Sacramento State (5-4) is off to its best start in nine years, but the Hornets' most impressive showing may have come in a loss.
Sac State played perennial Top 25 power Texas Tech to the wire in front of more than 11,000 fans, trailing by five with less than three minutes remaining before falling 63-53. A year ago, Texas Tech whipped the Hornets 83-37.
“Our players went in there believing they could get a W," Coach Dan Muscatell told the Sacramento Bee. “From a coaching perspective, that game showed a lot about the heart and character of this team."
Sac State has made steady progress since Muscatell's first season, when the Hornets struggled to a 1-26 record. Boosted by a bevy of transfers, led by former San Jose State guard Kim Sheehy, the Hornets improved to 8-20 last winter and made the Big Sky tournament for the first time in eight years.
This winter, the Hornets have continued to build on that success. They defeated Wofford 71-57 and Pacific 76-66 just before the holiday break, running their home record to 5-0. Sac State is second in the Big Sky in steals and 3-pointers, and ranks in the top half in field-goal shooting and field-goal percentage defense.
“Our players expect a lot more of themselves," he said. “We feel if we continue to play like we are, we can win. That mentality might be the biggest difference."
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The Weber State Wildcats' last game before the holiday break was an ugly 51-36 loss to Wyoming at Ogden, Utah.
Wyoming's adroit man-to-man defense limited the Wildcats to just 32.6 percent from the field, including an 0-for-8 effort from the 3-point arc. That snapped a streak of 156 consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer - one of the longest in the nation - dating back more than five years to March of 2000.
Weber's point total tied for the third lowest in school history.
“You have to give credit to Wyoming on a great defensive game," said Coach Carla Taylor on the WSU Web site after her club fell to 0-3 this season against teams from the Mountain West Conference. “They outplayed us on both ends of the court. We did not execute on offense and had no post play the whole night. We never got inspired play from anyone."
Guard Laura Porter led the Wildcats (5-4) with 10 points and four steals. Forward Sara Tuomi, a former Billings Senior standout, added eight points.
Wyoming (9-1) demonstrated its defensive prowess the first week in December, shutting down Montana 50-45 at Laramie, Wyo. The Cowgirls host Big Sky scoring leader Idaho State on Thursday.
Montana State's nine-game losing streak to open the season is the longest in the 30-year history of the program, and the Bobcats have actually dropped 12 straight dating back to the final three games of the 2004-05 campaign.
MSU's previous longest one-season losing streak was eight games, which also came last season, from late December to late January.
The Cats have only won three times in their last 27 outings.
MSU will likely lose twice more this week at the Surf & Slam Tournament in San Diego. Its best chance of snapping the streak would come on at home on Jan. 2, in its final nonconference game, against Utah Valley State, which is currently 2-8.
The Bobcats open Big Sky play against rival Montana, Jan. 13 at Bozeman.
Northern Arizona enjoyed the sun, and the competition, at the San Juan Shootout, returning home with a 2-1 record.
Center Alyssa Wahl and forward Megan Porter were named to the all-tournament team after the Lumberjacks defeated Colorado and Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, and lost to South Florida.
Wahl scored 14 points in just 19 minutes in a 79-44 victory over Mayaguez, a Division II team. NAU shot a season-high 57 percent from the field.
“We came in thinking we'd be ecstatic if we finished 3-0," Coach Laurie Kelly said on the NAU Web site. “But it was our goal to be 2-1, and we achieved that. Being 7-4 now, with five of our next six games at home, we'll be glad to get back."
The Big Sky stands 17th out of 32 conferences in the latest RPI rankings. Montana is 63rd, followed by Northern Arizona (122), Weber State (157) and Sac State (175). … Idaho State is second in the nation in 3-pointers, averaging 9.0 per game. … Eastern Washington continues to struggle on offense. The Eagles committed 38 turnovers, giving up 17 steals, in a 94-40 loss at Texas A&M last Thursday. EWU averages 58.3 points per game, the lowest mark in the league. &ellipsis; Portland State snapped a three-game losing streak in its final game before the holiday break, defeating South Alabama 68-56. Brianna Thompson had 19 points, and Jenni Ritter swiped six of the Vikings' 16 steals. … PSU returns to action Wednesday at Idaho, the start of six straight road games. The Vikings' next home game is Jan. 26 against Montana. … Alyssa Wahl had scored in double figures 19 straight times before settling for eight points in NAU's loss to Florida State.