should see some success very early.

“I don’t think we’re going to do anything different, we’re going to stay consistent with our preparation,” said head coach Brandon Laird. “We like to pressure the ball defensively, [UC Davis] like[s] to pressure the ball defensively. This is a Rivalry game.”

Another key for the Hornets defensively will be primed on what kind of performance they’ll get from junior center Jonathan Komagum. The athletic 6-foot-9-inch rim protector is currently leading the Big Sky in blocks per game and consistently proves to be the anchor to the Sac State backcourt.

Sacramento State men’s basketball junior center Jonathan Komagum and freshman guard Teiano Hardee guard the pick and roll against UC San Diego on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at the Hornets Nest. The mne’s basketball team will face off against UC Davis on Tuesday in the Causeway Classic at 7:30 p.m. (Dominique Williams)


Especially given the matchup against a team like UC Davis who’s only shooting 28% from the three on the season so far, driving to the basket will likely a point of emphasis for the Aggies, which only creates a vast window of opportunity for Komagum to feast on anyone who dares to challenge the England-Born big man at the rim.

The women’s team has not been the best guarding on the perimeter. They sometimes let their opponent get into a rhythm at the three-point line. The Aggies are shooting 32% from the three and 38% from the field so if the Hornets can keep them there or below then they should have a pretty good night.

Sophomore center Isnelle Natabou will be there in the middle as the Hornets run shooters off the three point line. As long as she can protect the paint, then they will be fine on defense.

The Aggies as a team is a tall group, so the Hornets will have to box out and keep them off of the glass to prevent any second chance points. 

How will the Hornets look on offense?

The identity of the Sac State men’s basketball team is embedded in their defense, but the game is about getting buckets — period. Despite having so much talent on the offensive end of the floor, Sac State is struggling to put out a scoring load consistently that would convince you that they can keep up with any team shooting the basketball. 

The overall team percentages wouldn’t make you think the men’s team is the second worst scoring team in the Big Sky, but the reality is that at the moment they are. Going up against an Aggie defense on Tuesday that is top three in the Big West in steals and blocks will only force the Hornets to make even more of an effort to step up on offense. 

“We’re still figuring this out,” said senior guard Bryce Fowler when asked about the offensive struggles. “This is a new offensive system for us, there’s going to be some learning curves.”

Sac State men’s basketball’s crafty point guard Zach Chappell along with Fowler are guys to watch out for to make big plays for the Hornet offense. The tandem is averaging a combined 25 points per game, and offensive production will need that tenfold against a very competitive UC Davis defensive unit.

Senior guard Jazmin Carrasco drives to the basket against San José State on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, at the Hornets Nest. Sacramento State defeated the Spartans in a thrilling 75-65 victory.
(Jordan Latimore)


The women’s team has been fine on offense this season. Led by Tillman who is averaging 23.8 points per game this season, the offense will go as she goes. As a team they are averaging 72 points per game and can hurt the opponent from anywhere. 

The offense revolves around the pick and roll, and if Tillman can get Natabou the ball in her spots, then the Aggies will be in a lot of trouble. The pressure of Tillman who can score from anywhere, with having to clog the hole so Natabou can establish herself, will be a lot to handle for the Aggies.

“Our offensive side has been working out really well for us,” said senior guard Summer Menke. “Our main focus has been getting defensive stops.”

The big three of Tillman, Natabou and Menke will shine as they do every game, but the Hornets also have reliable shooters in senior guard Jazmin Carrasco and sophomore guard Jessica Rios. 


Jordan Latimore | Men’s basketball:

I think this will be a very tight and competitive game, especially given how hard both Sac State and UC Davis play on the defensive end. But I ultimately feel that the level of talent Sac State has will allow them to prevail against the Aggies. 

In terms of size, both of these squads match up very well with each other. but I’m looking at Bryce Fowler as the X-factor for what I believe is going to be an extremely narrow win for Sac State simply because I’m not sure who on UC Davis can handle a 6-foot-6-inch forward who can create isolation the way Fowler can. Sac State wins 71-66.

John Cabales | Women’s basketball: 

The Hornets will go as Tillman goes so long as she can stay hot on offense. The Hornets will put a lot of pressure on the Aggies to score since putting points on the board is what the Hornets are good at. Davis, on the other hand, is only averaging 55 points per game, so if they can’t slow the Hornets down, then they will have a long night. 

The Aggies are bigger than the Hornets, but if the Hornets can play better defense than they have in previous games, then they will be OK. Tillman will be the player of the game, but she will need to get her teammates going early. Sac State wins 77-60