The Fresno State women’s basketball team was fresh off a six-game road stretch, having not played a home game in 35 days, and left on the other side at 3-3. The good: wins in their final two road games, including their Mountain West Conference opener at San Diego State.
The bad: close losses to 5-10 Portland and (borderline ugly) 2-13 Oregon, then 1-8.
And with that came lessons.
The Bulldogs (10-5, 2-0 MWC) learned another lesson at home against New Mexico: “In this conference,” coach Raegan Pebley said, “no lead is secure.”
Fresno State, at one point leading by 17, squeezed away with a 69-65 victory against the Lobos during a Mountain West matinee Saturday at the Save Mart Center – where the Bulldogs have won 18 straight (stemming from last season) and remain undefeated in the season.
Ki-Ki Moore scored a game-high 22 points and Rosie Moult added 14 making 3-of-5 behind the arc against the Lobos (8-7, 0-2 MWC), who endured a 58-41 deficit at one point through their sound rebounding.
“They kind of got their groove back by hitting the boards,” Pebley said. “They got second chance opportunities, and that’s a great way to get your confidence back up.”
Fresno State shot 7-of-18 from behind the 3-point arc, making four of its first six 3s to fuel a 32-20 lead with 6:53 in the first half that was complimented by a pressing defense that forced 12 of its 16 turnovers in the first half by suffocating Lobos shooters on the perimeter.
That, topped with New Mexico having to defend both the perimeter and the paint (Fresno State would score 36 of its points there) helped the Bulldogs capitalize on the Lobos’ man-to-man defense to build a 40-29 lead at halftime that would only get bigger in the second half.
“I think our team showed a lot of balance today,” Moore said. “We shot a few 3s, and then they started getting out on those, so we pretty much started attacking. Just giving them different options they’d have to guard.”
But the second half, itself, was a tale of two halves.
It was in the latter part of the second half where the Bulldogs – who welcomed their biggest lead of the game at 58-41 with 11:27 to play – were met with their biggest scare following a New Mexico 16-2 run to close the gap at 60-57 with 4:07 to play.
Catalyzed by New Mexico outrebounding the Bulldogs 42-25, Lobos guard Bryce Owens made a 3-pointer that put the Bulldogs’ home streak in its gravest jeopardy.
“Our first-possession defense was solid, but defense isn’t defense if you don’t rebound,” Pebley said. “You have to finish it with getting the ball – that’s the point of defending the goal.“
Owens made all of her 13 points in the second half, with majority of them made off of timely executed 3s, giving the Bulldogs an excuse for nervousness.
Offensively, the Bulldogs fizzled in the second half after New Mexico switched to a zone defense.
“Not nervous at all,” said Moore, who also led the team with seven rebounds.“We just needed to pick it up and take care of the ball more – value the ball and the possessions.”
The Lobos fouled the Bulldogs five times in the final 30 seconds of the game, with the Bulldogs making five of their last six free throws to preserve to its home win streak.
Bree Farley finshed with nine points and Alex Sheedy added seven to go along with her four steals.
Fresno State will play its following two conference games on the road: at Wyoming on Wednesday and at Nevada on Jan. 19.
“Getting outrebounded as badly as we did is something that’s going to have to be much better as we continue on in the Mountain West,” Pebley said.