Fresno State hosts Cal-State Northridge Saturday at the Save Mart Center at 2 p.m. to conclude a four-game home stand – the longest stretch of games the Bulldogs will host this season.
The Matadors (5-3) are led by forward Marta Masoni and guard Ashlee Guay, who are averaging 14.4 and 14.2 points per game, respectively.
Cal-State Northridge is coming off its most lopsided win of the season – a 77-33 home rout over University of San Francisco.
Young bench given early playing experience
The Bulldogs’ bench has been given a good chunk of playing time in the past three home games.
The absence of Rosie Moult, who has not played due to injury since a Nov. 28 road loss to Pacific, along with the Bulldogs building comfortable leads at one point in all three games, has contributed to bench players acquiring early minutes.
Players like sophomore Robin Draper have seized the opportunity. Draper has averaged 10.7 points per game in the Bulldogs’ last three wins. She is also averaging more than 27 minutes per game in those wins.
“We’ve talked about it throughout the season – about building consistency and our second five being as solid as our top five,” Bulldogs coach Raegan Pebley said after Fresno State’s 65-60 win against USC.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries so far this season and I think that’s given an opportunity for some younger players — and players that haven’t had as many game minutes — to gain some confidence.
“The preparation and confidence that our bench showed in this game, isn’t just from this game. It’s been weeks and they’ve been working at it.
“Taylor (Thompson) extends a lot of confidence to her teammates. Ki-Ki (Moore) extends a lot of confidence to them. She gives Robin the ball and expects Robin to shoot it. That does a tremendous amount for a young player.”
Post players making strides
The Bulldogs’ starting lineup has remained consistent in the last three games, with Thompson, Moore, Bree Farley, Alex Sheedy and Jacinta Vandenberg making the starts.
Vandenberg was also in the starting rotation when Moult was healthy, with Ta’Nitra Byrd and Toni Smith playing the post off the bench.
Against the Trojans, Byrd finished with nine points and three assists for the Bulldogs in 14 minutes of playing time.
Pebley likes the strides her post players have been making early on in the season.
“Alex Sheedy, sometimes you look at her and you forget that she’s just a sophomore.” Pebley said. “She’s still a young player developing her confidence. Not only is she a young player, but she’s also moved from the paint to playing more perimeter.
“Jacinta is developing in her confidence and she’s still learning how to play a physical game. She’s more naturally a finesse player. I love the strides she’s taken.
“Ta’Nitra Byrd’s a beast inside. She loves contact, loves the physical game and she was able to bring some things to us in the paint that we needed.”
’Dogs near six-game road stretch
After playing the Matadors, Fresno State will then embark on a six-game road stretch that covers most of the school’s Winter Break and extends into conference play.
The Bulldogs start their West Coast expedition at the University of Portland on Dec. 14 that will be followed by games at Pac-12’s Oregon, University of San Francisco, Santa Clara, CSU Bakersfield and San Diego State.
The Bulldogs enter conference play in the Mountain West Jan. 9 of next year against the Aztecs.
Fresno State will not host another home game for more than a month – Jan. 12 against conference foe New Mexico, to be exact.
The Bulldogs are 0-2 on the road this season.
“This schedule is one in which I inherited,” Pebley said. “It is what it is. I don’t like playing six games in a row on the road.”