Sophomore center Bego Faz Davalos scored consecutive layups, with a late block and steal added in, as Fresno State broke loose in the closing minute and beat Santa Clara 59-53 Friday night in the opening round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Faz Davalos’ layups made it 56-52 with 52.2 seconds remaining, and Brittany Aikens helped ice the game with two free throws with 25.2 to play at Save Mart Center.
The Bulldogs (22-11) face Oregon (21-10) in a second-round game at 6 p.m. Monday at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene.
Friday night’s game was a physical, defensive-oriented win for Fresno State that was the perfect rebound to a Mountain West Tournament championship game loss to Colorado State exactly a week earlier.
“I’m really proud of our girls,” coach Jaime White said. “It’s been a long week after that (loss). … There’s times when you get on the bus and everyone is laughing and joking, and I’ll tell you what, that drive back from Vegas was absolutely quiet and I was a little worried.”
The Bulldogs erased White’s worries with a first half paced by their defense, forcing 18 turnovers and holding the Broncos (23-9) to 36.4 percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes.
We played 40 full minutes tonight and at times it went up and down, but hey it’s postseason. Every team is good and their going to bring it. We knew they were going to make runs and we had to withstand that.
Jaime White, Bulldogs head coach
Faz Davalos and Shauqunna Collins each had five steals to power Fresno State’s defensive front that shifted between a full-court press and a 3-2 zone. Faz Davalos added seven blocks, increasing her nation-leading total to 134 for the season. Her blocks-per-game average increased to 4.06, also tops in the nation.
“I’m not going to lie, it was really physical,” Faz Davalos said. “Coach told us before to get ready for it so we kind of knew about it, but, definitely because I saw my teammates going aggressive, too, like Alex Furr I think she did a great job. She was defending with her heart, so I was like, ‘All right, let’s do it together.’ ”
Santa Clara had 15 offensive rebounds, but only cashed in five second-chance points courtesy of a taut Bulldogs’ defense.
Faz Davalos anchored a 10-2 run for the Bulldogs to open the second period that built the team’s first double-digit lead of the night with 6:11 to go until halftime. She finished with a game-high 21 points, and Collins added 14.
But the Broncos drew closer after the break, finally cutting the deficit to 44-41 with nine seconds remaining in the third after a foul and technical on Collins.
It felt great to get back on the court and play for our fans one more time before we go to Oregon. Words can’t even explain being in front of that big crowd and being able to give them what they always wish for and are excited to see every single game.
Fresno State senior point guard Shauqunna Collins
In the fourth, Santa Clara drew level, 52-52, as Marie Bertholdt sank consecutive jumpers with 3:40 left to play.
But the Bulldogs held Santa Clara scoreless from the field from that point in advancing to the second round of the tournament for the second year in a row.
The Ducks, who lost 74-68 as the No. 6 seed to No. 11 Arizona in the opening round of the Pacific-12 Conference tournament, beat Long Beach State 84-76 in their WNIT opener Thursday. Oregon won WNIT titles in 2002 and 1989.
WNIT SECOND ROUND: FRESNO STATE AT OREGON
- Monday: 6 p.m. at Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene
- Records: Bulldogs 22-11, Ducks 21-10