USU women's basketball
Jenna Johnson, right, sits on the bench in the final seconds of the Aggies' 86-76 loss to Fresno State in the WAC Women's Basketball Tournament Friday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

Support Local Journalism

LAS VEGAS - Ever since the collegiate 3-point line was adopted in 1986, the long-distance shot has been a big X Factor in determining winning and losing teams.

In other words, many teams, quite simply, live and die by the 3-point shot.

Unfortunately for the Aggies, they were buried by an avalanche of second-half treys by the Bulldogs.

Fresno State knocked down 11 3-balls in the second half alone, overcoming a 17-point first-half deficit and surging past Utah State 86-76 in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference Women's Basketball Tournament on Friday afternoon at the Orleans Arena.

"They ... are built to come back from being down," USU head coach Raegan Pebley said. "When a team gets down, one way to get back in it is 3-point shots. Another way is to offensive rebound, and (FSU head coach) Adrian Wiggins has built his program with 3-point shooters and long, strong players ... and they get O-boards."

Rosie Moult was the biggest Aggie assassin after halftime, knocking down six shots from downtown - all in the first 14 minutes. Moult, who finished with a game-best 23 points, only took one 3-ball in the first half and she missed it.

Third-seeded USU (17-14) gave second-seeded FSU fits in the opening half with its swarming style of defense. The Aggies had seven first-half steals, which led to three fastbreak buckets and two trips to the free throw line.

Devyn Christensen was also very aggressive offensively, scoring 11 points in the first nine minutes. As a result, the Aggies jumped out to a 29-12 lead and appeared to be in complete control.

However, there's a reason the Bulldogs (24-7) have only lost three WAC games in the last two years, and they proved it Friday. FSU went on a game-changing 17-2 run to close the half, trimming the deficit to 37-35.

"Obviously it's cliché, but it was a little bit of a tale of two halves," Pebley said. "We let them go on a big momentum run going into the half, and that was something that I think with a team with that much experience like Fresno (was) hard to stop."

Still, the Aggies had a halftime lead, just like they did in the two regular-season encounters with the Bulldogs. But, just like those two games, FSU found its groove offensively after the break.

The Bulldogs racked up 51 points in the second half. FSU scored a combined 97 points in the other two second halves.

"Maybe we needed to be down at halftime, so that's my fault," Pebley quipped. "I should have made sure we were down at half. But they're just a very good team. I would say our program is on the verge of going from good to great, and they're at the great (level)."

USU took its last lead at 48-46 on a pair of Christensen free throws with 16:22 remaining. FSU answered with a game-defining 12-0 run - all on treys.

The Aggies never got closer than four points the rest of the way.

Another reason the Bulldogs were able to pull away was their pressing defense, coupled with some shaky ballhandling and passing by the Aggies. USU coughed the ball up 23 times - 13 after halftime - and FSU finished with an eye-popping 18 steals.

The Bulldogs also hurt the Aggies by taking advantage of, as Pebley eluded to, offensive rebounds. The fact that FSU had 11 more second-chance points, 17-6, would attest to this.

"What obviously stands out to a crowd is they hit some 3s, but really what hurt us more was our turnovers in the second half and their offensive rebounds," Pebley said.

On many of the made 3-pointers, FSU's players weren't given much room to shoot, but the Bulldogs, particularly Moult, proved they have quick releases.

Nevertheless, there's no question USU, which only had two steals after the break, didn't play team defense like it did in the first half.

"Our defense is set up for traps and swarming the ball, and I think in the second half we kind of let them move the ball faster than we were able to get to those traps and be defensively aggressive like we were in the first half," said Aggie sophomore Jenna Johnson, who finished with 16 points, four assists and four steals.

Christensen and Ashlee Brown scored 19 points apiece for the Aggies, while the Bulldogs had four players finish with 12 or more points. Brown tallied all but two of her points after halftime.

Fresno State will now play top-seeded Louisiana Tech (24-6) in the championship game this afternoon at 2. The Lady Techsters beat No. 4 Nevada 66-59 in the first semifinal.

Please be aware that Cache Valley Publishing does not endorse, and is not responsible for alleged employment offers in the comments.

Recommended for you