Merced College women look for upset against Fresno City

slynch@mercedsun-star.comMarch 5, 2013 

The Merced College women's basketball team doesn't fear Fresno City.

Forget that the Rams are the No. 2 seed in the NorCal Regional. Forget that FCC has won 15 straight over Lady Devils, including twice this year.

MC respects all that Fresno has accomplished -- the Rams (28-3) aren't ranked third in the state by coincidence -- but the Lady Devils enter tonight's quarterfinal firmly believing they can pull the upset on the road.

MC (19-10) has shown it has the defensive chops and inside play to give the Rams trouble, leading at halftime in both meetings this year.

Finishing those games, however, has proven the problem.

Foul trouble in the second half completely changed the dynamic of the first meeting, turning a 4-point halftime lead into a 33-point rout.

The second meeting was much more competitive, but MC again faded down the stretch.

"In order for us to get over the hump we just have to play hard for the whole game," freshman forward Rogenee Russell said. "We can't get up and then ease up a little bit. If you do that, they blow right past you."

There's no doubt it's going to make a near flawless game.

Fresno City offers no opportunity to catch one's breath. It presses with a fury that other teams can't match on defense and then attacks offensively with transition or its vaunted dribble-drive attack.

It's a 40-minute physical and mental test.

"I've said it many times.Nobody in Northern California, and maybe the state, works harder than Fresno," MC coach Allen Huddleston said. "They just keep coming at you and eventually wear you down.

"I think it's really important we stay out of foul trouble to have a complete rotation. It seems like in each game someone picked up a bad foul or two and all of a sudden we have to go with an even shorter bench.

"We start to get a little tired and they go on a run."

Having just a nine-player rotation for the bulk of the season, there's no question of the fitness level of Huddleston's young squad.

What remains to be seen is if it can maintain its intensity and focus for the full 40 minutes.

"We've got to execute," Russell said. "We missed a lot of easy shots the last time because we lost focus.

"I'll admit I wasn't mentally in the game last time. That can't happen again. It's one of the reasons I'm excited to play them again."

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. in Fresno.

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