McGrane: WBB Falls Short in Bid for 2nd Straight Crown

March 16, 2013

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By Mick McGrane

LAS VEGAS --- It was within a basket of digging itself free of a 22-point deficit. It mustered resolve when resignation might have otherwise reigned. It counterpunched when it might have collapsed, refusing to fold in the face of long odds.

Winning the battle but losing the war has never been part of equation where San Diego State women's basketball team is concerned. On this occasion, however, it merely ran out of responses --- and time.

The top-seeded Aztecs (26-6) came up short in their bid for a second straight Mountain West Tournament title Saturday night, falling to No. 2 seed Fresno State 76-70.

And while there will be ample time for the what-ifs and whys, two-time regular-season champion SDSU will not sit idle drowning in a sea of despair. There was too much accomplished, too many successes to surrender to a single shortcoming.

"It's disappointing that we lost, but we can be proud of the fact that we fought back," said senior guard Courtney Clements, who along with MW Player of the Year Chelsea Hopkins paced the Aztecs with 15 points. "We didn't give up. We did everything we could to try and and get back in the game...all we can do is learn from this and hopefully get the opportunity (in the NCAA Tournament) next week and take it from there."

SDSU, which had rolled to a pair of 28-point wins in its first two tournament games, gave every indication that it was once again poised to pounce. The Aztecs, who entered the game boasting the second-longest winning streak in school history (17), led 18-8 following a three-pointer by Gabrielle Clark with 13:18 remaining in the first half.

But Fresno State, which dealt the Aztecs their only loss of the season in league play, closed the half with a 37-16 run, building a 45-34 lead at the break. SDSU was largely undone by turnovers, as the Bulldogs converted six turnovers into 12 points in the opening 20 minutes.

"Out of the gate, even though we had a lead, it was not San Diego State basketball," said coach Beth Burns. "It was more Fresno State basketball, matching baskets, up and down the floor. It was more of an offensive game going both directions. We really didn't have our normal sense of defensive presence."

Nonetheless, the Aztecs, who tied a school record with 26 regular-season wins (1993-94), whittled away after facing their biggest halftime deficit of the season. After a layup by Fresno State's Bree Farley pushed the margin to 71-59 with 4:13 to go, SDSU staged a 10-0 run that culminated in a layup by Chairese Culberson at the 1:13 mark.

"Fresno State was excellent, that's why they won the game" said Hopkins, who collected a career-high 15 rebounds and was named to the All-Tournament team along with Clements. "But like Courtney said, we never gave up. We've done great things up until this point, and I think the NCAA should take that into account."