Fresno State Coach Gary Colson began his postgame news conference Saturday night by pulling a piece of paper from his pocket and reading today's schedule:
"Let's see," Colson said, "I'll hit some golf balls, go shopping . . . "
No need for that. The Bulldogs threw a wrench in Colson's plans for today, but the coach isn't complaining. Fresno State, seeded seventh in the Big West Conference tournament, used another strong outside-shooting performance to defeat third-seeded Pacific, 87-70, in the Long Beach Arena and will play Nevada Las Vegas at 12:30 p.m. today for the tournament championship.
The Bulldogs, fresh off Friday's upset of 11th-ranked New Mexico State, scored 19 consecutive points in the first half to erase an 11-point deficit and then used a 15-2 run in the second half to turn a one-point game into a 70-56 lead.
Fresno State guard Wilbert Hooker scored 26 points, making five of six three-point attempts, and the Bulldogs (14-15) shot 51% from the field (30 of 58) and 75% from the free-throw line (21 of 28). Four others scored in double figures for Fresno State: Tod Bernard (15), Dave Barnett (13), Pat Riddlesprigger (12) and Carl Ray Harris (11).
Riddlesprigger, a junior reserve whose playing time increased when starting center Dimitri Lambrecht committed three fouls in the first six minutes of the game, also did a solid defensive job on Pacific's 6-foot-10 center, Don Lyttle, who scored only seven points, nine below his average.
Dell Demps scored 24 points, making four of nine three-pointers, and Randy Lavender added 17 points for Pacific, but the Tigers (14-15) shot only 42% (25 of 59) from the field and went 7:26 without a field goal midway through the second half.
Pacific trailed, 44-36, at halftime but pulled to 55-54 on Anthony Woods' three-point basket with 12:14 left. But Hooker made a three-pointer from the right corner and a 16-foot jumper, Doug Harris made a follow shot and Bernard made a free throw to put Fresno State ahead, 63-54, with 8:48 left.
The Bulldogs then made 16 of 18 free throws in the last 6:11 on their way to becoming the first seventh-seeded team to advance to the championship game in the 16 years of the tournament.
The Tigers made one final run, scoring seven consecutive points to pull to within 74-67 with 2:42 left, but the Bulldogs scored the next 10 points to pull away.
For its efforts, Fresno State was rewarded with a nationally televised (ESPN) title game today against the Rebels, who beat UC Santa Barbara, 95-66, in the other semifinal Saturday night.
Colson, the Bulldogs' first-year coach, preferred to look at the bright side of facing top-ranked UNLV.
"This is good for us," he said. "We'll be on TV, it will give us recruiting exposure. We're in this for the long run, for the exposure, and that's exactly what we're going to get."