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Fresno State center Toni Smith goes for a layup during Monday's 83-64 loss to Saint Mary's in the second round of the WNIT. (Photo courtesy of Saint Mary's Athletics)

Women’s basketball: Focus on the future

Fresno State center Toni Smith goes for a layup during Monday's 83-64 loss to Saint Mary's in the second round of the WNIT. (Photo courtesy of Saint Mary's Athletics)

Fresno State center Toni Smith goes for a layup during Monday’s 83-64 loss to Saint Mary’s in the second round of the WNIT. (Photo courtesy of Saint Mary’s Athletics)

The Fresno State women’s basketball team – despite its early exit from the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) – enjoyed a more positive season than the previous.

Under first-year head coach Jaime White, the ‘Dogs improved their overall record by one game and went the farthest they have been in the playoffs since 2006.

The loss at Saint Mary’s ended their run. And now, White has to plan for next season. With three starting seniors leaving, it’s time to focus on the younger Bulldogs on the squad.

“We get a little bit of time to prepare, get in the postseason, get in the gym, really work hard and really make this our own now going into next year,” White said.

Working toward next year, White wants to enhance the team’s pressure in the paint and presence under the basket.

This year, the ‘Dogs were in the middle of the pack in rebounds. Overall, Fresno State was sixth in the Mountain West, outrebounding their opponents at an average of 1.5 per game.

The Saint Mary’s contest tested the ‘Dogs’ physical play and confirmed to White what the team needed for next season.

Next season, Fresno State will see its two centers, Bego Faz Davalos and Toni Smith, return to the team. Faz Davalos, a redshirt freshman, immediately came to the team with an amped post play. She set the Mountain West single-season record for blocks in a game (70 – an average of 3.9) and is 33 blocks over the second-most for a freshman.

“Our offense is very geared around our post play,” White said. “Bego started hot early in the season, and I think that physicality bothered her a little bit late down the stretch.

“But she’s a nice post player. She can be a major post player in our league. She’s young, excited, has good speed and length. We’re excited to work with her, get her under there, get her some more minutes.”

Smith averaged 19.3 minutes per game and was third on the team with 8.5 points per game.

“This is really her first year,” White said. “She just needs more games like [against Saint Mary’s]. You need to be practicing against this kind of intensity and environment. We hope to be in this situation, if not better, next year.”