Moriah Faulk had been in this situation before — at the free-throw line in the closing moments with a game on the line.
Neither time worked out previously. She missed a go-ahead free throw with .4 seconds left in regulation in an eventual 75-66 OT loss against Boise State and airballed another against New Mexico to lose 64-53 in the Mountain West Tournament semifinals.
But not Thursday night.
Faulk was sent to the line six times in the final 1:15 in the Bulldogs’ Women’s National Invitation Tournament opener against San Francisco — and made all six to help the Bulldogs earn a 79-73 victory in the first-round game at Save Mart Center.
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“Honestly, that was very traumatizing,” the junior said, “so I never wanted to miss a free throw again.”
With 2:30 remaining, the Bulldogs trailed 67-64 before drawing fouls and making eight consecutive free throws down the stretch to lock up their first postseason tournament victory since the 2005-06 season.
The momentum started with just under 7 minutes left in the second half when first-year Bulldogs coach Jaime White noticed a fatigued Dons squad on the court.
“We really went to one thing. We just knew we were in the 1-and-1,” White said. “I felt like they were getting a little bit tired and thought if we attacked, we’d get to the line a little bit more.”
The Bulldogs turned up the tempo, driving inside and drawing fouls off in the post and off the dribble. The result was Fresno State hitting 18 of 22 free throws in the final seven minutes.
On the other end, San Francisco lost the lead while hitting just 1 of 7 from the line in the second half after making 9 of 10 before the break.
San Francisco came into Fresno shooting 76.1% on free throws, ranking 11th nationally.
“Free throws are something we’ve not struggled with this season,” Dons coach Jennifer Azzi said. “Sometimes, just the ball doesn’t go in. I don’t have an answer for you. I wish those shots would’ve gone in.”
San Francisco led by as many as six points behind leading scorers Taj Winston and Michaela Rakova before Fresno State’s comeback in the final minutes.
Winston finished with a game-high 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Rakova added 16 points and six boards in 26 minutes off the bench.
Alex Furr led Fresno State with 18 points, including a perfect 3 for 3 from long range. Junior center Toni Smith had a team-best eight rebounds to go with 16 points and two blocks.
“It just feels like we’re having fun, honestly,” Smith said. “We know it’s serious. We want to win. But at the end of the day I feel like we’re just out there playing and having fun. It’s exciting to me. Today I felt like it was whole new season.”
Fresno State next plays the winner between Saint Mary’s and Hawaii, who play today. The second-round game will be on Monday with the site to be determined.
• Senior guard Stephanie Rovetti did not play for the Bulldogs. She sustained an injury during practice Wednesday and was ruled out as a precaution. White said she hopes to have Rovetti back for the second-round game Monday.
• Northern Colorado — White’s previous gig before Fresno State — eliminated Bulldogs league rival Colorado State from the WNIT, winning the first-round matchup 53-48 in Fort Collins.