With three consecutive wins in the Mountain West, including an upset of second-place Wyoming, Fresno State finally is playing with the toughness it believes is needed to attain a precious first-round bye in three weeks at the women’s postseason conference tournament.
But the Bulldogs (14-9, 7-5) figure to need to be at their best again Saturday, when front-running Colorado State (18-6, 10-2) visits Save Mart Center for a 2 p.m. tipoff.
The Bulldogs are tied for fourth with UNLV (16-8, 7-5), just one game in front of sixth-place Utah State (13-10, 6-6). The top five teams will earn a pass into the quarterfinals when the teams gather March 6-10 in Las Vegas.
“I think we’re in a good place right now,” coach Jaime White said. “We have good energy and good confidence going into this game, but we’re going to have to play hard and we’re going to have to play 40 minutes. We’re going to have to have execution and we’re going to have to have kids make plays.”
The Rams have won the past four in the series against the Bulldogs, including 73-56 in Fort Collins earlier this season. But Fresno State has been on the rebound since that Jan. 18 loss, winning 4 of 5.
It’s going to take 40 minutes, every second of it. Of course we’re going to make mistakes, we’re human, but the point is coming back from those mistakes. It’s going to take everybody, not just two or three people. It’s going to take everybody.
Fresno State’s Bego Faz Davalos, on what it will take for a win against first-place Colorado State
Colorado State is coming off a loss at Utah State that ended its nine-game winning streak.
In the high-stakes rivalry, the Bulldogs also still wear a chip on their collective shoulder from last season’s 55-54 loss in the conference tournament championship game.
“Every time we play them, we just say we owe them,” senior forward Kendra Martin said. “The last 4 seconds of our championship game, we owe them. So every time we play them we’re just trying so hard to beat them. That’s really it.”
The Bulldogs hold homecourt advantage at Save Mart Center, where Colorado State is 0-3 in Mountain West Conference games. Coupled with the Rams’ struggles on the road (6-5 in away games), Fresno State knows it can flex its might on its home floor.
“I’m excited to see them here because the last time they played here we won,” junior center Bego Faz Davalos said. “I can’t wait. Now we’re ready. We look more like a team. We’re committed and I feel like our focus is more narrow (since our last game against the Rams).”
The Rams are led by senior duo Ellen Nystrom (15.0 ppg) and Elin Gustavsson (12.7). Nystrom, the 2016 conference Player of the Year, is averaging 7.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. Gustavsson is shooting at a team-best 51.7 percent clip, ranking fourth in the league.
If the Bulldogs want to keep their streak alive, they will need to stop the Rams’ pair from consistently finding the basket.
“We’re really focused on defense,” Martin said. “Just like in the Wyoming game, defense was the best thing we had that day. If we’re focused on defense and stop their main players. I think we’ll be fine.”
FRESNO STATE VS. COLORADO STATE
- Saturday: 2 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 14-9, 7-5 Mountain West; Rams 18-6, 10-2 (lost 55-48 to Utah State on Wednesday)
- Series/last meeting: Rams lead 13-7; Colorado State won 73-56 on Jan. 18, 2017, in Fort Collins
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFPT AM (790)
- Pink game: To raise awareness for breast cancer, free admission will be given to all fans wearing pink. The Bulldogs will also be wearing special-edition pink uniforms.