The tension mounted and excitement teemed as the women of the Fresno State basketball team awaited the announcement of their seed and matchup for the first round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
The Duncan Josephine Theater was packed Monday with friends, family and fans for the big announcement during the ESPN selection show.
This will mark the Bulldogs’ sixth trip in a row to the big dance. It will be first time with Fresno State for head coach Raegan Pebley, who last saw NCAA tournament action as an assistant coach with the 2001 Colorado State Rams.
“Experiencing this with our team, I know this is something that we’ve done before, but every single time, it’s fun, and it’s exciting,” Pebley said.
“Let’s see where we go. We don’t care where we go. We don’t care who we’re seeded up against. We think that we are a tough draw for anybody,” she said, “and we’re going in to win.
“These girls, with their heart, and their commitment, I really, really do think we can beat anybody in the country.”
It didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to find out who that “anybody” would be.
Just three minutes into the selection show, the women saw their familiar red-and-white bulldog appear on screen, situated under the blue-and-yellow banner of the California Golden Bears.
“Cal, that’s a great opportunity,” Pebley said. “A team our staff feels pretty comfortable with.”
Fresno State (24-8) received the No. 15 seed, with Cal (28-3) nabbing the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Region bracket of the tournament.
The two California teams will travel far from their home state to Lubbock, Texas, where they will face off at 1:20 p.m. PST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
“They love pressure defense. They love an up-tempo game. They’re big, a big team, and they’re young, too, as well,” Pebley said. “But I’m excited. That’s a great matchup for us.”
Though Fresno State did not meet Cal in the regular season this year, the teams shared a handful of mutual opponents throughout the season.
Fresno State took down USC in early-season play at home 65-60, a team which was also defeated by Cal 71-63 in the regular season and again in the Pac-12 tournament, 78-59.
Each team also won against Washington State, 82-59 for the Bulldogs and 73-59 for the Golden Bears.
The most telling mutual matchup indicator may be Oregon: Fresno State lost in a close 65-64 game, while Cal handily sunk the Ducks, its Pac-12 opponent, twice during the season, 72-45 on the road and 77-55 at home.
“This is a great draw, you know, we told our team that it doesn’t matter where they played or who we’re playing against, we’re going after them,” Pebley said, “So here we go!”
Pebley said that it will be “business as usual” preparing the team for the tournament, taking it one opponent at a time.
“You’ve got to approach it like we have every single game,” Pebley said. “We’ve been challenged a lot, whether it’s through media or through fans, always wanting to talk about the next game or what’s going to happen in the championship game when we haven’t even played the first round.
“It’s really just, approach every single game as that game. We’ll be business as usual, absolutely, and prepare our girls the best way we know how,” she said.
Coming off of a Mountain West Championship win, Pebley said she feels confident about how the Bulldogs has been playing lately heading into the NCAA tournament, touting their strong defense as the “staple” of play.
Individual players, too, saw a string of strong performances in the conference tournament, something which Pebley hopes will carry over into the national arena.
“We had a lot of players step up. Obviously Ki-Ki [Moore] did what she did, and she is consistently a great force for us. Taylor [Thompson] was tremendously tough and steady. But having Rosie [Moult] get hot in the last game, having Bree [Farley] and [Alex] Sheedy, they played such huge roles for our team, maybe unsung heroes in that tournament,” Pebley said.
Moore, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer and MWC tournament MVP who will forgo her final season of eligibility at Fresno State next year, was excited to be matched up against a familiar team from California, one which she said she has seen play a lot. The host city of Lubbock, however, was unexpected, she said.
“I feel like Spokane would have been good for us,” Moore said. “It was a little closer to home, but wherever we play, and whoever we play, we’re still going to be ready.”
Moore, a transfer from Washington State, will be making her third NCAA appearance with the Bulldogs. She said this sixth-straight trip will keep the tradition alive from previous Bulldog teams.
“I think it means a lot for this program as well as this team,” she said. “I think it’s just exciting for us and also the past athletes that have been here. It just shows that we believe in this program a lot.”
Other Bulldogs were excited about the selection as well.
“We were just excited to play anyone,” said Bree Farley, a junior guard. “As our coaches always said, we want to advance in this tournament and I think playing Cal is a really good opportunity for us.”
Jacinta Vandenberg, a freshman who will be heading to the tournament for the first time, said that she is excited to face Cal and get more experience on a higher level of play.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me, and it’s good for me to get exposure to that level so when it comes up to next year and the year after, we do can even better,” Vandenberg said.
Rosie Moult, a senior who will be making her fourth and final NCAA appearance this year, is looking forward to taking on the Golden Bears.
“It’s a good matchup,” Moult said. “We’ll play good against them, and I’m hoping we can get out this win.”
Moult said the team will prepare by focusing heavily on themselves.
“Make sure we’re focusing on our defense, and what we have to do. Be physical, focus on our offense, and I think that will make us OK.”
The recent championship win is a confidence booster for the team going into the big dance.
“Really, really confident. We had a really good tournament, obviously beating San Diego State, which has giving us a pretty big high, so I think we’re quite confident going into the game,” she said.
Moult said, “We should be confident with our own game, and it doesn’t matter who we see, because if we play at our best, we can beat anybody.”
Junior guard Taylor Thompson shared that sentiment, feeling that the No. 15 seed for Fresno State was rather low.
“I always think we should be higher because I believe in this team, and I always think we should be above some other teams, and you know what, this is our sixth appearance in a row,” Thompson said. “But you know what, if they’re going to underestimate us, then we’re going to bring all we got.”