The turnaround of the Fresno State women’s basketball team can be traced to the holiday break.
For six days, the only thing Bulldogs players did when it came to basketball was think about their 4-7 start during nonconference play.
They didn’t practice. There were no games. Just a break from basketball to enjoy the holidays.
But all the while, the Bulldogs understood much work needed to be done if they were to bounce back by Mountain West play.
Honestly, we had a rough preseason. ...We had to dig very deep.
Fresno State senior Toni Smith
“Honestly, we had a rough preseason,” Fresno State senior Toni Smith said. “Coming into conference, there was just this mindset that we can win in conference.
“We know what we’re capable of. We competed against some of the best in the nation. We had to dig very deep.”
Turning that frustration into focus after the break, Fresno State (9-7, 5-0) has rattled off five straight wins to open Mountain West play and is tied with Colorado State (15-1, 5-0) atop the standings.
The Bulldogs look to extend their undefeated streak with two home games this week, playing San Diego State (6-10, 1-4) at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Air Force (0-16, 0-5) on Saturday. at Save Mart Center.
Fresno State has started 5-0 in Mountain West play for the second straight season under second-year coach Jaime White. Last season, the Bulldogs began conference play 9-0.
Keying Fresno State’s efforts lately has been improved play from Smith down low and better shot selection and an adjusted shooting technique by senior guard Alex Furr.
Bulldogs coach Jaime White added that plays have been devised to get Smith and Furr the ball in better situations to make plays with emphasis on inside-outside ball movement.
Since conference play, the 6-foot Smith has raised her scoring from 8.5 points during nonconference play to 12.0 points against Mountain West teams. Her shooting percentage also has risen from 39.4 to 48.2 percent.
“I knew I had to step up a lot more than I did in preseason,” Smith said. “My whole mindset was: try to be as unstoppable as you can.”
Furr had her own awakening, with help from her dad.
During her trip home to Texas for the holidays, Furr shot hoops with her dad, Guy Furr, a longtime college basketball coach in Texas.
Together, they discovered some shooting mechanics that needed tinkering. Her hand was too high on the ball and her follow-through was all over the place, she said.
41.7 Fresno State guard Alex Furr’s three-point shooting percentage through five Mountain West games. She shot 28.1 percent on three-pointers during 16 nonconference games.
“I needed it more than anything,” Furr said. “I wish I could’ve flew him in during the preseason. He knows my shot better than anybody.”
Since conference play, Furr has boosted her scoring from 6.7 to 8.4 points per game. Most dramatically, Furr raised her three-point shooting percentage from 24.4 to 41.7 percent and her field-goal percentage from 29.7 to 40 percent overall.
“We didn’t want to lose anymore,” Furr said. “So we got back from break, we had a big emphasis in practice to really train hard, have good focus, leave that all behind us and start off fresh.”
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: FRESNO STATE VS. SAN DIEGO STATE
- Wednesday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 9-7, 5-0 Mountain West; Aztecs 6-10, 1-4
- Radio: KFPT (AM 790)
- Series: Aztecs lead 26-16
- Last meeting: Fresno State won 57-50 on Jan. 28, 2015