Fresno State senior guard Alex Sheedy runs through heavy Wyoming defense during the ‘Dogs’ 74-66 victory over the Cowgirls at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. (Darlene Wendels/The Collegian)
LAS VEGAS — The Fresno State women’s basketball team survived its first test: a gritty, back-and-forth battle against the Wyoming Cowgirls to reach the Mountain West semifinals.
The 74-66 victory was reflective of the ‘Dogs’ performance against the Cowgirls during the regular season.
“Wyoming was not any different,” said Fresno State forward Alex Sheedy. “The Cowgirls played similarly when we were at their place. They are generally a good team, and they have players who know what it takes to win.”
However, Fresno State head coach Jaime White decided to use a guard-oriented lineup against the Cowgirls because of her familiarity with their gameplay. After all, she was an assistant coach there from 2003-06.
“Wyoming has a similar guard [to the Bulldogs], Jordan Kelly,” she said. “When I worked at Wyoming, she came to our camps from when she was 10 years old and up. She was always a guard. So we knew we could match with the Cowgirls if we played more guards.”
A key factor in the victory was the Bulldogs’ ability to stifle Wyoming from behind the arc. The Cowgirls only made 2-of-12 3-point attempts, both of which came from guard Kaitlyn Mileto.
The first half was one of peaks and valleys for the ‘Dogs. After a quick start to the game, when Alex Furr made her first two 3-point attempts, Fresno State was able to pace the Cowgirls for half of the stanza.
But things changed. Fresno State fell victim to a scoring drought that Wyoming was able to take advantage of. An 8-0 run turned a Cowgirl 3-point deficit to a lead by four.
Fresno State found its rhythm after center Toni Smith’s layup broke its drought. The ‘Dogs were able to reverse the rally and held Wyoming scoreless for 3:38.
“We felt that Wyoming was not forcing the turnovers; it felt like we were rushing our offense,” White said. “We talked about slowing our offense down. We saw Bego [Faz Davalos] and Toni take a couple of high-post shots. I felt that we were a little stagnant offensively.”
By the time the buzzer sounded to end the first frame, however, the ‘Dogs and Cowgirls were knotted at 27. The game was far from over.
In the second half, the ‘Dogs were able to start the scoring, but fell into some foul trouble. Within the first five minutes of the half, Fresno State committed five fouls, while Wyoming had none.
The penalties were enough to give the Cowgirls a 4-point lead and the momentum that, for White, gracefully was halted by a media timeout with 15:41 left in the game.
Fresno State slowly crept back into the game and regained the lead at 41-40 after Raven Fox’s fastbreak. After that, it was back-and-forth basketball, with the ‘Dogs and Cowgirls trading leads.
Things turned up for the ‘Dogs late in the game. Fresno State held Wyoming scoreless for 6:01, including three turnovers during the span.
Fresno State guard Moriah Faulk came off the bench and scored 16 points off 5-of-10 shooting. She was also productive at the line, going 5-of-7.
“I really just wanted to do whatever my team needed me to do,” Faulk said. “So I came in the game, followed the game plan and wanted to get the win for my team. Whatever I had to do, I was willing to do.”
Fresno State built its 10-point lead with 1:33 left in the game, and it earned its largest lead at 11 points with 1:14 remaining. That forced the Cowgirls to foul to stop the clock and send Bulldogs to the line.
“We’ve had those great first halves and some trail-off second halves,” White said. “Especially right now, that’s the time to go on those runs. We’ve had some situational stuff late.”
Four other Bulldogs scored in double-digits alongside Faulk’s 16: Sheedy led the team with 19, Furr added 15, and Shauqunna Collins and Fox had 10.
Marquelle Dent was the Cowgirls’ leading scorer with 26 points. The guard was 8-of-18 from the field and 10-of-12 at the free-throw line. Kelley had a double-double – 10 points and 11 rebounds – in her 38 minutes played.
The ‘Dogs will play the New Mexico Lobos tonight at 8:30 p.m. in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament. The winner will play in the championship game on Friday.