Wyoming came out firing Wednesday night, until Fresno State put a second-half jam on the Cowgirls’ offense to escape with a 64-52 comeback victory at Save Mart Center in Mountain West play.
The Cowgirls (12-12, 5-9 MW) made their first six from the field for a 15-2 lead, just five minutes into the game.
It got worse for the Bulldogs (15-9, 11-2) as Wyoming freshman Marta Gomez hit her first four attempts from three-point range for a 20-4 lead with 3:15 left in the first quarter.
But the Bulldogs weren’t in a state of panic, according to coach Jaime White. It just took her team a few minutes to crack the Cowgirls’ zone defense.
“We don’t have an anxiety when there is a deficit because we’ve come back so many times,” White said. “We just make a couple of adjustments and focus on one or two things. We try not to get complicated. I thought we did a good job of pushing out into transition and getting the ball inside the paint.”
How many teams really come back from a 16-point deficit? We aren’t doing it on purpose, but just to have a calm head and put the effort forth. A lot of kids would just throw the game. I see a lot of our kids stepping up and refusing to lose.
Bulldogs coach Jaime White
Back-to-back three-pointers by Breanne Knishka and Moriah Faulk in the second quarter trimmed Wyoming’s lead to 10.
The Bulldogs then turned it on defensively, forcing six turnovers in the final four minutes of the half to go into the locker room down seven after a flurry of layups by Toni Smith and Shauqunna Collins.
In conference play, the Bulldogs have trailed at the midway point in six of their 11 games. In all six, however, they’ve still found a way to win. This time was no different as Fresno State improved to 7-0 in conference when trailing at the break.
The first half is just to get to the second and our kids really bought into that, and did a great job coming back out and finishing.
Bulldogs coach Jaime White
“I think we’re calm in that type of situation,” Smith said of her team’s tendency to trail early. “We know how to come back from a deficit. Nobody is hanging their head, we just focus on what to do better.”
The Bulldogs came out firing after halftime, quickly tying it 31-31 on back-to-back layups from Brittany Aikens and another Knishka three.
The Cowgirls, however, forced three Fresno State turnovers that helped them to climb back up by seven.
Wyoming was led by Marta Gomez with 17 points. Marquelle Dent added 13.
But Collins and Smith combined to score the next 12 points to put the Bulldogs up 43-38 at the end of the third quarter.
Perhaps the biggest play in that turnaround came with just under 2:30 left in the period, when Smith missed a layup after taking hit to her right quad that left her limping for a short while. While slow getting up, Smith didn’t lose focus, quickly receiving a long pass from Collins for an easy finish that brought Fresno State within one.
The Cowgirls shot 42.3% (11 of 26) in the first half, but were held to just 30.4% shooting (7 of 23) the rest of the way.
Smith then raced down the floor to block Natalie Baker’s short jumper before putting the Bulldogs in front for good with a strong drive to the basket from the top of the key.
Smith had a career-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, to go with four rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Collins added 16 and had a team-high four assists.
40 points in the paint for Fresno State, compared to Wyoming’s eight. The Bulldogs’ total is their most against a D-I opponent this season.
“Coach stresses to us to get in the paint,” Collins said. “Whether it’s post touches or driving into the paint and then kicking it out. We are very successful when we play inside out.”
FRESNO STATE AT UTAH STATE
- Saturday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 15-9, 11-2 Mountain West; Aggies 11-13, 6-7 (lost 91-64 at Colorado State on Wednesday)
- Webcast: Mountain West Network (themwc.com)