The Fresno State women’s basketball team faces its toughest opponent yet when nationally-ranked No. 22 George Washington rolls into Save Mart Center at 7 p.m. Monday.
The Bulldogs (1-2) are still in search of their first victory against an NCAA D-I opponent (their only win came against D-II Fresno Pacific) while in the toughest stretch of their nonconference schedule. Washington, which beat the Bulldogs 89-79 on Friday, are ranked No. 36 in the ratings percentage index (RPI). The Colonials are 14th and St. Mary’s – where the Bulldogs play Friday – is No. 52.
Fresno State is ranked 57th in the RPI, the highest of any team in the Mountain West Conference. Colorado State, which was picked as the league’s preseason favorite, is 96th on the list.
A win against the Colonials (2-1) would boost their RPI and help the Bulldogs toward reaching the NCAA Tournament after missing the big dance for the first time in eight years last season.
They’ll have to start by quelling a tall and athletic Colonials squad. They are led by 6-foot-4 senior forward Jonquel Jones and 6-2 junior Caira Washington, who are both averaging double-double like numbers in their first three games. Jones had 27 points and 17 rebounds in George Washington’s 84-63 loss at No. 15 Stanford on Saturday and is averaging 15.7 points and 11.3 boards per game. Washington is averaging 18 points and 9.3 boards per game.
“They’re big and maybe a little more athletic than Washington,” coach Jaime White said. “We’ve got to run the floor and stop transition. We’ve got to learn from what we didn’t do last game.”
The Bulldogs had 17 turnovers in their most recent loss – a number too high for White. She’s confident the mistakes will drop as her team gets more familiar with the offense.
“You got to get them out there and let them play and they’ll make some mistakes,” White said. “But at the same time, we’ll tweak our offense a little bit and continue to run it with timing so they know where everyone is going to be and continue working hard to run in transition and to make good decisions.”
Getting the start – Freshman Breanne Knishka started her first three games as a Bulldog, something she didn’t expect coming in. She had 13 points against Washington on Friday, becoming the program’s first true freshman to score in double figures in four years. (The last was Jacinta Vandenberg’s 10 points against Grambling State on Nov. 20, 2012).
“She just does all the little things right,” White said of Knishka. “She’s really smart. She knows the defense. She knows every position on offense. She can score. Every time she shoots the ball, I think it’s going in.”
Knishka, by way of Cashmere High in Dryden, Wash., has gotten more comfortable by taking more shots on offense thanks to encouragement from her coaches and teammates.
“I think the biggest learning curve is that you have to understand how to get your shots out of the offense, and continue to run them when somebody stops you or make alternate decisions within the offense,” White added. “In this game it’s going to be up and down the floor quickly. (Knishka) is going to have make decisions a little bit quicker, and hopefully as she plays, that’s what will sink in and that’s where she will get better.”
NO. 22 GEORGE WASHINGTON (ATLANTIC-10) AT FRESNO STATE
- Monday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 1-2, Colonials 2-1
- Last meeting: Fresno State lost 73-64 at George Washington on Dec. 6, 2014
- Bring your ‘A’ game: Students in K-8th grade who bring their report card will receive free admission.
- TV/Radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFPT (790 AM)