The mission for Fresno State women’s basketball this season is simple. Run it back.
After being crowned the Mountain West (MW) regular-season champions last season with a 25-7 overall record and 16-2 conference record, the Bulldogs lost to Boise State in heartbreaking fashion of the MW tournament.
Confusion and tears were on all the Bulldogs’ faces as they left Las Vegas, wondering what could have been if the ‘Dogs won the MW tournament and entered the NCAA tournament.
But now, in a new world under the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bulldogs have brought back everyone from last year’s championship team. They are ready to tip-off conference play against the Colorado State Rams in the Save Mart Center (SMC) for the first time since their last home game 285 days ago.
“To have five of our five starters back is great, and I like to think about it positively,” head coach Jaime White said. “Obviously, there is a target [on our backs], but whenever there is a bar set, then I always believe that we want to step up to the task. We’ve known it coming into the season.”
Seven out of the top eight contributors from the 2019-2020 roster return this season, including all five starting players. The only difference between this year’s starting five and last years so far has been the utilization of senior forward Wytalla Motta to sophomore center Brooke Walling.
They are also only one of six teams in the nation, which returned all five starters and won at least 20 games last year. Fresno State’s 25 wins last season were the most among those same six teams.
“When you have a Maddi Utti, Haley Cavinder, Hanna Cavinder and Aly Gamez, the experience we have coming back makes us confident in what we can do,” White said.
A year ago, both the Cavinder twins and Utti were one of only two trios in the country to have all three players average at least 15 points per game. The other trio featured New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu, Dallas Wings’ Satou Sabally and Chicago Sky’s Ruthy Hebard who went No. 1, 2 and 8 respectively in the 2020 WNBA Draft.
The Bulldogs and the Rams have played two games already this season entering Thursday’s game. The Rams are undefeated after defeating Division II opponents Regis University (111-64) and Colorado Christian University (96-54). Tonight’s game will be the Rams’ first game this season against a Division I opponent.
Fresno State went 1-1 last weekend in Las Vegas at the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout tournament last week. The Bulldogs dropped the season opener against West Virginia 83-62. But on the following day, the Bulldogs would win by a margin of 50 points against Lamar University (99-49).
The win against Lamar was the largest margin of victory over a Division I opponent since defeating the University of San Francisco 88-33 on Dec. 12, 1987.
Sophomore guard Hanna Cavinder led the team in scoring in both games, averaging 21.5 points per game. She currently ranks No. 28 in the NCAA for her 17 made field goals. Along with Hanna Cavinder’s performance, Gamez entered elite company in Bulldog history.
Gamez became the 26th player in Fresno State’s history to score 1,000 points in a career. Before entering the season opener, Gamez was seven points shy of the 1,000 point mark, and on her final basket of the game, she reached that mark.
The Bulldogs are set to tip-off against Colorado State this Thursday and Friday night at the SMC at 6 p.m. Due to the current state and local guidelines, fans cannot attend home games at the Save Mart Center during the 2020-21 season.
“We’re most likely aren’t going to have fans anywhere that we go. So we have to play for someone this season…” White said to 940 ESPN Tuesday night. “We really loved our fans and the crowd, but now we are going to have to play for each other. And for us to really put our arms around each other and say that we are going to do it for our team.”