The Fresno State women’s basketball team is coming off a tumultuous 2016-17 season that saw the Bulldogs finish seventh in the Mountain West, while also coming within one game of calling itself conference tournament champions.
“I don’t think we can drop close games. We need to win close games,” head coach Jaime White said. “To be in the tournament with fresh legs, you have to place in the top five.”
The Bulldogs dropped one game each to Boise State, Utah State and Colorado State by five points or less last season.
Placing in the top five in the conference would mean the Bulldogs could subtract one game from their path to a conference championship.
White is fully aware that her team is completely different from the one she had last season. The Bulldogs lost three regular starters from last season. Emilie Volk and Kendra Martin graduated, while Bego Faz Davalos chose to transfer and play out her final year of eligibility for the Duke Blue Devils.
“We’re really young, but I think we’re hungry,” White said. “I think the kids have worked really hard. Very talented in some of our positions.”
The departure of Faz Davalos will leave the largest hole in the ‘Dogs’ rotation. She is the reigning two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year whose 11.2 rebounds per game led the team, while also ranking third in the nation in blocks per game with an average of 3.5. She also averaged 14.6 points per game, which was second on the team.
White said that she is excited to see how all of her players will contribute, especially experienced ones such as sophomore Kristina Cavey and junior Breanne Knishka.
But after one exhibition game against Fresno Pacific University, White feels sophomore center Katelin Noyer will be a worthy replacement for Faz Davalos.
“I think [Noyer] has done a nice job of filling some of that. She almost had a double-double in this last game,” White said. “It’s just gonna take a little bit more attention to the blocking out and the rebounding.”
White said the Faz Davalos’ blocked shots will be very difficult to re-create – the ‘Dogs ranked first in the conference in that category last season – but she hopes that they can avoid relying heavily on blocks by relying instead on team defense and keeping the ball out of the paint.
One key contributor who will be returning for the ‘Dogs is their leading scorer and starting point guard, junior Candice White. She averaged 14.8 points last season, which ranked sixth in the conference.
Now on a team without any seniors, Candice White is being looked to for her leadership as much as for her scoring.
“I still have some work, and I think it’ll come throughout the season,” she said of her leadership ability. “I lead by example, but I have to be more vocal. It’s something I’ll get better at as the season goes on.”
Her head coach echoed those sentiments. Jaime White said she fully believes in Candice White’s abilities as a leader.
“I think that she has the physical ability to step on the floor and maybe take a big shot or put the team on her shoulders at times, so that’s nice,” the coach said. “She’s been working hard verbally to make sure everybody falls into place at times.”
Both Jamie White and Candice White want to see the team improve in several facets of the game. Candice White stressed the team’s need to rebound better. The Bulldogs ranked seventh in the Mountain West in rebound margin, with a minus-0.5 differential.
Jaime White said she wants the team’s offense to score more points, while also putting in the effort to stop the opposing team from scoring on the other end. The team averaged 60.1 points last season, good for ninth in the conference.
But the word “consistent” was a common theme between both the head coach and the point guard.
“It’s that consistency – whether it’s the effort or the offense or the defense or keeping somebody in front of them or blocking out every time – that consistency is very important because we’re building habits right now,” Jaime White said.
Candice White added how important consistency is this time around because of the way last season panned out. She expressed that the goal of consistent play is just as crucial as the one of winning the conference.
The Bulldogs will get their first opportunity to showcase their consistency at home against Eastern Washington this Friday.
That game tips off at 7:30 p.m. at the Save Mart Center.