The Fresno State women’s basketball team will continue its WNIT run Monday when it goes on the road to take on Saint Mary’s. (Paul Schlesinger/The Collegian)
As the Fresno State women’s basketball team’s March continues, the ‘Dogs are playing their Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) games with the same fervor as they would in any other tournament game, except for one thing:
There is no looking forward. Each game could be their last.
Tonight, the Bulldogs will visit the St. Mary’s Gaels in Moraga, California. There is an idea on which team they would face next should they move on: either Eastern Washington or Sacramento State.
But don’t worry about that, head coach Jaime White says. Focus on the matter at hand.
“Why not just be excited to go up to St. Mary’s, play them again, know that we’ve played them, and know that we know what they’re like? It’s not going to be like a huge surprise,” White said.
That’s because this isn’t the first time the Gaels and Bulldogs have squared off this season. Last December, the ‘Dogs hosted St. Mary’s in a 60-54 battle that ended with a late Gaels rally that fell short. It was a close call for Fresno State, which led by as much as 16 points in the game.
But St. Mary’s strength has been in the key. The Gaels outrebounded Fresno State 46-31, including 21 offensive boards to nine. That’s something that White will attempt to prevent in the next game and tighten presence in the paint.
“You see [the Gaels], and they have three people in the paint every time the shot goes up, automatically,” she said. “I wouldn’t say we do. If you look at our stats across the board, that one stat that is the main thing that stands out.”
That physicality is something that the ‘Dogs will prepare for. St. Mary’s guard Shannon Mauldin had 32 points in the first-round victory over Hawaii, a game that saw five Hawaii players foul out. Two Gaels were benched early also, including Lauren Nicholson, a player Fresno State forward Alex Sheedy is familiar with outside of college basketball.
“It will be an aggressive game,” Sheedy said. “Nicholson is an amazing player. I’ve played against her since we were 15. She’s phenomenal, and she’s very tough. It’s going to be a hard game, so we’re looking forward to it.”
In the first game of the WNIT, the ‘Dogs took on another West Coast Conference team, San Francisco, in a game that saw the Bulldogs take advantage of physical game play in the second half to beat the Dons 79-73 on 22 of 29 free throws made.
“We’re a defensive team. We’re going to keep the score as low as we can,” White said. “I thought we did a good job getting to the line against San Francisco. The second you plan on that is the second you’re not very smart.”
Although the ‘Dogs are familiar with the Gaels, something that they are new to is playing during the last weeks of March. This is the farthest that Fresno State has gone in the postseason since 2006, when it lost in the second round of the WNIT.
“I haven’t done this before; it’s quite exciting,” Sheedy said. “It’s a new place for us. We want to be doing the best we can while we’re here.
“I think that not going to the NCAA Tournament and losing our [Mountain West] tournament really brought our focus back to ourselves. It gave us more motivation to not be one-and-done.”
For White, her first year as Bulldogs head coach is not over, and she is savoring each moment of it. She’s been at it with the team since the beginning of August, and she is showing no signs of fatigue.
“It seems like a long time ago, but it doesn’t feel like a long time ago, which means I’m not burnt out yet,” she said. “I mean, I obviously don’t have to post somebody up or get a rebound, but that’s a good sign for a first-year [coach].”