’Dogs fend off Trojans’ late rally in 65-60 thriller

Taylor Thompson (33) staves off USC’s Ariya Crook (14) in the Bulldogs’ 65-60 win Wednesday night at the Save Mart Center. Thompson finished the night with four assists and a game-high 20 points.
Dalton Runberg / The Collegian

In this nonconference matchup, it was the Bulldogs who had to hold down the fort and fend off a spontaneous attack by the Women of Troy late in the second half.

The Fresno State women’s basketball team had a 57-32 second-half lead over the Pac-12’s USC diminish to single digits in the final seconds.

Faced with stiff pressure from an opponent in desperation mode, the Bulldogs held the Trojans at bay for an intense 65-60 nonleague win Wednesday night at the Save Mart Center.

“You knew it was going to be a 40-minute game coming in,” Ki-Ki Moore said. “We knew that just because we had a lead, USC wasn’t going to give up and that we had to fight until the end of the game.”

Taylor Thompson had four assists and 20 points shooting an efficient 6-of-9 from the floor and Moore added 15 points and seven rebounds on a night that featured scoring frenzies from both teams.

The Bulldogs (5-2) remain undefeated at home for the season and extended their home win streak to 16 games, having not lost at the Save Mart Center since falling to Stanford, another Pac-12 foe, Dec. 4 of last year.

“Beating a Pac-12 team, that’s awesome,” Thompson said. “I thought we played really well as a whole. We did it together.”

Down 20-19 and faced with the team’s only deficit of the night, Thompson made a jumper and two free throws that served as the catalyst for Fresno State’s 17-point scoring run late in the first which extended early in the second half.

Alex Sheedy finished with six points, four steals and 11 rebounds – 10 in the first half – and Bree Farley add nine boards to create separation from USC.

“I think that first half really helped us to feel more confidence that we belong on the floor with a team like that,” Bulldogs coach Raegan Pebley said. “I think Alex Sheedy’s first-half rebounding performance contributed a lot to our success.”

But the Trojans weren’t willing to go down without a fight.

USC guard Ariya Crook scored 14 of her 17 points in the second half where the Trojans – who trailed by as much as 25 points – outscored the Bulldogs 28-8 in the final 11 minutes of regulation in a late rally.

After being held scoreless for the last eight minutes of the first half, USC (3-4) opened up its streak on a Cassie Harberts layup with 10:30 to play. Harberts scored 14 for the Trojans in a physical matchup that saw both teams turn the ball over 22 times.

“The Pac-12 teams are physical teams,” Pebley said. “I think that USC team has the capability to be a Top 25 team with their personnel, skill set and size. In the end we just told our team we’re going to have to play physical back with them but we also don’t want to get into a grudge match. We don’t want to play just half-court basketball.

“We wanted to open that court up, play 94-feet and attack the basket.”

Faced with a legitimate chance at pulling off a come-from-behind victory, USC began pressing the Bulldogs in hopes of forcing turnovers and regaining possession of the ball.

Crook made a layup to chip Fresno State’s lead to 63-60 with 13 seconds left on the clock. Thompson made two free throws after being fouled a second later, sealing the Bulldogs’ win.

“With them coming back, I knew they had to do something to try to stop us and slow us down,” Moore said. “But we handled it very well as a team tonight.”

The Bulldogs conclude their four-game home stand when they host Cal-State Northridge on Saturday at 2 p.m.