Photo courtesy of Sacramento State Athletics
It looked for a moment like an Idaho comeback may be the storyline in Monday afternoon’s second quarterfinal matchup, but Sacramento State’s star did what great players do and changed the game’s trajectory securing a 73-58 win.
The matchup featured two teams led by the Big Sky’s best. Idaho senior Beyonce Bea has been a staple among the top players in the league for years, while Sacramento State senior Kahlaijah Dean had recently been honored with the Big Sky Player of the Year award. All eyes were on the two going into Monday’s matchup. The Hornets had a stronger supporting class however, including another Big Sky first-team honoree in junior Isnelle Natabou, which meant the Hornets entered as favorites.
Sacramento State opened the game showing why they were favorites in this matchup, putting together a 9-0 run midway through the quarter to create some breathing room for the Hornets. This streak proved to be the gap between the teams as Sacramento State led at the conclusion of the first quarter 17-10.
The Hornets extended their lead further in the second quarter, although progress slowed down. Despite holding Bea to zero points in the quarter, the Vandal supporting cast stepped up. In a back-and-forth period the Hornets had slightly more success and were able to extend their lead, but it felt like the Vandals had gotten their grips on the game. Still it would be an uphill climb to get the win as Idaho trailed 38-28.
The Vandals wasted no time in cutting into the lead coming out of the break, going on a 10-4 run before the first media timeout, when Dean checked back into the game. The Big Sky Player of the Year quickly reminded everyone why she had earned that honor, first with a mid-range jumper and after securing a stop, the guard drew multiple Idaho defenders and found a wide-open teammate who nailed a three. Still the Vandals were not ready to end their season, and answered by narrowing the gap even further, ending the quarter 48-44.
Bea made an easy layup in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter to narrow the Vandals deficit to just two. That was as close as they would come. It was Natabou’s turn to change the landscape of the game as the center grabbed two huge offensive rebounds and scored five points in the opening four minutes of the period.
“My teammates helped me a lot with their trust and my coach helped me to calm down and execute,” Natabou said after the game. “Our team does a good job to focus on what we are good at and do it under any circumstances.”
With the momentum on their side the Hornets lead would only grow from there as Idaho ran out of gas. Ultimately the score did not reflect the intensity of the mathcup, but that won’t matter to the victors.
Sacramento State will now face the Cinderella of this year’s tournament in Portland State. The Vikings have been successful shooting from beyond the arc and took down defending champions Montana State on Sunday. The two teams will tip off at 2:30 p.m. MST on Tuesday, March 7, viewable on ESPN+.