San Jose, Calif. -Twenty times since the 2002-03 season, the San Jose State women's basketball team has faced the Fresno State Bulldogs with the Spartans losing every time. But on Saturday night in The Event Center, the Spartans exorcized all their Bulldog demons and handed Fresno State its first conference loss in more than a year, 62-61.
"We have been telling the team that they can beat anybody," head coach Tim La Kose said. "Sometimes I wasn't sure that they believed it, but this should show them that they have what it takes. Words can't express how proud I am of each and every one of them."
Prior to the game five seniors, Palagi Atoe, Myesha Broaden, Monique Coble, Sara Plavljanin and Brittany Johnson were honored as they competed for the final time on Walt McPherson Court.
The Spartans (11-16, 6-6 WAC) held Fresno State, the Western Athletic Conferences highest scoring team, 15 points below their 76.0 points per game average. They also forced the Bulldogs into their worst shooting night of the year, holding them to 31 percent (22-of-71) from the floor, including 30 percent (13-of-43) from behind the arc.
San Jose State shot 49 percent (25-of-51) and was led by Johnson, the nation's 18th leading scorer. She racked up her 27th consecutive double digit scoring night with 17 points and 11 rebounds. She's tied with Cricket Williams (2002-03) for the most double digit scoring efforts in a single season in program history. The double double is her eighth of the year and 10th of her career.
Johnson, who hit 5-of-8 from the free throw line and now has made 145 this year, is seven free throws behind Williams for the most in a season and is six attempts behind Lora Alexander for second place on the programs single-season list at 214.
The game went back and forth throughout. In the first half, the lead changed hands nine times, with neither team able to carve out more than a five-point advantage. Ta'Rea Cunnigan paced the Spartans in the first 20 minutes with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting including two 3-pointers. Her second came with 50 seconds to go and gave San Jose State its biggest lead of the half, 27-22.
But back to back threes by Fresno State (23-5, 11-1 WAC) to end the half, including Taylor Thompson's at the buzzer, gave the Bulldogs a 28-27 lead going into the break. Thompson would finish with 12 points on 4-of-9 from the floor; all nine shots were 3-point attempts.
San Jose State started the second half with an 8-0 run led by a pair of layups from Atoe and build their biggest lead of the night 35-28 with 17:49 to play. Fresno State battled back and tied the game 40-40 at the 15:13 mark. It was tied again with 9:57 left at 45-45 and again at 50-50 with 7:35 to play.
The Spartans then went on a 10-to-4 spurt led by six points from Johnson. A Broaden jumper from 18 feet away made the score 60-54 with 1:50 left in regulation. Over the next minute San Jose State had three chances to put the game out of reach from the free throw line, but failed to convert the front end of three straight one-and-ones.
"When Myesha hit that shot, I thought it was karma," La Kose said. "But we never make it easy and those missed free throws made it closer than it had to be."
A Bulldog layup cut the lead to 60-56 with 11 seconds left. A Plavljanin free throw gave the Spartans a five-point advantage. She finished with 15 points including three 3-pointers and has hit 55 treys this year which ties her with Natalie White for fifth place on the school's single-season list.
Thompson's fourth trey of the night cut the lead to 61-59 with four ticks of the clock left. Johnson hit a free throw to make it a 3-point game with three seconds left and a meaningless Bulldog layup as time expired gave San Jose State a 62-61 win.
Rosie Moult's 15 points paced Fresno State and Kiki Moore, who is averaging 17.1 points, was limited to six and grabbed a team-high 10 boards.
The Spartans wrap up regular season WAC play next week with a two-game road trip. San Jose State is in Moscow, Idaho on Thursday to face the Idaho Vandals and then face the Utah State Aggies on Saturday in Logan, Utah.