WNIT Sweet Sixteen Preview: Saint Mary’s at Sacramento State


There were high hopes for the WCC in the 2015 WNIT as a whopping four teams from the conference made the field. But as we enter the third round of games, just one team is still standing. The Saint Mary’s Gaels have reached the Sweet Sixteen, and after two home wins they travel to face Sacramento State on Thursday.

The Hornets aren’t exactly a basketball powerhouse, but they have caused the WCC fits this postseason. Their men’s team defeated Portland in the opening round of the CIT Tournament, and this women’s squad knocked off Pacific in the opening round of the WNIT, the same Tigers team that swept Saint Mary’s in the regular season. They are coming off a blowout win over Eastern Washington in the second round as well, so this is a serious test for the Gaels.

Of course, the Gaels aren’t playing bad either. After a close call in OT against Hawaii in the opening round, they rolled past Fresno State 83-64 in the second round. They are averaging a robust 86.5 points per game in the tournament and have gotten some very balanced scoring.

Lauren Nicholson is leading the way averaging 22 points per game through the first two contests. Carly Turner has added 15 points in both games. Shannon Mauldin had a monster 32 points in the Hawaii win, but went quiet with just 8 against Fresno State. This wasn’t the worst thing though as they got much more balanced scoring in that win. Against the Warriors, Mauldin and Nicholson had 33 of the 59 field goal attempts for the Gaels. Against the Bulldogs, they had just 15 of the 46 attempts, and the Gaels still nearly put up the same point total without an overtime period to help their numbers.

The Gaels will need that balanced scoring against the Hornets. Three of their players average double-digit points per game, and another five players average 6 or more per game. It makes it very tough to key on certain players. They have had three double-digit scorers in each of their first two WNIT wins, and none of those players put up double digits in both games. The focus will be on stopping leading scorers Fantasia Hilliard and Hallie Gennett, as well as slowing down sharpshooter Gretchen Harrison who shoots 45.7% from three point range.

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The Gaels don’t shoot as well from long range as the Hornerts, so they will take advantage of their inside presence. The Hornets have just one player averaging over 5 rebounds per game, while the Gaels have four led by Rosenthal and her 8.1 per game. They way to victory for them is to slow down the game and grind it out working the ball inside for high percentage shots. Force the Hornets to shoot from long-range, and trust that not enough shots will fall to cancel out their superior shooting in the paint.

As long as the shots are not falling at a overly high rate for the Hornets, the Gaels have a good chance at winning this one. There should be plenty of scoring in this game, and it should exciting. After emerging as the last women’s team standing from the WCC besides Gonzaga, continuing this WNIT run would be a great jump-start going into next season when the conference should again be stacked with a lot of good teams.