Fresno State women's basketball: Thompson's late drive beats Utah State (w/video)

The Fresno BeeFebruary 22, 2014 

The shot looked a tad awkward and a little like a prayer.

Fresno State point guard Taylor Thompson, however, has been working on the patent since last spring.

She attempts about 15 during pregame warmups -- and often misses.

But all that practice paid off Saturday as Thompson drained her first career buzzer beater and Fresno State escaped with a 72-70 win against Utah State in a Mountain West Conference game at the Save Mart Center.

The 5-foot-5 Thompson dribbled the length of the court through the Aggies press, then maneuvered her way toward the basket before hoisting and draining a running, baby-hook-like floater over the outstretched arms of Utah State's 6-foot-4 Tijana Djukic just as time expired and the Bulldogs completed their rally from a 10-point, second-half deficit.

"Honestly I wasn't even thinking," Thompson said. "(I) just said I'm going to take the best shot that we could get or I'm going to get it to someone that has the best shot for them. And prayed when the shot went up and it went in. Good for us."

The Bulldogs (16-10, 10-5) won consecutive games for the first time in more than a month -- and not since winning four straight to start conference play --while also improving to 2-3 in games decided on the final possession.

The Bulldogs also were victorious in their first meeting against Fresno State coach Raegan Pebley's former school. Pebley spent 10 years at Utah State and helped resurrect a women's basketball program that had been defunct for 15 seasons, leaving as the Aggies' winningest coach.

Pebley choked up and became teary eyed while talking about her former team, now in the hands of coach Jerry Finkbeiner.

"I love every player I coach like they're my kid, and I love our Bulldogs like family, and those girls who I coached (at Utah State), I love," Pebley said. "And Jerry does such a good job taking care of them. And I just trust that they're happy individuals. But my investment, 100%, are these players (at Fresno State).

"I'm just so proud of our 'Dogs. And we needed a close win like that. We've had some painful close losses. To win a close game like that will really help us as we head into the (Mountain West postseason) tournament."

The Bulldogs had been in a similar predicament just more than a month ago.

Thompson had 4 seconds to dribble downcourt and hoist her shot. But she instead looked for contact and a foul, didn't get the call, and missed badly on her final attempt as Fresno State lost 70-69 to San Diego State on Jan. 15 at the Save Mart Center.

The senior showed she learned from that experience Saturday, maintaining her dribble as she entered the paint, then flipping the ball up and in with her right hand while Djukic stepped out of the paint to contest the shot.

Thompson shot just 6 of 15 for the day but finished with 16 points, eight assists and five steals. Bree Farley scored a team-high 18 points.

"I saw that they were tight on Bree, which was good respect for her," Thompson said. "There was a time when I dribbled through and I was like 'Oh, just don't lose the ball.' I knew they weren't going to call a foul. So I knew I couldn't go into that big girl. I had to get it over her.

"Against (San Diego State), I think I tried to draw a foul and it didn't get called. That's just how it is. Refs aren't going to determine the game. So I think I kind of learned from that, knowing I needed to get the best shot as possible and not try to just draw a foul."

Fresno State led by as many as 14 points in the first half, as full-court pressure interfered with the Aggies both on the dribble and in their ability to make clean passes.

But as often has been the case this season, Fresno State let its opponent back in with a run of its own. The Bulldogs led just 35-34 at the half.

Fresno State's offensive struggles carried over into the second half and Utah State (11-15, 5-10) eventually took a 65-55 lead on a Franny Vaaulu jumper.

The Bulldogs' solution to regain momentum was to renew the intensity on defense, and they went on 17-5 run to end the game, forcing seven turnovers in the final 4:47.

Utah State's Jennifer Schlott, the Mountain West's leading scorer with an average of 24.1 points per game entering the day, hit a 3-pointer with 7 seconds left to tie it at 70-70.

After the teams exchanged timeout calls, Thompson came through.

"I think there's a lot of coaches and programs that fear runs, fear games of runs," Pebley said. "They try to avoid them and try to avoid going on them yourself. We, I don't think, fear them as much.

"Really glad that we ended with the last possession."

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

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