Courtesy of Braidon Nourse

LAS VEGAS – Jaime White didn’t see her Fresno State women’s basketball team’s two prior wins against Air Force this season as a barrier to tournament success. Instead, she saw it as an opportunity to bounce back after losing three straight to close their regular season.

More importantly, it was a perfect opportunity to advance past the first round of the Mountain West Basketball Championship, something the ninth-seeded Bulldogs had not done since 2021.

Coaches often talk about the challenge that comes with beating a team three times in a season, especially against a team like Air Force. But she knows she has something special brewing on her sideline, which beat the No. 8 seed Falcons, 62-44.

The 18-point margin of victory was the largest in favor of any No. 9 seed in the Mountain West tournament since 2008.

“I’m really proud of our kids. It is always hard to play against Air Force,” White said. “I did think we had a great focus, took care of the ball and we got to the free-throw line in the first half, which was nice. Our kids were just resilient. We knew we would be pressed the entire game, so we had to take care of the ball and be able to refocus on the other end.”

Bulldogs sophomore forward Mia Jacobs certainly rose to the challenge, particularly in the second quarter. To jumpstart a 13-2 run for Fresno State in the frame, Jacobs scored five of her 10 second-quarter points, including hitting the Bulldogs’ lone 3 of the half on nine attempts. She finished with 25 points and eight rebounds.

Going 1-for-9 certainly was not the way a 34-percent 3-point shooting team would like to start a game, but 37 points and an 11-point lead at the break was nothing to be upset about.

“We just tried to take what the defense gave us. There were a few kickouts, making those extra passes and staying confident that they were going to go in the next time,” Jacobs said. “Obviously, they weren’t dropping today, so we decided that we were going to drive, kick and try a few more post slides and stuff like that.”

The Bulldogs dominated the paint the entire way, finishing with a 38-16 scoring advantage in the category. Active hands and tough defense helped, too, generating 17 Air Force turnovers, which resulted in 21 points.

With both teams utilizing the press most of the game, the combined tally of 32 turnovers was largely unsurprising. It just happened to benefit Fresno State much more because of how it capitalized on those opportunities.

“I think we had really good ball pressure,” freshman guard Taija Sta. Maria said. “We got a lot of our steals in our press, and I think that was very important. Then that just gives us the momentum we need to score off of them.”

Which was certainly another positive on the day, one Fresno State can use to disrupt Mountain West regular-season champion UNLV when the two face off in the quarterfinals at noon Monday.

“When we played UNLV at our place, we felt like we played well against them,” White said. “We know their players, we know how they play and we’ve played every team better the second time we’ve played them. So chances are we’ll play better, and if we keep it close, I think we give ourselves a chance to win.”