Apr 25, 2019

Men, women on different paths

Recent road games have the women soaring into more conference play, and the men struggling down the stretch

Mike Howells/The Collegian

Head women’s basketball coach Adrian Wiggins didn’t see this past weekend’s road contest as a telling point on how this season will ultimately play out. Men’s coach Steve Cleveland thought otherwise.

One coach’s outlook worked while the other’s fell painfully short.

The women’s squad opened the weekend with a road dismantling of Western Athletic Conference foe Nevada on Saturday to open a nine-game win streak over the Wolf Pack. Fresno State made quick work of Nevada, darting out to a 41-27 halftime advantage en route to a 72-51 victory.

The women now are just one road win at New Mexico State away from setting up a Feb. 5 showdown at Louisiana Tech that should decide the regular-season WAC champion.

The men’s story is different— a whole lot different.

Cleveland and company got back on the winning track with an out-of-conference victory over newly Division I upgrade Seattle University a week ago, but dug themselves back in a deep hole with consecutive losses.

The first loss came via a heartbreaking three-point loss at Nevada, in which Fresno State got 26 points from Tim Steed, 19 points from Kevin Olekaibe and a double-double from center Greg Smith. Still, the Bulldogs’ second-half surge proved not to be enough and Fresno State lost its sixth straight conference game.

Consecutive WAC loss number seven came two days later when the ‘Dogs dropped to 8-12 overall, 3-6 in the WAC after losing 78-66 to lowly San Jose State (10-10, 2-7 WAC). Olekaibe once again had a career night, scoring 29 points off the bench. But Fresno State’s starters mustered just 23 points on 8-of-25 shooting.

With 10 games still remaining on the regular-season schedule, Cleveland’s team needs a drastic turnaround to come quick or it will face first-round elimination in the WAC Tournament for the fourth time in five years.

Mike Howells/The Collegian

Fresno State’s men’s team plays just one more WAC contest against a team lower than it in the conference standings and still has a home game against New Mexico State and a road showdown with Utah State.

The women, however, are on a four-game win streak and are setting up much more meaningful future contests. Wiggins’ team travels to Las Cruces, N.M., Thursday to take on New Mexico State in the Bulldogs’ final tune up before the crucial game at Louisiana Tech.

Unlike the men, the women close out the season with all in-conference games. The men still have a home-and-away series with Cal State Bakersfield and will participate in the ESPN BracketBusters on Feb. 19.

But the final stretch of a season has been Cleveland’s M.O. since taking the program’s reins in the 2005-06 season. Over the last five years, Cleveland’s squads have posted a mediocre 5-5 average record over the last 10 games, including only having a winning record in that stretch in 2007.

Wiggins’ first full season as the women’s head coach was the same year Cleveland took over. But the final stretch of games has boded much better for the women through the years.

The women have nine games remaining before the WAC Tournament, and have averaged around an 8-1 record, including all winning records.

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