Fresno State was playing Utah State for the third time in 17 days when they matched up in the quarterfinal round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament on Tuesday night, so there should not have been too many surprises. Bego Faz Davalos certainly was not one.
The Bulldogs’ 6-foot-3 sophomore was selected a day earlier as the Defensive Player of the year in the conference, the leader in blocks with 119, which, remarkably, was 82 more than anyone else and 11 more than any three of the four players ranked second, third and tied for fourth combined.
Her play at the offensive end, though, was a surprise to some degree, and without it the Bulldogs – the No. 2 seed in the tournament – definitely would have faced a more difficult time advancing.
Faz Davalos dropped in 23 points to go with 12 rebounds, four more blocks and one big assist, with all of that and some extra pressure on the ball in the fourth quarter making up for a poor shooting night in a 55-47 victory over the seventh-seeded Aggies at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I’m glad it’s over,” coach Jaime White said. “You know, Utah State, nice team and going to be good for years to come with all these young kids and that height that they have.
“With us, I thought Bego did a great job keeping us in it early and really just kind of getting the ball at the heart of their defense. And then I thought late our pressure was solid. We knew the pressure was going to be helpful just because of how we played them like three days ago.”
Fresno State hit just 20 of 63 shots, with Faz Davalos going 9 of 17. She was 7 of 11 with 14 points at halftime, scoring half of the Bulldogs’ 28, and those 11 shots were more than she had attempted in all but three conference games. The past three, Faz Davalos had put up 19 shots – eight against New Mexico, six at Colorado State and five against Utah State.
“I feel real happy about it,” she said of the first-half run. “But definitely I was like let’s work for it, every play at a time, and just keep going.”
Utah State had length, running four players between 6-2 and 6-4 through the lineup. But their bigs did not have the quickness, strength or skill or defend well in the post against Faz Davalos or 6-foot senior Toni Smith, who after going 0 of 4 in the first half finished with seven points including a key three-point play off the assist by Faz Davalos with 5:47 to go that gave the Bulldogs a lead they would not surrender.
The 23 points for Faz Davalos were the most against a Mountain West opponent this season and one off her season-high of 24 set in a Dec. 8 blowout of Cal State Stanislaus. In conference play, she had averaged 11.6 points, second best on the team.
“Actually, she likes to play against taller girls, she has told me many times,” White said. “I always remind her and challenge her with that. I felt like if we could get an angle to the basket because of Bego’s speed we could get it into her and she could score.”
After the three-point play by Smith, it was Faz Davalos scoring on the next trip down the floor to make it 48-44. She hit 1 of 2 free throws with 1:43 to go to put Fresno State up 49-44.
Utah State didn’t have much of an answer anywhere in there, with Bulldogs guards Shauqunna Collins and Alex Furr using their quickness to pester Funda Nakkasoglu, the Aggies’ leading scorer at 21.1 points per game.
The Aggies (14-17) had difficulty dealing with the pressure and initiating offense and ended up hitting just one of their last 12 shots including an 0 for 9 finish. Nakkasoglu finished with 16 points, going 4 of 11 including 2 of 4 at the three-point line.
“I think it definitely slowed us down,” Nakkasoglu said. “I guess having a lot of inexperienced players, it kind of shook us up a little, scared us a little. That could have affected our game. That did cause a lot of our turnovers.”
Utah State also had five turnovers in that final 5:47.
“I think my team, I think we all like playing defense,” Furr said. “It’s really aggressive, and I think we’re an aggressive team. And that was kind of the key when we left the huddle was get stops, get stops in a row and we did a good job tonight.”
With the victory, the Bulldogs (20-10) reached 20 victories for the ninth straight season and move into the semifinals at 9 p.m. Wednesday, where they will face third-seeded UNLV and Hanford High alum Brooke Johnson.
The Rebels (18-13) beat third-seeded Boise State 71-65 in Tuesday’s late game.
MOUNTAIN WEST TOURNAMENT: NO. 2 FRESNO STATE VS. NO. 6 UNLV
- Wednesday: 9 p.m. at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas
- Records: Bulldogs 20-10, Rebels 18-13
- Of note: Fresno State swept in regular season, winning 58-54 on Dec. 30 at Save Mart Center and 57-52 at UNLV on Feb. 6. … Hanford High alum Brooke Johnson had 11 points, three assists and three rebounds in Rebels’ opening-round win over Air Force, then 17 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 71-65 win over No. 3 Boise State in quarterfinals.