At first glance, it seemed as if Fresno State had the potential to run away with the Mountain West women's basketball title and lock up the top seed in the conference tournament.
The Bulldogs started out preseason favorites and won their first three conference games by an average of 19.7 points. By the fourth game, Fresno State was the only undefeated MW team.
But after falling 70-69 Wednesday at home to San Diego State, Fresno State (10-6, 4-1) became one of four teams with one conference loss. And another four Mountain West teams, including Saturday's opponent in New Mexico (7-8, 2-2), have just two.
"Really, this conference right now is playing as expected -- it's cut throat," Pebley said. "Any team can beat any team top to bottom. And I think you've just got to stay focused game by game."
Colorado State (12-4, 4-1) is tied with Fresno State atop the conference standings, though the Bulldogs beat the Rams 60-50 earlier this month. The two will meet again Feb. 15 in Fort Collins.
UNLV (6-10, 3-1) also has just one loss, though it also was to Fresno State. And Wyoming (11-3, 2-1) is within striking distance of first, with its only conference defeat coming at New Mexico.
"It's just going to be a dog fight," Pebley said. "It's so hard for anybody to just run the table. This conference is really competitive."
The Lobos have won both of their conference home games. And despite sporting a sub. 500 overall record, New Mexico leads the conference in 3-point defense (holding opponents to 28.5% behind the arc) and rebounding (a plus-4.5 margin).
Junior guard Antiesha Brown leads New Mexico at 12.9 points per game. Senior guard Sara Halasz, last week's MW player of the week, is averaging 11.3 points and a team-best 6.3 rebounds.
Fresno State has not lost back-to-back conference games since 2007 -- at New Mexico State and at Hawaii back when the Bulldogs were in the Western Athletic Conference.
The last time Fresno State and New Mexico met, the Bulldogs escaped with a 51-50 victory at Albuquerque last season as the Lobos missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"When we're on the road, we want to make sure we attack the rim as much as we can," Pebley said. "They're very good at guarding the 3. But one of the things I like about our team is we can hit our 3s. But we're not a live-or-die team on it. We've just got to move the ball around and get it inside.
"More importantly, our focus on the road is always defense and rebounding. We want to rely more on defense to get us wins than our offense."
Bulldogs forward Alex Sheedy will not miss any time and is expected to play Saturday despite being called for a flagrant foul during Fresno State's loss to San Diego State.
Sheedy's foul was classified as a flagrant 1. Had she received a flagrant 2, she would've been ejected Wednesday and subject to possibility of more discipline.
Sneak preview: Bulldogs at New Mexico
** Saturday: 1 p.m. at the Pit
** Bulldogs record: 10-6 overall, 4-1 Mountain West
** Lobos record: 7-8, 2-2
** Series: New Mexico leads 7-6, although Fresno State swept two-game series last season
** The skinny: After suffering its first Mountain West Conference defeat with a 70-69 loss to San Diego State on Wednesday, Fresno State will try to bounce back at the toughest venue in the conference. The Lobos are 6-3 at home and lead the MW with an average announced crowd of 4,117. ... The Bulldogs are the conference's best 3-point shooting team at 35.1%, but the Lobos top the conference in 3-point defense, allowing just 28.5 % behind the arc.
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