After winning 13 straight conference games, the Fresno State women’s basketball team have set their sights on clinching a share of the Mountain West championship.
The ‘Dogs (20-4, 13-0 MW) will get that chance when the San Jose State Spartans (15-8, 9-3 MW) visit the Save Mart Center on Wednesday. Since the two teams met on Jan. 4, Fresno State has won nine games and tied their third-longest winning streak in program history at 12 games.
In their last meeting, Fresno State rallied from a 12-point fourth quarter deficit to beat San Jose State in overtime 85-76. The Bulldogs struggled in the first quarter, making only 4-of-21 shots from the field and missing all seven of their three-point shots.
Bulldogs head coach Jaime White said they’re focused on coming out strong early.
“You know, that game was funny because we won or were close to winning every quarter except the first quarter. We just didn’t hit shots early, so our kids know that,” White said. “We gave them the game plan and they understand that we got to really be focused early and make sure that we are defending and knocking down those shots early.”
The Bulldogs are facing a tough battle on the defensive end against the Spartans. The Spartans’ transfers — Ayzhiana Basallo and Tyra Whitehead — combined for 39 points and 23 rebounds against the ‘Dogs.
Basallo is the conference-leader in points, averaging 20.7 points per game. Bulldogs Haley Cavinder and Maddi Utti are right behind her tied at No. 2 and No. 3, averaging 16.3 points per game.
Whitehead is averaging a double-double with 13.9 points per game and 10 rebounds per game for the Spartans, and the Bulldogs had trouble battling her on the glass. She scored 22 points and grabbed seven offensive rebounds against the ‘Dogs.
White said it’s important to make it tough on them early.
“You got to contest all of her (Basallo) shots. The hard part about her is that you’ll go up and contest her three, and then she puts that ball on the ground,” White said. “Just like Basallo, you got to know where Whitehead is at. You got to know her shots, and you can’t let her get deep in the paint.”
While the ‘Dogs are on a roll, the Spartans are trying to avoid a three-game slide after losing big at Wyoming 80-45 and at home to Nevada 80-76. San Jose is 3 ½ games behind Fresno State, and is competing for the No. 1 spot.
Cavinder said it is just another game, but the team knows it means something more.
“I think we’re telling ourselves that (it’s another game), but we’re thinking about it in the back of our heads. It’s a big rival game,” Cavinder said. “They’re No. 2 in the conference, so we know that we have to show up and play a really solid game to beat them.”
The Bulldogs have shown up recently and other players have stepped up as well. Aly Gamez was recently recognized as Mountain West Player of the Week after scoring 14 against UNLV, 27 against Colorado State and 16 against New Mexico.
As part of Pride of the Valley Night, the Bulldogs will wear green jerseys in the game and all fans who wear green will receive free admission to the game.
“We got the green jerseys because we wanted to represent the Central Valley and what they do for our community,” White said. “We feel like when we have those on we have them on our backs.”