Just before Wednesday’s conference opener, the Fresno State women’s basketball team was presented its Mountain West tournament championship rings and banners.
While the celebration was a short-lived reminder of last season, the Bulldogs used that as motivation to start their latest conference run — under a new coach and with new players — and defeated New Mexico 71-65 at the Save Mart Center.
“I was thinking: ‘Let’s just get another. Let’s get another banner, another ring,’ ” said first-year coach Jaime White.
For junior transfer Shauqunna Collins, watching her teammates receive their rings was the perfect motivation to make history in 2015.
“It makes me more hungry and just play hard every time,” she said. “We’re all new, so every moment, every game, is big for us because we definitely want those rings.”
The Bulldogs (9-3, 1-0) showed that hunger in the first half against the Lobos. Alex Furr set the tone with a behind-the-back crossover while guarded by New Mexico’s Jayda Bovero and pulled up for 3-pointer for an 8-7 lead.
Raven Fox and Toni Smith then strung together four consecutive layups before Fox found Moriah Faulk for a dazzling alley-oop layup as the Bulldogs closed out the first half on a 23-5 scoring run.
Executing its trap defense, Fresno State forced the Lobos to shoot just 31.8% from the field (7 of 22) and commit 13 turnovers as the Bulldogs went to the locker room with 36-17 lead.
“I still think defense is our best offense,” White said. “We were able to get up and put some pressure on some people.”
White also praised her team’s performance off the bench. Fox had five assists, four in the first half, eight points and three steals in 22 minutes. Freshman center Bego Faz Davalos added eight points, five boards, two steals and a block.
It was a balanced attack that gave the Bulldogs enough cushion to hold off a surge by New Mexico (4-8, 0-1).
The Lobos erased a 19-point deficit in the second half via three straight 3-pointers, two by Cherise Beynon, who finished with 13 points. Antiesha Brown scored 17 of her game-high 19 points after the break, including a jumper with 50 seconds remaining that pulled New Mexico within six points.
The comeback fizzled there as the Bulldogs held on to win their fifth game in row and improve to a 7-0 at the Save Mart Center while ending New Mexico’s winning streak at three games.
Fresno State senior forward Alex Sheedy scored 10 straight points in the second half and finished with a team-high 16. Collins added 12 points, while making 6 of 7 from the charity stripe, and five assists.
“It was a really good game for us,” Sheedy said. “Aside from losing that lead, it does set the pace for the conference that we’re a team that isn’t going to back off. We’re going to keep going despite the little mental lapses we might have. We’re never really going to be gone; you’re never going to take us over.”