A few days after the death of Kobe Bryant, the Fresno State women’s basketball team showed their deep support, wearing his shoes with the words “Legends are forever” inscribed on them.
During the press conference, Bulldogs head coach Jaime White shared her own thoughts on how much Bryant meant to the team.
“Kobe was such an advocate for women’s basketball, and we really appreciate that because never has a bigger star come out and really support women’s basketball,” White said. “That’s really special to us and probably made it a little closer to home.
The timing of the game was tough for the ‘Dogs, but they won a close game against the Air Force Falcons 61-55.
Junior guard Aly Gamez led the way with 16 points and nine rebounds on 5-of-8 shooting from the field. Freshman sisters Haley and Hanna Cavinder added 13 and 11 respectively.
In the first quarter, Fresno State jumped out to an early 11-4 lead after a steal by Gamez led to a fast break layup by Hanna. Despite the early lead, the Bulldogs were missing shots, shooting only 30 percent (6-of-20) from the field and missing all their 3-point shots.
The ‘Dogs battled through their shooting woes by corralling offensive rebounds and scoring in transition. In the first nine minutes, they grabbed nine rebounds and junior Wytalla Motta had three.
The crowd was roaring on Wednesday night, and other athletes came to support the Bulldogs. Noah Blackwell, Orlando Robinson, Anthony Holland and Mustafa Lawrence were sitting in the front row, cheering and talking to fans at the Save Mart Center.
In the second quarter, the Bulldogs created some separation with tough defense. The ‘Dogs forced six straight turnovers and pushed the tempo, starting an 8-0 run to lead 22-12.
The Falcons were creeping back towards the end of the period, but freshman Kendyll Kinzer drained a three to push the lead back up to double digits.
As the third quarter began, Fresno State built up its largest lead of the game at 16 by forcing turnovers and pushing the pace before the Falcons could set their defense.
However, the lead wouldn’t last very long as Air Force started hitting its shots. After a three by Falcons’ Riley Snyder, the lead was cut to nine at the end of the third quarter.
In just 5:53, the Falcons scored 14 points to the Bulldogs’ seven and were rolling heading into the fourth. They shot 45 percent (9-of-20) from the field, while the ‘Dogs shot only 38.5 percent (5-of-13).
With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs had a chance to put the game away after Hanna drove inside and passed it to Motta for a layup. At this point, Fresno State is up 52-41 and all odds are in their favor.
Still, this quickly shifted as the Falcons went on a run of their own. Kaelin Immel made a free throw and Snyder drained a three for Air Force to cut the lead to 52-45.
After this sequence, the Bulldogs went through a huge cold spurt, scoring no points and committing two turnovers. The crowd was shocked after Immel made another three and Briana Autrey makes a layup.
The lead was down to two and it was anyone’s game.
After a timeout, junior Maddi Utti found Hanna wide-open in the corner. She immediately swung it to her, and all eyes were on Hanna as she drained a three to put the Bulldogs up 55-50.
The Falcons tried to answer back, but Haley sealed the deal, driving to the basket for a layup.
The ‘Dogs grinded out a tough game and Gamez said the team didn’t lose focus as Air Force cut the lead.
“Our mood was to just keep pushing,” Gamez said. “We know we kind of let them come back into the game and we didn’t want that, but at the end of the day we have to finish the game out and we know that.”
The Bulldogs broke their own records in good and bad ways. To start, they struggled to hold onto possessions, committing 15 turnovers – their most since Jan. 8 (21 vs. New Mexico).
Though, Fresno State also moved up to 10-0 in conference play, which is their best start since joining the Mountain West.
Looking ahead to their next game at New Mexico, White said the ‘Dogs are prepared no matter who they’re up against.
“We play well on the road; we’ve taken a lot of pride to work hard and be ready for the games on the road,” White said. “It’s kind of fun because on the road you feel like it’s you against the world and when you go to “The Pit,” (New Mexico’s arena) it kind of is.”