With its back against the wall, the Fresno State women’s basketball team delivered the counterpunches necessary to remain unbeaten atop the Mountain West Conference.
Tough-as-nails defense and consistent free-throw shooting fueled the Bulldogs’ rally from a six-point halftime deficit to a 53-49 win over Colorado State on Saturday afternoon. It marked the first time in conference play this season that Fresno State had trailed at the break.
“The first half didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to,” coach Jaime White said.
The Bulldogs (17-3, 9-0) opened by shooting a season-worst 17.9% (5 of 28) from the field, including 0 of 10 from long range, in the opening half. Alex Sheedy and Shauqunna Collins, the Bulldogs’ usual offensive drivers, were both 1 of 7 from the field.
The Rams (15-5, 7-2) climbed to a double-digit lead on Jamie Patrick’s 3-pointer and made it 11 on Ellen Nystrom’s free throw, leaving the Bulldogs staring at their biggest deficit since Dec. 6 at George Washington.
But Fresno State chipped away at Rams’ lead at the free-throw line — making 10 of 12 before halftime — and got within six on Raven Fox’s steal and fast-break layup just before the halftime buzzer.
“We regrouped and came out with a defensive intensity,” White said.
The quick defense led by guards Fox, Collins, Alex Furr and Robin Draper helped the Bulldogs force 12 second-half turnovers, which they converted into 13 points. For the game, Fresno State scored 23 points off 21 Rams turnovers.
The Bulldogs twice tied it early in the second half, only to see the Rams rebuild a five-point lead on a layup from Elin Gustavsson and a 3-pointer by Gritt Ryder with just over 10 minutes remaining.
That’s when Fox took charge, drilling a 3 and pumping her fist while igniting a Save Mart Center crowd of 3,621.
The senior guard followed with a layup to tie it 41-41 with 7:27 to go.
Fresno State went on to launch an 8-0 run in just over a minute. Fox nabbed back-to-back steals to finish a pair of fast-break layups for a 46-43 lead. She finished with a game-high 15 points.
On the next play, Bego Faz Davalos blocked a driving attempt by former Edison High and Fresno City star Keyora Wharry, then handed the ball off to Fox who found an open Furr on the perimeter for the dagger to put the Bulldogs up six.
“Defense was the focus and that’s where we ended up winning this game,” White said. “This team does whatever it takes and I thought tonight was a really good example of that.”
The Rams got as close as two, the last time with 3 seconds to play, but Furr made two free throws. Fresno State converted 17 of 22 free throws as a team.
Toni Smith added eight points and 10 rebounds as the Bulldogs extended their winning streak to 13 games and moved to 11-0 at home.
“It feels good to win,” said Fox, who had five steals, three assists and six rebounds. “This is not new, but it definitely feels good to win this game and have it come in front of our crowd.”
AJ Newton led the Rams with 13 points. Wharry had six points, six rebounds and a block.
“Everything was fine at first, but then they amped up their defense and we struggled a little bit with that,” Wharry said. “We just let the pressure get to us.”
Wharry was still in good spirits, knowing family and friends, including the entire current Fresno City team, came to watch her play.
“It’s hands down the best feeling in the world,” Wharry said. “Everyone’s dream is to play in front of people you love and that’s my family. They’re the biggest support system I have.”