Allen Huddleston calls the Fresno City College women's basketball team the hardest working squad in Northern California and possibly the state.
The NorCal No. 3 Rams showed why on Saturday night at Don Reid Court.
Rolling wave after wave of pressure on both sides of the court, Fresno grinds teams down with their numbers and fitness.
Merced College limited the Rams to their third lowest point total of the season, but the defensive effort took its toll. The Lady Devils didn't have the legs to finish shots when they needed them down the stretch and Fresno pulled away for a 59-48 victory.
"I thought they just wore us down," said Huddleston, whose team lost its 14th straight to its biggest rivals. "They take the legs from you. You have have to work so hard defensively and then they get into you on the offensive end.
"We missed a lot of easy shots in the second half, but I think the credit for that goes to Fresno. It's tougher to convert when you don't have your legs under you."
Merced College (5-2 Central Valley Conference) managed to avoid the foul trouble it experienced in the teams' first meeting that helped turn a four-point halftime lead into a 33-point loss. But the Lady Devils couldn't sustain their first-half performance for the full 40 minutes, either.
Rogenee Russell scored all 11 of her points in the first half to help Merced take a 25-24 lead into intermission.
The second half started promisingly enough, with the Lady Devils pushing their lead to five on a Kelsey Lemasney 3. Merced would hit just five shots from the field the rest of the way.
Despite successfully getting the ball to Sonji Green (nine points, 16 rebounds) in the post, the Lady Devils shot just 6 of 34 from the field in the second half.
The Rams (21-3, 7-0 CVC) eventually took advantage. Madison Parrish led the way. The Fresno sophomore scored 12 of her game-high 31 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, including back-to-back 3s that put the Rams up 38-32 with 13:45 to play.
Merced would never get the lead back, and free throws were a big reason why, as the Lady Devils hit just 11 of 20 in the second half.
"We definitely had our opportunities," said Jasmine Joseph, who scored nine of her team-high 11 points in the second half. "We listened to coach and followed the game plan better than the first time.
"We still could have played better defensively. There were a few rotations we messed up. We didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had."
The final blow came with 3:45 to play and Merced down seven. Madisyn Gafford hauled in a big rebound after a defensive stand, but was whistled for a travel when she went to push the ball up the court. A frustrated Gafford slammed the ball to the court and received a technical.
Parrish hit both free throws and the Lady Devils never got closer than six the rest of the way.
"We talked before the game about keeping our composure whatever comes our way," Huddleston said. "I understood her frustration, but it was a tough time to get the technical.
"It's by no means why we lost the game. Fresno City deserves most of the credit for that."
UC Merced 50, Pacific Union 34
ANGWIN -- The Golden Bobcats (3-18, 2-5 Cal Pac) defense held the Pioneers to just 10 points in the first half and UC Merced cruised to its second conference win of the season. Shelby Howard scored 22 points and Leticia Oceguera finished with 15.
Merced College 7, Cosumnes River 1
Ryan Cumberland picked up his first two collegiate hits and drove in three and Russell Longworth tossed five scoreless innings as the Blue Devils completed a two-game sweep of Cosumnes River at Blue Devil Field. Ryan Emerald had three hits and drove in a run for Merced College (2-0).
UC Merced 86, Pacific Union 70
ANGWIN -- Aki Chambers hit eight of a school record 14 3-pointers en route to 34 points to help the Golden Bobcats end a two-game losing streak. Michael Yonemoto added 10 points for UC Merced (4-3 Cal Pac, 5-20) and Martin Harris chipped in nine.
MC team win 400 IM at NorCal Relays
SANTA ROSA -- The Merced College quartet of Connor Greene, Ryan Randall, Kolby Ellett and Luke Baum won the 400-yard individual medley relay and finished second in the 400 freestyle relay at the NorCal Relays.