Ki-Ki Moore releases a layup during Fresno State’s 63-62 win over Wyoming in the Mountain West Conference tournament semifinal game. The Bulldogs will face top-seeded San Diego State in the title game Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. Roe Borunda / The Collegian
Ki-Ki Moore’s game-winning shot gives ‘Dogs 63-62 semifinal win over Wyoming
LAS VEGAS — Nine-point-six seconds.
It hasn’t been a situation that Fresno State has had to encounter often this season: being down 62-61 with the game waning down to the final seconds.
The tables were turned. It was them, the Bulldogs – among the Mountain West Conference elite – who were with their backs suddenly against the wall; and their hopes at a spot at the conference championship game and NCAA Tournament were suddenly stuck in a comatose.
But it was them, the second-seeded Bulldogs – led by an unfazed Ki-Ki Moore with the game on the line – who escaped the confines of a tight corner for a 63-62 thrilling victory over the No. 3 Wyoming in the conference basketball championship semifinals.
With 9.6 seconds left and the ball in their own half court, Taylor Thompson received the inbounds pass from Bree Farley, and passed it left to Moore, who trudged through the paint – past three defenders – for the game-winning layup.
With three seconds to spare.
“I was excited,” said Moore, whose 22 points led the Bulldogs in scoring.
“But it wasn’t time to celebrate yet. There was still another play they got the ball in. I knew we had to defend. Couldn’t celebrate until the buzzer went off and the shot did not go in.
“My teammates just surrounded me and everyone was happy, just jumping on me. I felt love from my teammates. Just getting the opportunity to take that shot shows they love me and trust me a lot.”
Fresno State will play top-seeded San Diego State in Saturday’s championship game at 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs (23-8) had been tested by Wyoming (24-7) before in the regular season – on the road, specifically, when the Cowgirls won 78-71.
And it was at the hostile Thomas & Mack Center – before a crowd 5,936 (the highest attended semifinal in the women’s tournament history) that largely consisted of an overwhelming sea of brown and gold that cheered, jeered, booed and applauded at Fresno State’s every mistake or triumph – in which the Bulldogs were forced to win at.
“It felt like we were playing out in Laramie,” Fresno State coach Raegan Pebley said. “This game felt more like the game in Laramie than it did at home.”
Fresno State seemed to pull away in the early stages of the game, going on a 9-0 run – capped by a 3-pointer from Moore with 12:16 left in the first half – and grabbing a 20-10 lead, the Bulldogs’ largest of the night.
But 3s were not easy to come by for the Bulldogs, who shot finished the night 4-of-17 from behind the arc.
Taylor Thompson (above) shoots a basket during the Bulldogs’ Friday’s semifinal win. “We’re going for nothing less than a conference championship,” Thompson said. Roe Borunda / The Collegian
Thompson finished with 17 points, Farley had 11 and Rosie Moult contributed six for the Bulldogs, who led 34-31 at the half.
“The biggest thing is they have more than one option offensively,” Wyoming coach Joe Legerski.
“You’re worried about Moore getting to the basket. You have Thompson that can get to the basket. You know Moult and Farley can shoot the ball extremely well from three.”
The Cowgirls, despite committing 21 turnovers, were able to find shots against the Bulldogs’ pressure defense in the second half through their half court sets.
Fresno State has forced its opponents into 50 turnovers in its two tournament wins.
“I thought we did a really good job just of trying to make Wyoming play our game and adjust to us more,” said Pebley, who will coach the Bulldogs in their first Mountain West championship game her first year at the Fresno State helm.
“Their half court offense is too good. We knew we couldn’t sit and guard it the whole game.
“So we had to get at ’em. We had to get creative.”
Kayla Woodward, who led the Cowgirls with 22 points, made a post jumper with 13 seconds left in the game to give the Cowgirls a 62-61 lead.
Fresno State called a timeout 3.4 seconds later – trying to find a way to get the ball to its go-to scorer in Moore.
But with 9.6 seconds left?
With fans clamoring and the building rattling?
And with a spot at the championship game on the line?
“Moore is their leading scorer. She’s proven she’s dependable in tight situations like that. You knew they were going to go to her,” said Wyoming’s Chaundra Sewell, who scored 18 for the Cowgirls.
“She got by Kaitlyn. The defense didn’t quite rotate just right and she was able to hit a really nice shot.
“You’ve got to give it to her. She didn’t hesitate.”
The Bulldogs and the Aztecs (26-5) split the regular-season series. Fresno State was the Aztecs’ sole blemish in Mountain West play, where they finished 15-1.
“Most definitely we’re going to celebrate tonight’s win,” Thompson said. “We’re going to rest, but we’re going to enjoy that we won. We’re just going to prepare for San Diego State like any other game.
“But we’re going in for nothing less than a championship.”