Women's basketball: Fresno State's goals remain, even as MW title hopes fade

The Fresno BeeFebruary 18, 2014 

Fresno State coach Raegan Pebley, center, crouches down with her players as the watch the action in the final minutes of their game against UNLV at the Save Mart Center on Jan. 25, 2014.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

One goal has slipped away from Fresno State, but guard Taylor Thompson said there's still plenty to play for down the stretch and on into the postseason.

The Bulldogs (14-10, 8-5) have fallen four games out of first place with five remaining after alternating wins and losses over their past nine games, likely meaning the Mountain West Conference regular-season women's basketball title is out of reach.

"I'm not saying that these aren't important because now we're not going to win the regular-season title," Bulldogs point guard Taylor Thompson said. "We know that we still have our goals. We want to win the Mountain West Tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament again.

"Our goals are still there. It's not over. We've just got to keep telling ourselves that: It's not over. ... We didn't win the regular-season conference title last year, either, and still won the tournament and went to the NCAAs."

Fresno State begins its final 2 1/2-week stretch at 7 p.m. Wednesday, hosting Wyoming (17-6, 8-4) at the Save Mart Center.

Fresno State, coming off a 53-47 loss to first-place Colorado State (20-4, 12-1), has avoided losing back-to-back games for much of this season -- only once losing consecutive games (against San Francisco then Stanford).

But the Bulldogs also haven't won back-to-back games in more than a month since beginning Mountain West play with four straight wins. Forward Alex Sheedy went down with a lower-leg injury seven games ago, compounding some offensive inconsistencies.

Sheedy, who is expected to miss Wednesday's game, had been leading the Bulldogs during conference play with an average of 16 points per game.

Fresno State has struggled to find scoring since and its top two players, Thompson and forward Bree Farley, have been playing with a pass-first approach their entire careers before this season. But without a consistent No. 3 scorer, the burden on Thompson and Farley to score more has increased.

"When you have three players on the floor who can be consistent threats to score, you become really, really hard to defend," Bulldogs coach Raegan Pebley said. "This year, with Sheedy out, that third player has not been consistent as to who it is, or if it's anyone.

"Our defense has done a great job without Sheedy in the game. We've held teams on the road below their scoring averages. But scoring, it's that third person who could be a consistent threat for us that we've been missing."

Sheedy has started to make some progress, no longer wearing a thick boot and instead is in a thin slipper that allows her to participate in some non-contact drills. There's no timetable for Sheedy's return, though Pebley said she was optimistic the 6-foot-1 junior will return before the end of the regular season.

Entering the final stretch to tune up for the conference tournament, three of Fresno State's final five opponents are teams that have defeated the Bulldogs, including the Cowgirls, who won 87-76 last month in Laramie.

"There's a lot of special things that I think can still happen with this team," Pebley said. "We've just got to continue to stay confident. There's adversity that we've gone through definitely.

"That adversity continues to refine us and make us tougher and stronger. Hopefully, we can learn from it, so great things can still happen."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6362, bjanteola@fresnobee.com or @Banteola_TheBee on Twitter.

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