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West Sacramento News-Ledger

Historic Sac State turnaround ends in first round of Big Sky Tournament

Mar 08, 2022 12:00AM ● By By Shaun Holkko, sports editor

Sac State sophomore center Isnelle Natabou backs down Weber State junior forward Jadyn Matthews in the post during a 74-64 loss to the Wildcats on Monday, March 7 at the Big Sky Tournament in Boise, Idaho. Photo courtesy of Brooks Nuanez - Skyline Sports,

Historic Sac State turnaround ends in first round of Big Sky Tournament [5 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

BOISE, ID (MPG) - This isn’t Mark Campbell’s first rebuilding project.

The Hornets’ (14-16, 10-11 Big Sky Conference) first-year head coach has been involved with rebuilding a women’s college basketball program twice before, at Oregon State and then the University of Oregon, eventually leading both teams to the Final Four.

Which is why it should come as no surprise that in Campbell’s first season at Sacramento State, his team improved by 11 games, elevating their win total from three to 14 in just one season. Additionally, 14-16 is the best first year record that Campbell has been a part of in a rebuilding project.

Before Campbell and his staff came to town, the Hornets had not won 14 games in a season for six years. The turnaround of the 2021-22 Sac State women’s basketball team now ranks as the fourth largest in Big Sky history.

RELATED: The resurgence of the Sac State women’s basketball program

Sac State’s impressive run came to an end Monday night in Boise, Idaho as the seventh seeded Hornets were defeated in the first round of the Big Sky Tournament by the tenth seeded Weber State Wildcats (11-19, 7-14) by a final score of 74-64.

The start of the game Monday could not have gone any better if you were rooting for the Hornets, as they got out to an 11-2 lead after four minutes of action. The Wildcats began to chip away at the deficit, but Sac State led by six after one quarter, 20-14. The first period ended up being the only quarter the Hornets won all night.

Weber State edged Sac State in second quarter scoring 13-12 but trailed by five entering the locker room at halftime 32-27.

“In the first half, we shot ourselves in the foot,” Campbell said. “We played incredible defense, made them miss. I think in the first half they had 17 offensive rebounds. If you finish those possessions, the game wouldn’t have been a five-point game at halftime.

“Unfortunately, we played good enough defense in the first half and couldn’t finish the possessions. We gave them hope and gave them life.”

The Hornets extended their lead to seven just over a minute into the second half at 38-31. Then the Wildcats went on an 18-6 run over the final eight plus minutes of the third quarter to take a five-point lead into the fourth period.

Weber State outscored Sac State by 10 in the third quarter, 22-12, which ultimately ended up being the difference in the game. In a high scoring final 10 minutes of action, the Wildcats kept control, outscoring the Hornets 25-20.

“At the end of the day, they scored 47 points in the second half,” Campbell said. “We couldn’t guard them in the second half and that’s kind of been our Achilles heel. How far we went was always going to be dictated on how well we could defend and rebound and tonight we didn’t do it well enough.”

Big Sky Newcomer of the Year Isnelle Natabou got into foul trouble early in the game limiting her impact against Weber State. The sophomore center played 24 minutes, scoring 10 points on 5-of-6 from the field and grabbing six rebounds (three offensive).

“I have struggled with early fouls in the game during (the) whole season and I’m very foul-prone,” Natabou said. “It really helped me when my teammates and coach told me that I have to calm down. Because I know the rules, I know what I should be doing.”

Without Natabou, the Hornets struggled on the boards being outrebounded 38 to 25. 18 of those rebounds came on the offensive glass for the Wildcats, leading to 21 second chance points. In a game they lost by 10, Sac State was outscored by 12 in second chance points.

RELATED: Two Hornets win individual accolades entering postseason

Big Sky Most Valuable Player of the Year Lianna Tillman led all scorers with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-25 field goal attempts and four assists. The Sac State graduate transfer was a perfect 3-of-3 from the free-throw line but missed all seven 3-point tries in her final collegiate appearance.

“For Lianna to have the season that she had, you guys it’s truly remarkable,” Campbell said. “The only player in all of college basketball that had numbers similar to her is Caitlin Clark at Iowa who might be the National Player of the Year.”

Weber State senior guard Aloma Solovi had a team-high 20 points, six assists and two steals. Junior forward Daryn Hickok followed closely behind for the Wildcats with 19 points on 4-of-6 from the field and a stellar 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. By herself, Hickok made one more free throw than the entire Hornets team.

Both teams had four starters score in double figures.

“It’s painful anytime your season comes to an end,” Campbell said. “I’m just incredibly proud of this group and what they accomplished in our staff’s first year. They just laid an incredible foundation that we’ll be able to build upon.”