Sac State women’s basketball falls apart at home in season opener

Hornets watch double-digit lead evaporate as they fall to UC Irvine 60-58


Jordan Latimore

Sophomore forward Katie Peneueta surveys the court against UC Irvine, in the Hornets 60-58 loss at The Nest at Sacramento State on Nov. 12, 2022. Peneueta had 12 points on four three pointers.

Dylan McNeill

The Sacramento State women’s basketball team opened its season in painful fashion on Saturday as they watched a 14-point halftime lead drift away turnover by turnover.

Then, with 8.3 seconds left on the clock, UC Irvine junior guard Diaba Konate hit an absolute dagger of a jump shot leaving the Hornets with 0.1 seconds left to give the Anteaters a 60-58 win.

The Hornets committed 27 turnovers Saturday, unable to adjust to UC Irvine’s press defense. Sac State had 16 turnovers in the second half with 20 shot attempts.

“We didn’t lose because we’re a worse team; we lost because we’re a weaker team,” said sophomore center Isnelle Natabou. “We took a punch and we couldn’t give it back.”

The Hornets opened their season with two layups from Natabou. Senior guard Jordan Oliveras and sophomore forward Katie Peneueta then hit three-pointers to give the Hornets a 10-3 lead just four minutes in.

Sac State’s defense was a presence all first quarter as the Anteaters shot a putrid 22% from the field in the opening quarter and held Irvine to just 11 points. 

The Hornets coughed the ball up 11 times in the first half, a continuing trend for Sac State Saturday.

When the Hornets were able to get shots up, they were hitting them. Sac State finished the half shooting 57% overall and 6-14 (43%) from beyond the arc, including a three-point shot by Peneueta just before the first-half buzzer to extend the Hornet lead to 14, going into the break.

Natabou and Peneueta led the way offensively with 12 points each by halftime. Natbou went 6-6 from the field in the first half along with 12 boards. Peneueta went 4-7 exclusively behind the three-point line.

The Hornets scored 22 points in the second quarter. They totaled 20 points the rest of the game.

Despite The Nest being one of the smallest Division 1 courts, in the third quarter — after an Anteater run — a Peneueta block woke up the crowd. The block led to a transition possession that culminated in a three-pointer by freshman forward Madison Butcher to bring the Hornet lead back to 10.

Senior guard Jordan Olivares brings the ball up the floor against UC Irvine, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022 at The Nest at Sacramento State. The Hornets opened its season in painful fashion on Saturday as they watched a 14-point halftime lead drift away turnover by turnover.
(Fernando Navarrete)

However, the Hornets couldn’t put the Anteaters away. Between fouls and turnovers, Irvine kept finding themselves within striking distance. The Anteaters had 13 free throws in the second half compared to five in the first.

Sac State went into the fourth and final quarter with a nine-point lead.

The Hornets could muster only two made field goals the entire quarter, with the second, a senior guard Kahlaijah Dean jumper, coming with just ten seconds remaining. There was a time when it looked like that jumper would be the winner for Sac State; it wasn’t the case however, as Dean was fouled on the shot and sent to the free throw line to put the Hornets up. 

The free throw was no good, rebounded by Irvine. 

Out of a timeout, Konate got the ball with just seconds remaining, had one mission on her mind: get a bucket.

Konate took a few dribbles to her right and was freed up by a screen to get open and drill a clutch midrange jumper of her own. But she left just 0.1 seconds for Sac State to answer; too little time for a catch and shoot.

“They [Irvine] were just more prepared for this moment than we were,” Sac State head coach Mark Campbell said.

The buzzer blared as the Hornets left the court dumbfounded. They let a game they had controlled the first half slip away. Sac State was outscored 18-7 in the final quarter while committing nine turnovers.

“We need to work on our fundamentals,” Peneueta said. “Our shooting percentages were better and overall we were performing statistically better. But we had multiple turnovers and we let them get a lot of O[ffensive] boards and it just completely took us out of the game.”

Sac State caught a break when a three-pointer from graduate student forward Naomi Hunt was up and good, but referees deemed Hunt out of bounds. The shot would’ve made UC Irvine’s deficit just six points. The Hornets closed the third quarter with a nine-point lead after seven more Sac State turnovers.

As the Hornets failed to put the game away, the senior Oliveras had multiple hustle plays that led to extra chances for Sac State in the fourth quarter.

It was a mixed bag for Dean in her Sac State debut, Dean finished with 14 points and six assists, but she also shot 5-14 and committed a team high 12 turnovers. 

The ESPN Preseason Big Sky Player of the Year, Natabou lived up to the bill Saturday finishing with 19 points and 17 rebounds while playing a game high 38 minutes.

“It’s not about who is better three point shooter or who is better center;it’s about who can take a punch and not crumble like a high school girl,” Natabou said. “We need to learn how to play like big girls.”

The Hornets don’t have to wait long to put this game behind them as they travel to take on Santa Clara University on Monday at 6 p.m.