The Fresno State women’s basketball team pulled off the improbable Wednesday night, playing in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament as a No. 7 seed up against a No. 3 in UNLV and for the third time in three nights.
In tight all the way, the Bulldogs emerged from a mess of a final five minutes all smiles with a 53-51 victory and berth in the championship game of the tournament after taking a lead with 1:04 remaining on a layup by Bego Faz Davalos.
From there, like the basketball that came before it, it was a matter of survival. Fresno State made only two baskets over the final 7:37 and UNLV made its final basket with 5:38 remaining, missing its final seven shots of the game.
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"I thought we played another great defensive game," coach Jaime White said. "I feel like we've put three really good defensive games together in this run and, you know, just proud ... our bench came in and really gave us a lift, kids that haven't played in a couple of games. They just never stopped believing."
The Bulldogs (17-14) are only the second No. 7 seed to make it to the title game, following New Mexico in 2012, and will play No. 4 Boise State. The Broncos knocked off top-seed Colorado State in the first semifinal.
Fresno State was swept in the regular season by Boise State, losing 67-66 on the road and 66-48 at the Save Mart Center.
But after losing five of six to end the regular season, the Bulldogs have found ways to win three in a row in a place, Las Vegas, where long winning streaks are difficult to come by. They took down No. 10 Nevada 62-57 on Monday and No. 2 Wyoming 58-48 on Tuesday. Against UNLV, Fresno State just played harder and smarter than the Rebels.
Faz Davalos, who tied a conference record with her 20th double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds, scored 11 of those points over the final two quarters. Kristina Cavey came off the bench and scored 13 points including a big 3-pointer with 7:37 remaining that put the Bulldogs momentarily into the lead.
Defensively, they contested everything. UNLV (22-10) hit just 32.1 percent of its shots in the game including 5 of 14 at the 3-point line.
"Down the stretch, out kids were just determined to win the game," White said.
"My teammates, they never stopped believing," Faz Davalos said. "No matter what the score, our defense, if we failed or something happened, they never stopped believing and that's what kept me pushing and I'm super glad they did it because we're going to the championship."
After Cavey gave the Bulldogs a 47-45 lead with her 3-pointer, the Rebels worked their way back to tie the score, then led by two, then four.
But they did not score again. Candice White got Fresno State back to within 51-50 with a 3-pointer with 4:21 to go, the basket followed by a flurry of missed shots, steals and turnovers, and finally the lay up by Faz Davlos off an assist by Emilie Volk.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada