These two finalities aren’t created equal.
For the second straight year, the Fresno State women’s basketball team fell one step shy of reaching the NCAA Tournament. There were tears, cracked voices and slumped shoulders – all the usual signs of an emotional defeat
“I feel the same way” as last season, Bulldogs center Bego Faz Davalos said with red eyes after Friday’s 66-53 loss to Boise State in the Mountain West Tournament championship.
“Yeah, they both sting,” point guard Candice White added. “Losing a championship game like this two years in a row is hard.”
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Sure, it’s hard. Sure, it feels the same. Of course, these Bulldogs wanted to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, which would’ve been their first appearance under third-year coach Jaime White.
In truth, however, this wasn’t anything like last year, when Fresno State was a No. 2 seed, had a roster stocked with seniors, coughed up a 14-point halftime lead to Colorado State and lost a 55-54 heartbreaker.
From these Bulldogs, not much was expected in Sin City. They were seeded No. 7 coming in and no one would’ve blinked had they lost their opening-round game to No. 10 Nevada.
We were the No. 7 seed and I thought we did a good job in the three games. We had good moments in the championship. I don’t think we did terrible.
Fresno State center Bego Faz Davalos
Except Fresno State won. Then the Bulldogs kept it rolling, knocking off No. 2 Wyoming and No. 3 UNLV en route to the finals. The three-game win streak matched anything this bunch accomplished all season.
By the time the championship game arrived, having played four games in five days and five games in eight days (“That’s like an NBA schedule,” Associate Athletic Director Steve Robertello said), the needle was headed toward empty.
The first signs of wear-down arrived in the third quarter, when Fresno State started 1 of 7 from the field as Boise State opened a 12-point lead. Even though the Bulldogs cut the deficit to five entering the fourth quarter, they were clearly spent.
After shooting 43 percent over the first three tournament games, Fresno State slumped to 31.5 percent in this one, including 28 percent (8 of 29) in the second half. It had more to do with missed shots, several of them gimmees from point-blank range, than anything the Broncos did defensively.
“We ran out of gas, and at different spots,” White said. “When we really needed a score we couldn’t get one.”
The Bulldogs will be glum for a while. That’s only natural. But once the pain and disappointment fades, they’ll be replaced by anticipation and promise.
The Bulldogs will be glum for a while. That’s only natural. But once the pain and disappointment fades, they’ll be replaced by anticipation and motivation.
As opposed to last season, Fresno State brings back most of its best players. Faz Davalos, the conference’s career leader in blocks (346), returns. So does White, the point guard who blossomed from little-used reserve into the team’s leading scorer. Tory Jacobs returns, as do promising freshmen Kristina Cavey and Breanne Knishka.
Of that group, only Faz Davalos and the injured Knishka had played much entering the season. The others were getting their first real taste of college basketball.
“For us to have this kind of a finish in a rebuilding year, I’m really proud of them,” White said.
We’re definitely going to use this. This will sit with them when we’re back in the championship game again.
Fresno State coach Jaime White
This experience at the Mountain West Tournament, becoming the first No. 7 seed to play for the championship in the event’s history, will do nothing but propel and motivate.
“They should say, ‘Look what we did. We’re young. And look what we can do next year,’ ” White said. “We have pretty much everybody back, and that’s nice. We just have this weird gap. There’s only one person in the junior class, and it’s tough to be that person.”
That person is Faz Davalos and, yes, it’s tough being her.
The 6-foot-3 junior is the literal and figurative center of attention each time she takes the court, and the book is to play her as physically as possible without getting booked for assault. They’ll even knock her to the court, which happened on consecutive possessions in the first quarter.
“It’s kind of weird, but I kind of feel proud about it,” Faz Davalos said. “People try to defend me really hard, and that’s something to be proud of.”
She’s a tough kid. She’s one of our hardest workers. She’s resilient.
Jaime White, on Bego Faz Davalos
Proud or not, Faz Davalos didn’t score her first basket until 5:30 remained before halftime. She eventually got it going but finished 5 of 13 from the field. That’s well off her 54.2 shooting percentage coming in.
At one point, Faz Davalos glanced at the rim with a scowl as if to say, “Are you kidding me?”
“Of course it was frustrating,” she said. “I didn’t know what was happening.”
Faz Davalos may have been confused by missing shots she normally makes, but this much is certain: She’ll be back next year hungrier than ever – with a supporting cast that is now tournament tested.
So, yes, the Bulldogs fell 40 minutes short again. And, yes, that seven-year NCAA streak from 2008-14 has since been followed by a three-year absence. Those are the facts.
But if last year’s championship game loss felt like closing a book, this one was more like the start of a new chapter.