2020 has been a tough year, so as the year winds down, the Sports Central team wants to remind our viewers of all the great things we’ve seen from Valley athletes and teams so far this century. So each weekday through Dec. 30 during our 6 p.m. sportscasts on KSEE24 and CBS47 (and during our 11 p.m. newscasts on Christmas Eve and Christmas), the sports team is counting down the 20 best Central Valley sports stories over the last 20 years, something we’re calling 20 in ’20. And checking in at No. 20 on the list Monday was a surprising run to the NCAA Tournament by Fresno State men’s basketball in 2016.
FRESNO, Calif. — In 2011, when Rodney Terry was hired to be the program’s new head coach, Fresno State men’s basketball was in rebuilding mode. The program was coming off three straight losing seasons, and it had been a decade since the ‘Dogs had been to an NCAA Tournament. Slowly but surely though, a foundation for future success was put in place, as Terry and the ‘Dogs improved their conference win total in each of Terry’s first four seasons, going from only three wins in 2012 to ten in 2015. And one year later in 2016, things would really come together, especially late in the season. They were only picked 5th in the preseason conference poll, but led by three senior guards, Cezar Guerrero, Julian Lewis, and Mountain West Player of the Year Marvelle Harris, the Bulldogs closed the regular season on a six-game winning streak, punctuated by a dramatic comeback win over Utah State in the regular season finale, in which Harris delivered 27 second-half points. With a 13-and-5 conference record, their most league wins 2003, the ‘Dogs entered the Mountain West Tournament as the two seed. After disposing of UNLV and Colorado State, the ‘Dogs would trail for most of the first half, and by six with just under 13 minutes left, to top-seeded San Diego State in the championship game. But the ‘Dogs would close the game on a 22-11 run, highlighted by a clutch three by Lewis with 1:36 left — his only field goal of the game — that would give the ‘Dogs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The 68-63 win clinching the ‘Dogs first-ever Mountain West Tournament Championship and the program’s first appearance in the Big Dance in 15 years.
Footnote: Unfortunately, the Bulldogs magical run would end in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament in Denver, as the 14th-seeded bulldogs fell to 3rd-seeded Utah 80-69.