Last season, Fresno State was riding on a 14-game winning streak. Historically, the Bulldogs were 15-0 all-time against Air Force, but the Falcons ended up being the team to take down Fresno State.
The Bulldogs did not forget.
“We were all unhappy with the outcome on how we played Air Force,” Fresno State head coach Jaime White said. “Air Force has always been good and forced us to change our gameplan.”
Fresno State (13-6, 11-3 MW) — powered by a strong first quarter — extended its winning streak to four games after defeating Air Force (4-13, 2-10 MW), 76-58, on Wednesday night.
Fresno State never trailed at the Save Mart Center. The Bulldogs came out strong, dropping 13 straight points to begin the first quarter. Fresno State shot three 3-pointers — two from Aly Gamez and one from Maddi Utti to begin the game, forcing Air Force to call a timeout three minutes into the game.
“We came out strong,” Gamez said. “That’s what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to let them start hot. We wanted to be the ones to do that.”
The Bulldogs could have added a bigger cushion to their first quarter lead but Fresno State missed seven field goals in a row. Despite that, the Bulldogs managed to shut down the Falcons before they got on the board for the first time. Air Force guard Briana Autrey-Thompson drove through for a layup plus the foul for an and-one, making it 13-3.
Fresno State’s fast start seemed to have affected Air Force early on, as the Falcons had seven turnovers during that 13-point scoring streak.
Hanna Cavider had a big night. She had a strong performance in the first quarter by dropping 7 straight points, extending Fresno State’s lead to 22-5 with 1:03 left in the first quarter.
Her strong first quarter performance carried into the second quarter. Air Force started to inch in closer by hitting more consistent buckets, improving its shooting from the field to 60%. But Cavinder helped extend the Bulldogs’ lead. In a matter of a minute and a half, she made three layups in a row, two of which came on fast breaks.
But late in the second quarter, Air Force managed to score 9 points. Guard Cierra Winters made two layups, one of them coming on a strong fastbreak. Forward Riley Snyder hit a 3-point shot. Autrey drained one more basket before halftime as Air Force trailed 44-31.
White acknowledged that Air Force has always caused them trouble, even if they are at the bottom half of the Mountain West (MW) standings.
“Air Force is that scrappy team,” White said. “They’re going to make you play outside of what you know and comfortable with.”
And that happened in the second half. Immel hit a 3-pointer on the wing to get the Falcons going. While the two teams went at it back-and-forth, the Falcons started creeping back in when they hit 7 consecutive points to cut their deficit through a minute and 20 seconds, 48-43, with 6:31 left in the third quarter.
White called a timeout. After the game she said she told the team to calm down and move the ball around.
“We thought we made some adjustments at halftime,” White said. “That was my conversation [during the timeout]. Let’s calm down, let’s move the ball.”
White’s message seemed to have worked. After the timeout, Utti came back in and made a jump shot but with 5:02 left in the third quarter, Immel fired back by hitting a 3-point shot, making the lead 50-45 — the closest Air Force was to tying Fresno State.
But the Bulldogs got back on track, scoring 6 straight points to have a comfortable 56-45 lead with 3:03 left in the third quarter.
Brooke Walling and Utti had back-to-back layups through the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. Air Force guard Kamri Heath hit a jumper and Autrey — who led her team in points with 16 — hit her last bucket of the night before Fresno State scored 9 straight points in the last six minutes, going on to win the game 76-58.
The Bulldogs have scored over 70 points in each of the last five games.
Hanna Cavinder tied her season-high with 24 points. Haley Cavinder had 15 while Gamez recorded 16. The team shot 49.2% from the field, and 38.9% from the 3-point range.
Both these teams are back at it tomorrow, squaring off at the Save Mart Center at 6 p.m.