All stings presumably fade, given time, and for Fresno State maybe it has by now or maybe it hasn’t.
A year ago in the championship game of the Mountain West Conference women’s basketball tournament, the Bulldogs were up 14 on Colorado State midway through the third quarter, up 10 after making the first basket in the fourth and up one for 2:48 of the final 2:51.
It all got away. The Bulldogs lost 55-54, missing 7 of 10 shots in the final quarter and turning over the ball six times, all of that followed by a long bus ride home to sit and stew, dissect every sequence, every play, every opportunity.
That can leave a mark. But at some point, coach Jaime White said, it’s about making it an instructive experience and moving on.
With four in a semifinal victory over UNLV, Fresno State center Bego Faz Davalos set a Mountain West Tournament record for career blocks with 20. Faz Davalos passed UNLV’s Jordan Adams, who had 17 from 2000-03.
After the Bulldogs guaranteed themselves a return trip to the championship game with a 53-51 victory over UNLV on Wednesday night at Thomas & Mack Center, White managed a smile out of that.
“It makes it harder that it was the championship game,” she said. “It makes it harder that we were up. All those things made it really tough. But at the end of the day you have to learn from that and look at us. I think we did. Right? I think we have.
“As a coach, I’ve learned a lot. It’s not like we haven’t had games like that more often, but we wanted our kids to learn from it. They learned from it.”
Perhaps it just took the weight of the postseason to get there, but after some 360-plus days – including a 2016-17 regular season in which the Bulldogs went 15-14 and were scuffling at the end in losing five of their last six to fall to a No. 7 seed at the tournament – it appears to have stuck.
Fresno State took out No. 2 seed Wyoming in a quarterfinal with few anxious moments, but a first-round victory over No. 10 Nevada and the semifinal win over the No. 3 Rebels were two-possession games down the stretch.
Boise is a solid team. I think they are a solid defensive team, also. They have a little size. They have a couple of shooters. And I think we just have to do what we’ve been doing, but better.
Fresno State coach Jaime White
In the final 5 minutes of those games, the Bulldogs and their opposition were separated by six points or fewer for 9:16.
They got stops. They made plays, at both ends of the floor. They emerged with wins.
The Bulldogs allowed just 3-of-17 shooting combined in that 9:16. They forced four turnovers and allowed just .36 points per possession.
“I heard them on the bench (Tuesday) night going, ‘We have all 40 minutes guys, don’t let up, don’t let up, take care of the ball,’ ” White said. “That’s the thing. They know how important every minute is.”
A victory over Boise State in the Mountain West Tournament final would give the Bulldogs a season-high four-game winning streak. Twice during the regular season they won three straight.
Taking better care of the basketball will be key for the Bulldogs, who turned it over 36 times in the regular-season series and were unable to overcome a minus-15 turnover differential. The Broncos scored 24 points off Fresno State turnovers in both games, outscoring the Bulldogs 24-10 and 24-2.
“I’ve been saying all year that we’re inexperienced and now I’m saying we have experience,” White said. “We were here. We feel it. We’re excited by it. We’ve played enough games (at Thomas & Mack) that it’s like our homecourt and I think our kids are just young enough to just be having fun.
“Then, they saw what happened last year.
“And I’ve seen – we’ve had some close games, but I’ve seen kids say, ‘Hey, it’s not over. We get leads, ‘Hey, it’s not over. We have to keep grinding it out,’ ” White said. “That’s what we were probably the most upset with is losing a little bit of that lead in the championship game last year. Our kids understand they’ve got to play all 40 minutes now.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Mountain West final
FRESNO STATE VS. BOISE STATE
- Friday: Noon at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas
- Records: Bulldogs 18-14, Broncos 24-7
- Webcast: Mountain West Network (themw.com)