Fresno State ends women’s basketball regular season with nail-biter loss

Fresno State guard Haley Cavider drives in for a layup while being defended by UNLV guard Jasmine Singleton at the Save Mart Center on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2020. (Vendila Yang/The Collegian)

For the second straight game against UNLV, the Fresno State women’s basketball team trailed by one possession and had the ball in the final seconds.

The result was the same — the Bulldogs could not get a shot off in time.

Haley Cavinder ran first into her sister Hanna on a handoff, then into a UNLV double team as she attempted a game-winning jumper that left her hands after the final buzzer and bounced off the backboard.

UNLV (15-8, 13-5 MW) held on to defeat Fresno State (14-9, 12-6 MW) 75-74 on Senior Day Saturday, closing the game on a 9-0 run after squandering a 21-point halftime lead over the Bulldogs.

“The biggest thing is we got to get a shot off in those situations,” Fresno State head coach Jaime White said. “We fell a little bit short. I’m sure we are going to go back to the drawing board and see what we can change going into the tournament. Haley’s hit some late-game big-time shots, so we really felt like we could go there.”

The Bulldogs were in position to win the game in the final moments despite their large deficit at halftime.

“The reality is that they outscored us by 20 in the first half, so I just figured we could outscore them by 20 in the second half. That was one thing. Number two, we just maybe [were] a little emotional. It’s Senior Night and some different things, so we just got to dig out of the hole that we were in.”

With the loss, Fresno State finishes the 2020-21 regular season sitting at fourth place in the Mountain West standings, likely their tournament seed unless New Mexico loses out.

UNLV is now second in the conference with no games remaining on their schedule.

“This might be the biggest one of the year, home or away. What a gritty, it’s hard to put into words to be honest,” said UNLV head coach Lindy La Rocque. “Just so, so proud. Frankly we didn’t play great, our free throws, we are going to practice them tomorrow, but we found a way. Credit to our young women, they found a way.”

Senior Bree Delaney hit her first shot attempt, a 3-pointer off an assist from Maddi Utti, the Bulldogs’ only field goal in the opening four and a half minutes.

UNLV raced to a 28-18 lead behind a very efficient first quarter. The Lady Rebels shot 66% from the field and beyond the arc. UNLV guard Nia Johnson was key to the Rebels’ early advantage, scoring seven points with her cutting drives to the rim. 

Meanwhile the Bulldogs struggled with turnovers in the opening period as UNLV scored 12 points off Fresno State’s six turnovers.

Fresno State cleaned their play up slightly in the second quarter, committing just three turnovers in the period. Still, they couldn’t keep pace with the hot-shooting Rebels. 

Freshman Jade Thomas led the Lady Rebels through the second half, knocking down a trio of 3-pointers for a team-leading 13 points into halftime. The 5-foot-10 guard also grabbed seven rebounds in the half, part of a larger rebounding trend for the game.

UNLV grabbed right offensive rebounds and scored 14 second-chance points. Fresno State grabbed two on the offensive glass and had zero second-chance points.

UNLV ended the first half on a 19-5 run, opening up a 21-point lead for the Lady Rebels, 55-34.

“I thought our first half was really scary,” White said. “But the good news is, there was a halftime and our kids readjusted some things.”

Fresno State responded out of halftime with a 14-3 run to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 10, 58-48 with 4:59 in the third quarter.

The turnover bug bit UNLV in the third quarter, as Fresno State forced seven turnovers in the period and scored 9 points off of them.

“I think us trapping some of the wings when they caught the ball, I thought that was really good,” White said. “I thought Aly and Hanna on top were aggressive and then Wytalla getting some rebounds and getting us in transition was really solid.”

Fresno State cut the lead down to 5 by the end of the third quarter, 62-57.

Motta cut the lead to three with a layup, then Bree Delaney grabbed an offensive rebound off a Utti miss and cut the deficit to 62-61 with a layup.

Aly Gamez hit two free throws to give Fresno State the lead. Then she stole a UNLV pass seconds later and passed it off to Haley Cavinder for a fast break layup.

The Bulldogs, once trailing 21 points at halftime, led by three with 6:19 left in the game.

Haley’s layup kicked off a streak of 11 straight points scored by the Cavinder twins for the Bulldogs, the last of which was Hanna Cavinder driving on UNLV center Desi-Rae Young and making the layup with contact.

Cavinder followed the bucket up by flexing in the direction of Young, which garnered a technical foul and two free throws from Thomas.

“Both nights we were a little frustrated not getting to the [free-throw] line,” White said. “Definitely there was a size difference. Sometimes, that comes out and Hanna gave us 32 points so I can’t say much about that.”

Thomas’ free throws started UNLV’s game-closing 9-0 run. Johnson’s 3-pointer trimmed the Bulldogs’ lead to 74-73 with 35 seconds left.

Hanna Cavinder was fouled on the next inbounds pass and missed both free throws. The Lady Rebels answered on the other end with Young banking in a shot from the post, giving UNLV a one-point lead.

Haley Cavinder went strong to her left and attempted a contested jumper, but the ball missed off the backboard and landed into Young’s hands.

Gamez tangled Young up and forced a jump ball, granting Fresno State a final possession they did not convert.

Haley Cavinder still ended the game with 20 points, second only to her sister Hanna, whose 32 points set a career-high.

Fresno State honored its five seniors on Saturday — Aly Gamez, Genna Ogier, Bree Delaney, Maddi Utti and Wytalla Motta — prior to tip-off. They each were presented with flowers and a plaque, and their families introduced them over the videoboard.

“We saw something like that at New Mexico… I thought that was really special,” White said. “Our kids haven’t seen their families, and they’ve really given up that part of their life for basketball, so I think that was a little bit emotional for all of us.”

Up next for the Bulldogs is the Mountain West women’s basketball tournament at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, which starts March 7 and runs through March 10.

If Fresno State is indeed the No. 4 seed, they will play the No. 5 seed at 2:30 p.m. on March 8. The current No. 5 seed is Boise State (12-8, 9-8 MW) with Wyoming a half game back.

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