I tried to remain unbiased, I really did. But the Fresno State’s women’s basketball team made that an impossible task in their Women’s Basketball Invitational quarterfinal game against Nevada Monday night.
I tried to keep my composure and watch the game as journalist, but the team’s fight, will and perseverance quickly pushed my “journalist” persona into my subconscious and out came the fan in me. The fan of Fresno State, of basketball, and of unbelievable comebacks.
The team was down by as much as 26 at one point, and found themselves down by 22 going into halftime. The season felt all but lost, and the Savemart Center could feel it. Then came the second half, and with it, a completely different Bulldogs team.
Defensively, the ‘Dogs closed out and trapped with an unmatchable tenacity in the second half. They forced bad passes, travels, loose balls and difficult shots. They did everything coach Jaime White asked from them, leaving her wishing they would have given that same effort in the first half.
“I don’t think we came out the way we had planned, although Nevada did. I thought they played really well and shot really well,” the coach said. “I just didn’t think we had our defensive intensity in the first half.”
On offense, okay, now that’s where the real fun was had.
Candice White shot the lights out, scoring 26 points in the second half to bring her to 40 for the game, breaking a school and Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) record for most points in a game. She had no plans of missing, and I was not going to bet against her. White was fearless, hitting jumper after jumper as she wore the look of a cold-blooded killer through it all, knowing the time for elation would only come if the ‘Dogs completed the comeback and won the game.
Candice’s effort forced me to have to take a minute and just appreciate what I was witnessing. I took my cap off, leaned back in my chair and uttered a quiet, “Wow.” I could not believe it, but I loved every minute. The rest of the fans in the Savemart Center did too, there’s no telling how loud the arena would have gotten had the ‘Dogs won.
That, sadly, did not happen. Fresno State brought the lead down to three points with just under three minutes to go, but the Wolfpack answered with a 6-0 run to bring it back to nine. The Bulldogs ended up losing 86-74, eliminating them from the WBI and ending their season.
I could feel my heart breaking with each point the Wolfpack added to their lead to close the game. T Moe and Teige Zeller hit three of four free throws in consecutive possessions to put the Wolfpack up by six, and then Moe proceeded to hit a dagger three-pointer to put them up by nine, ice the game and suck the air of the arena.
It hurt, it hurt to see a team that worked so hard to come within three points of a comeback end up running out of gas when they needed it most. But while they lost the game, they did not lose my admiration. This is a young and gritty team with no seniors and a bright future. Candice White’s affinity for scoring the ball has a whole offseason to continue improving, and her teammates will have the same opportunity to improve all facets of their game.
Freshman guard Aly Gamez is especially exciting, with her arguably already being the second best player on the team at such an early stage of her collegiate athletic career.
“We cut our turnovers down by almost 100 this year and that is a big deal and it’s basically these two (White and Gamez) handling the ball and being able to enter the ball into the offense,” said Jaime White. “I can’t say enough about how proud I am of the team. Obviously, the end is never what you want, but it’s also something that we can learn and grow from.”
I couldn’t agree more, coach. Now let’s just hope the support for both the women’s and men’s basketball teams at Fresno State grows as well.