I made a promise to myself that I would make it to every NCAA Division-I school that was within driving distance of me. With a home base of San Jose, that means the following schools: San Jose State, Santa Clara, Stanford, Saint Mary's, Cal, Pacific, UC Davis, Sacramento State, and if I really want to push it, Fresno State and Cal Poly.
I meant to start doing these write-ups with the first week of the season, but lazy Kevin reared its ugly head and other things in life happened. So here I am -- five weeks into the season and zero write-ups towards the 800 Games Project. A job well done, Kev.
So December 18 rolls around, and I REALLY gotta do something. I check my printed schedules of all Bay Area and Bay Area Extended Family schools, and I see that Sacramento State is hosting North Dakota. I've always been a big fan of the Big Sky -- nice, I have a game to go to. It's a two-hour drive, but I have a friend who lives halfway between San Jose and Sacramento, so I could split it up. And I don't mind driving, either.
After a quick stop in Manteca, I arrive on the campus of California State University, Sacramento. Only problem is this -- I have the address to the campus, and not Yosemite Hall. I drove around to where I saw the football, soccer and softball fields and figured the basketball stadium must be nearby.
Luckily I eventually found my way to Yosemite Hall thanks to some helpful souls, arriving at the desired venue about 30 minutes before tip. I stroll up to the ticket office and am greeted with two options, sit in the corner for $10, or sit at center court for $12. I figured, "Hey, I made it all this way, I might as well splurge," and went for the pricier seats.
I turn the corner to go into Yosemite Hall and am confronted with the smallest D-I gym I've ever been in. I mean, my high school's gym is significantly bigger than the Hornets' Nest.
That only meant I had perhaps the best seat in the house -- second row, center court.
To the game now. This was a big one in the respect that it was one both teams felt they really had a good shot at. Sacramento State, coming into the game at 4-5, was looking for a chance to get to .500 and get a win over a quality low-major D-I opponent that had won their conference the previous year. North Dakota, rolling into the Governator's former digs at 5-5, was looking for their first road win in their fifth attempt away from Grand Forks this season.
And of course, this would be a good look at an opponent both teams would be seeing a lot more of in the future, as North Dakota gets ready to take their talents to the Big Sky in July. This game had the feeling of one that would be decided in the final minutes (it was).
Sacramento State utilized a 9-0 run to get out to an 11-5 lead in large thanks to their baldy lefty Heath Hoffman, who contributed seven of those nine points, including a nice give-and-go with Josh McCarver.
Speaking of McCarver, he had the other bucket in that run, which was a nice dunk off an alley-oop thrown by John Dickson (more on him later).
But North Dakota wasn't the least bit fazed. This team's got some athletes to 'em. Take Jamal Webb, for starters. Despite pleas from his coach Brian Jones to "HOLD IT!" on one possession, Webb deftly maneuvered his way through traffic and got a nice lay-up. I looked over to the Fighting Sioux bench to get Brian Jones' reaction, and he was nothing but claps for his sophomore guard from Buffalo. One of those "don't take it, don't take it, don't...good take!" possessions.
There was also Troy Huff, a wing player who could sometimes be out of control but had some very nice moves regardless, who slammed in an alley-oop he received from Webb.
North Dakota pulled even, and in the eyes of the Hornets' faithful, got some favorable calls. Sac State coach Brian Katz basically begged the officials to T him up, but his plea for two North Dakota free throws and possession of the basketball went unanswered by the zebras. The teams battled back and forth for the rest of the first half until the waning moments, when the Fighting Sioux started to pull away a bit. UND took the lead, got it to four, and then, thanks to an Aaron Anderson layup with three seconds left, took a 35-29 lead into the locker room.
For the Grand Forks hopefuls (and there were a few of them in attendance -- literally a handful), it must have been a welcomed sight. Here their team was, up six at the break on the road after having been down for most of the first half. Finally, it seemed as if the Fighting Sioux would be able to get that road monkey off their backs...
But college basketball is a 40-minute game, and the start of the second half was a nightmare for the visiting team in black and green (a color scheme that needs to be used more in athletics). It started with a Dylan Garrity three-pointer for Sacramento State with the shot clock at two. After 33 seconds of solid Sioux D, their efforts were rendered useless.
All of a sudden, the Hornets' Nest was buzzing a little more. With each stop and bucket, the fans got more and more into it. Hoffman hit a three to tie it up. North Dakota's starting center Mitch Wilmer picked up his third foul with 16:48 to play. Sac State took the lead, pushed it to three. When was Brian Jones going to call a timeout? He had faith in his team to get out of a rut, giving them one more possession to prove their toughness to their coach.
Mission not accomplished. Hoffman hit another three and Sac State went up six to cap a 12-0 run to start the second half. Hoping to get to the under-16 timeout, Jones had to stop the action before the game got out of hand.
