'Dogs Advance in WNIT With 79-73 Win Over San Francisco
FRESNO, Calif. - After failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, Fresno State didn't get down that fact, in turn, the team won its first postseason game since 2006 as the squad defeated San Francisco in a hard-fought game, 79-73, on Thursday night in the first round of the Women's National Invitational Tournament at the Save Mart Center.
Trailing by two at the half, and by as many as six with 8:30 to go, the Bulldogs continued to persevere in their first WNIT appearance since 2006. Junior center Toni Smith scored five-straight points during the next two and half minutes, but a 3-pointer from Anna Seilund pushed the Dons lead back up to four at 65-61. Senior guard Alex Furr, who was 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, drained her final three of the night to keep Fresno State within striking distance.
After a jumper from Taj Winston put USF up three with 2:30 to go, the 'Dogs went on an 11-0 run from the free throw line, at one point, hitting eight straight from a combined four different players. Despite knocking down two late 3's, junior Moriah Faulk and Furr each sank a pair from the line to hold off San Francisco as Fresno State finished the final 2:10 of the game on a 15-6 run, with every point coming from the charity stripe as they forced the issue in the paint to get one foul call after another.
Furr paced the Bulldogs with a season-high 18 points, scoring 13 in the second half. Two points back of her was Smith with 16 points to with a team-high eight rebounds. Faulk also came off of the bench to score 13 points on the night to go with three steals and while hitting a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line. Senior forward Alex Sheedy was the fourth 'Dog in double figures as she recorded 12 points.
San Francisco also had four players in double figures, led by Taj Winston who scored 15 of her game-high 21 points in the second half. Inside, 6-foot-3 Michaela Rakova added 16 points and six rebounds.
Despite being outshot from the field by just under four percent, and hitting five less field goals, Fresno State won the game at the free throw line. The Dons', who came into the game ranking 11th in the NCAA in free-throw percentage at 76.1 percent, shot 9-of-10 in the first half, but only 1-of-7 in the second. The 'Dogs were just 3-of-6 in the opening 20 minutes, but shot 22-of-29 in the second half. In the final 20 minutes, Fresno State made 21 more free throws and shot more than 60 percent better than USF from the stripe.
Fresno State will await Friday night's result between Saint Mary's and Hawai'i to find who its second round opponent is and where the game will be held.
The Bulldogs came flying out of the gates, taking a quick 7-2 lead that forced San Francisco to call a timeout. The break helped the opposing team as they countered with a 13-2 run to grab its largest lead of the game at 15-9 with 14:40 left in the half.
The Dons held the lead or had the game tied throughout the remainder of the first half, and held a slight 34-32 edge at the break.
With a 3-pointer from Furr just 49 seconds into the second half, the Bulldogs took their first lead in more than 17 minutes. The lead was short-lived though as the two teams continued trading baskets with both shooting at a high clip throughout the first part of the final 20 minutes. But the hot-shooting cooled off as neither side could find the bottom of the net from the field late in the half.
That was when Fresno State found an advantage. The 'Dogs began forcing the ball into the paint, making the Dons put them on the line. The strategy worked as the Bulldogs connected on 20-of-24 from the stripe during the final 8:50 as USF only hit four of its 13 shots from the field, missed six free throws and turned the ball over seven times during that span.