It's been a while since Fresno State has danced in March, but after winning the Mountain West Conference championship, the Bulldogs earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs entered the MWC tournament as the No. 2 seed, making their run to a championship wasn't all that surprising. The Bulldogs took down No. 1 seed San Diego State (68-63) for the championship, a team they split games with during the regular season, bouncing the Aztecs from an at-large bid.
It's the first time Fresno State has earned an NCAA tournament bid since 2001 when legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian was at the helm. This will mark the sixth invite to the NCAA tournament in program history where the Bulldogs have compiled a 2-5 overall record in tournament play.
“We won the championship and we’re heading to the NCAA tournament and that’s one of our biggest bucket list things that we crossed off," Fresno State senior Cezar Guerrero told the Fresno Bee after his team's MWC championship win. "We finally get to get a ring and go to the NCAA Tournament.”
Leading the way for Fresno is dynamic senior guard Marvelle Harris, who leads the team in scoring (20.5 points per game) and in assists (4.4.) Harris played big for the Bulldogs down the stretch, keying an impressive run of nine straight wins stretching from February 17.
According to Fresno coach Rodney Terry his team's strong finish was due to simply battling.
“Just to battle, that’s what we’ve done, though. We’ve done that over the last month and a half,” Terry said about his team's late-season run. “I just give them a lot of credit for wanting it. At the end of he day, that’s what you have to have.”
In facing the Utes Fresno will likely face its biggest battle to date. The two teams will tip-off on Thursday at 5:27 MST and will be televised live on TruTV.
Opponent record: 25-9 overall, 13-5 Mountain West Conference
Statistical leaders: Marvelle Harris (20.7 points and 4.4 assists), Torren Jones (7.9 rebounds)
Coach: Rodney Terry (85-83)
Best wins: San Diego State (68-63 in MWC tourney Championship), San Diego State (58-57)
Worst losses: at Cal Poly (77-65), at San Jose State (65-53)
Common opponents: at Oregon (lost 78-73), at Arizona (lost 85-72), San Diego State (won 68-63 and 58-57, lost 73-67 OT)
NCAA tourney fast fact: After losing to the MWC's last-place team, San Jose State, on Feb. 4, the Bulldogs won 11 of 12 to finish the year, including a pair of wins over San Diego State (No. 32 in RPI). Fresno State is making its sixth NCAA tournament appearance and first since 2001.