by Dominic Ferrucci
This could be the most pivotal series for Randy Rahe’s team all season and it comes at the hands of the Hornets of Sacramento State. Weber State enters Thursday night’s game as winners of 11 out their last 13 games, with nine of those wins coming in Big Sky play. This week’s opponent, Sacramento State, has been on the other side of the spectrum. The Hornets will enter Thursday’s contest just 1-5 in their last six games and sit at 8th place in Big Sky conference standings.
Sacramento State is fresh off a demoralizing sweep by virtue of Southern Utah. They surrendered a 19 point loss and a 20 point loss last week. With that being said, the Hornets’ losses came away from home, a place where they will be returning for the series with the Wildcats. “The Nest” of the Hornets has been home to five wins and only two one loss this year and it is certainly not comfortable for opposing teams. With a capacity of just 1,012, “The Nest” ranks in the bottom five in size of all Division I arenas. Whether it is the size or otherwise, Weber State has not been keen on games played in Sacramento. The Wildcats own just a 2-4 record in their last six games on the road at Sacramento State and fell at the hands of the Hornets twice last year. The second of those losses came in the Big Sky tournament, something that Coach Rahe and company may hold as motivation approaching this crucial series.
In order to come up with two crucial wins, Weber State will need to come up with a string of defensive stops, similar to what we saw for stretches in the Northern Arizona series. These stops will most likely come after missed shots, as opposed to turnovers committed by the Hornets. Sacramento State ranks in the top ten throughout all Division I teams in turnover percentage, surrendering them on only 15.1 percent of possessions (National average is 19.1 percent). Sacramento State also forces steals at a rate of 10.5 percent, good for second in the conference.
In each of their last two wins, Sacramento State has produced steals steals each. In their last three wins, the Hornets have maintained single digits in the turnover department themselves. With that being said, the Wildcats can overcome Sacramento State’s ability to create more possessions. This is evidenced by the Hornets committing seven less turnovers in last week’s series with Southern Utah, and still losing by an average of 19.5 points in said games. Nevertheless, the poise of guards Isiah Brown and Seikou Sisoho Jawara will need to be on full display again this week for the Wildcats to ensure success.
It is yet to be announced whether or not starting center Dontay Bassett will be available for Weber State on Thursday, but the senior’s presence would certainly be helpful. Bassett is averaging just over 10 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for the season, but his experience could be very beneficial as the calendar flips to March. Bassett spent the last three seasons with the Florida Gators and racked up 35 minutes of play in the NCAA Tournament. Bassett’s leadership beyond his playing capabilities where he had scored 13 plus points in 5 straight games before injury, could be instrumental for the Wildcats to win the Big Sky tournament and earn a bid to the Big Dance. In the meantime, however, Bassett’s production down low has been picked up by forwards Dillon Jones, Michael Kozak and Cody Carlson. Carlson has been superb lately without Bassett tallying 14 points and 10 rebounds in the opener vs NAU and 10 points, eight rebounds and a block in Saturday’s finale. The Wildcats will look to build on this going forward to supplement their outstanding guard play.
On the defensive side, Weber State will look to contain Sacramento State forward Ethan Esposito. The 6’7” senior out of Naples, Italy is leading the Hornets in both scoring and rebounding at 17.5 points per game and 7.5 boards per contest. Esposito has scored in double digits in all but the very first game of the season. Esposito has the capability of scoring in volumes, with 20 plus points in five contests this season. However, the Hornets do not rely on Esposito for long range production as the senior has made only six all year.
The Hornets look to William Fitzpatrick in that department. The senior guard from nearby Folsom, California has poured in 31 three point field goals on the season and shoots it at nearly 40 percent. FitzPatrick has started 12 of the 13 games he has played in this season, and in the Hornets last win over Cal Baptist, he went 5-7 from three. Fitzpatrick averages 9.9 points per game, good for fourth most on the team. Ahead of him are fellow guards Bryce Fowler and Christian Terrell.
Fowler, a four year starter for the Hornets, is averaging 13.1 points a game and has scored in double figures in each of the last five games. Fowler also leads the team with 4.1 assists per matchup and ranks in the top 10 for assist rate in Big Sky play. Terrell, a 6’5” guard from Sacramento, is a streaky scorer. As evidenced, Terrell had a 1-12 performance against Saint Mary’s earlier this season and followed it up with a 12-16 showing. The Hornets will round out the starting lineup with 6’8” Freshman David Jones, as they did in their last game with Southern Utah. They could also play small ball going with guard Brandon Davis. Davis has been cold lately with only four points combined in the games with Southern Utah.
Keys to the Series
1. Score at All Levels
- The Wildcats have been shooting from beyond the arc at high rate as of late, having 58 combined attempts in the series with NAU. Sacramento State ranks second in the conference allowing opponents to shoot just 33.7 percent from deep. Weber State may need to find other ways to score if the three-point production is taken away.
2. Limit Esposito Production
- Ethan Esposito scored 17 points in the first meeting with Weber State last year before the Wildcats limited his production to just eight points in their last two meetings. Coach Rahe may have found the solution to slowing down the Hornets’ star and it will be important this week to execute the game plan.
3. Dictate Tempo
- The Wildcats rank second in Big Sky conference play in tempo, averaging 15.9 seconds per possession. The Hornets will look to slow it down to their level (18.8 seconds). Getting defensive stops after long possessions will be crucial to creating momentum and could lead to quick points in transitions after long rebounds.
Featured image courtesy Paul Grua – Weber State Athletic Communications