Even the timeout couldn't stop the hot-shooting Hornets, who put up 25 points in the first q0 minutes of the second half to extend their lead to 54-41. While the advantage was 13, you figured it was just a matter of time before the Fighting Sioux lived up to their namesake and fought their way back into this one. Despite their road troubles, you knew they had at least one run left in 'em.
And they did. Jamal Webb, Troy Huff, and Aaron Anderson weren't ones to fall for defeat. The speedy Anderson got the run underway and Webb, who is known more for his driving abilities, unleashed a three that seemingly took forever to get off to cut the Hornet advantage down to five points. Like his counterpart in the first half, Katz opted to let his Hornets play out of the rut, even when the lead was cut to one after a sweet layup from Anderson.
He knew something about his team that I obviously didn't -- he's got leaders on that floor. Once Wilmer fouled out for UND with the game at 56-55 and the Fighting Sioux on a 14-2 run with five minutes to play, Sacramento State's John Dickson yelled "HUDDLE!" for all to hear on the court and in the stands. That wasn't his first display of floor-generalism, either. He had been the most vocal on D and on the bench when he was out. This call for togetherness was but one more example of his desire to get a dub on this Sunday night.
With Dickson talking the talk, reserve Walter Jackson walked the walk down the stretch. Wilmer's fifth sent Hoffman to the line for freebies. Heath hit the first, missed the second -- BUT WAIT! Here comes Jackson outhustling the ones clad in black and green for the loose ball and giving the Hornets another possession. Turned out to be the first dagger in the heart of the Fighting Sioux, as the offensive rebound would lead to a Joe Eberhard three-ball to put the Hornets back up cinco.
Jackson wasn't done, either. ANOTHER offensive rebound on the next possession. This time? He just calmly put it back in to push the lead back to five again.
Webb would answer though with a layup after both of Jackson's offensive rebounds to get the lead down to three both times. If only the Fighting Sioux could keep Jackson off the glass...
"NOT TONIGHT!", Jackson implied with his efforts, as a tip-in off another Hornet miss made it a two-possession lead again with 2:50 remaining.
The last of Jackson's three offensive rebounds seemed to be the tipping point for Sac State to start putting this one away. The backbreaker would come in the form of another Garrity three as the shot clock expired, giving Sac State their first double-digit lead since they went on that 25-6 run to start the second half.
This time, however, there were only 71 ticks left on the clock, and the Fighting Sioux, despite having more fight in them, ran out of time. This double-digit lead would be insurmountable. The final score read "Sacramento State 75, North Dakota 64," and the Hornets got a much-needed home win to get back to .500, while the Fighting Sioux were left wondering what it was going to take to get a roadie.
After the game, I ran into Steven, the Portland Pilot Mid-Majority contributor who was home for Christmas break to also cover the game. Great guy with a wealth of basketball knowledge. 'Twas a shame we couldn't run into each other earlier.
Oh well, the Hornets could care less about our encounter; they had just avenged a loss in Grand Forks the year before and gave themselves the chance to have a winning record going into their short Christmas break. Maybe this is the year they can finally break into the six-team Big Sky Tournament for the first time in six years.
at SACRAMENTO STATE 75, NORTH DAKOTA 64 12/18/2011
NORTH DAKOTA 5-6 (0-0) -- J. Webb 7-9 5-6 21; A. Anderson 5-7 2-3 14; P. Mitchell 2-10 0-0 5; T. Huff 3-10 3-3 10; J. Schuler 2-6 0-0 6; J. Allard 1-4 2-4 4; M. Wilmer 1-2 0-0 2; D. Archer 1-2 0-0 2; N. Haugen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 12-16 64. SACRAMENTO STATE 5-5 (0-0) -- J. Eberhard 5-10 0-2 13; H. Hoffman 6-8 3-4 19; D. Garrity 2-5 3-4 9; J. Dickson 2-4 5-6 9; J. McCarver 3-6 1-2 7; W. Jackson 4-7 0-0 8; K. Veteto 3-6 2-3 8; J. Estrada 0-1 0-0 0; J. Demalleville 0-0 0-0 0; P. Rakocevic 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 26-49 14-21 75.
Three-point goals: NDAK 8-26 (N. Haugen 0-1; J. Schuler 2-5; P. Mitchell 1-7; A. Anderson 2-3; T. Huff 1-6; J. Webb 2-4), SAC 9-13 (J. Eberhard 3-5; H. Hoffman 4-5; J. Estrada 0-1; D. Garrity 2-2); Rebounds: NDAK 18 (T. Huff 5), SAC 34 (J. McCarver 9); Assists: NDAK 13 (J. Webb 5), SAC 16 (D. Garrity 7); Total Fouls -- NDAK 16, SAC 16; Fouled Out: NDAK-M. Wilmer; SAC-None.