March 22, 2013
By Jason Clay
LUBBOCK, Texas - At Friday's press conference previewing Fresno State's first round matchup vs. No. 6-ranked Cal in the 2013 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship here at United Spirit Arena, Bulldog head Raegan Pebleywas asked what they need to do to stop Cal's inside presence.
Her answer: "Who has stopped them this year," Pebley questioned. "I mean Stanford was able to do it once and UCLA was able to do it once but, they're just that good."
Despite the high praises and respect Pebley and the Bulldogs have for the Bears, Fresno State enters its sixth-straight NCAA Tournament with a lot of confidence.
The Bulldogs have won seven-straight and 14 out of their last 16 games. Fresno State's mission all season has been to win a game in the NCAA Tournament and the team knows in order to do that it will have to perform at a high level, not just inside and on the glass, but all across the floor for 40 minutes.
"Definitely having the last three years as experience is a confidence booster for us," said guard Rosie Moult, who with Jeanna Furstcomprise the winningest senior class in school history. "We know what to expect; the level of intensity and game play just increases a lot once you get to this level. So yeah, we will have a lot of confidence coming into this game."
Cal, entering the tournament with a 28-3 overall record, ranks third nationally with a rebounding margin of +11.6. Bear post players Talia Caldwell and Gennifer Brandon have combined for 1,952 rebounds in their careers. Brandon averaged 12.3 points and a team-best 11.2 rebounds this season while Caldwell averaged 9.2 points and 7.4 rebounds.
"We have to focus a lot of attention on them," Moult said of Cal's post players. "We have to make sure we box out and get good box outs early because they are a good second shot team. So we have to make sure the guards do their job and contain the guards from the outside and then we just have to make sure we are as physical as possible down below."
Pebley and the 'Dogs have a plan on how to defend the post.
"If you focus just on those [post] players themselves then you are missing how they are getting the ball," Pebley said. "Our focus is really how to stop how they get the ball. Putting our post defenders in a situation where they can be most successful is going to put a lot of ownership on our perimeter and it's going to come down to really just what we feel has been our strength all season: just our heart and belief and tenacity and us being us.
"I don't think we're going to change who we are now that we're in the NCAA Tournament just because we are seeing Cal. We are going to still be us so that we can be our most confident."
Fresno State (24-8) has faced other top rebounding teams that had skilled post players.
In the season opener at then fourth-ranked Stanford, the Bulldogs out-boarded the Cardinal by four, but gave up 40 points in the paint in the 72-61 loss. Then in the first of three meetings against Wyoming, who ranks 12th nationally in rebounding margin, Fresno State was out-rebounded by 17 in a loss on the road.
Fresno State came back in the second meeting to out-rebound the Cowgirls by four in a 14-point win. Going through those experiences in the regular season will help the Bulldogs on Saturday against Cal.
"It's going to be challenging but it's a really good match up for us," Bulldog forward Alex Sheedysaid. "They're really physical and they're really aggressive team, but so are we so I think that we need to just keep playing the way that we've been playing."
One of Fresno State's greatest strength - its pressure defense that forces 20.1 turnovers per game - can also help the Bulldogs out as they look to pick up their first NCAA Tournament win in program history.
"They press well and they have changed up their defensive scheme a lot," Caldwell said of the Bulldogs. "We expect them to show us a lot of different looks, they are a very versatile team."
Cal also enters the game with a good amount of respect for the Bulldogs.
"I don't think they seem like a 15 seed, they are really good for a lot of different reasons," Bear head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. First off these are not players that are unaccustomed to being in the NCAA Tournament; they have been here a couple times. I don't think they are going to be overwhelmed. I think they are trying to win a game, not happy to be here."
In the end, what Saturday's first round matchup is going to come down to is what team can execute their game plan the best.
"As Rosie said you want to be confident in this situation but, you know it's a higher level of play and you just have to take it up a notch," Pebley said.
"Discover Fresno State Athletics" - ESPN2 790 AM is the home of the Fresno State women's basketball team.
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