It started as a somber afternoon inside the North Gym.
The Fresno State women’s basketball team still had fresh wounds from Las Vegas, the Bulldogs knowing full well a spot in the NCAA Tournament was ripped from their paws during the final seconds of the Mountain West Tournament championship just days earlier.
But as practice got underway Tuesday for the first time since that 55-54 loss Friday to Colorado State, Fresno State jumped right into defensive drills for the next assignment: a Women’s National Invitation Tournament first-round game against Santa Clara at 7 p.m. Friday at Save Mart Center.
As much as the Bulldogs didn’t appear to move on from the loss, that was their only option.
“Well, for me, that’s the only choice,” coach Jaime White said. “You really can’t stay in the past and you need to move forward. … As we get closer to the game, our excitement will grow, too.”
I just want to play again. I think that will make me feel a lot better.
Bulldogs senior Alex Furr
It’s a bittersweet destination for a team that was runner-up in the Mountain West, despite being picked to finish fourth in the preseason.
Bitter, as they just missed on their ultimate goal. Yet sweet, as the seniors will play at least one more game at Save Mart Center.
“It’s definitely a disappointment that we’re not in the NCAA Tournament,” sixth-year senior Alex Furr said. “I’m still not over it, but the only way to get over it is to play again, so I’m looking forward to the WNIT.
“I didn’t think I’d get to play another game in the Save Mart Center, so I’m pretty happy about that.”
It’s always a goal just to continue to get better and to continue the legacy of having a postseason at Fresno State.
Bulldogs senior Toni Smith
The Bulldogs (21-11) will host a Santa Clara team that’s 23-8 overall and went 13-5 in the West Coast Conference regular season to tie for third.
The Broncos have beaten some tough teams along the way, including Stanford and Texas Tech. They beat Gonzaga twice, once during the regular season and once at the conference tournament. Santa Clara lost in the West Coast Conference semifinals to eventual champion BYU.
Santa Clara is playing in the postseason for the first time since an appearance in the 2006 WNIT.
It’s a sturdy challenge for the Bulldogs, who hope to make it further than last year’s WNIT second-round exit at Saint Mary’s.
“I really feel like it’s a possibility to make it further in the WNIT than in the NCAA (Tournament),” senior co-captain Toni Smith said. “That’s why there is such an excitement in a way, because we can compete with these teams and we can go far in this tournament.”
As a coach, you always want to do better. Two wins is better. Four wins gets us to the Final Four. Six wins win the tournament. Well, if you look at it that way, let’s just keep playing and keep staying alive.
Fresno State coach Jaime White, on the WNIT
The winner between Fresno State and Santa Clara will advance to the second round against the winner between Oregon (20-10) and Long Beach State (24-8). The Ducks and 49ers play at 6 p.m. Thursday in Eugene, Ore.
“I always think the best thing is to just play another game,” White said. “Let’s just win. Let’s just win another game and get a good taste in our mouth, and then the excitement comes and the motivation and all that.”
FRESNO STATE VS. SANTA CLARA
- Friday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 21-11, Broncos 23-8
- Series: Fresno State leads 23-15
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network/KFPT (AM 790)
- Tickets: $11 for reserved seats, $8 for general admission and students get in free. Free parking available.