UW-Fresno State men’s hoops Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Robert Kuwada, who covers Fresno State men’s basketball for the Fresno Bee, about Wednesday’s game with the University of Wyoming at 8 p.m. at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.

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Despite its record the Bulldogs have been close in a lot of conference games, including going to overtime in the last two. What are the struggles with this team right now?

The Bulldogs are just young and have had trouble making plays to finish games. The double-overtime loss to Nevada they had the lead at the end of regulation and gave up a layup to Deonte Burton to tie with about 15 seconds to go and then couldn’t get much of a shot coming out of a timeout, and then in the first overtime they had a lead and let Cole Huff get to the rim for a layup with one second to go. Layups … That logically can’t happen, but it did.

They made similar mistakes in the overtime loss at UNLV, only at the offensive end. UNLV gave them a lot of chances to win it in regulation and the overtime, but they couldn’t make a play. A freshman turned the ball over on one key possession. They got switched into a tough shot on another. They rushed a put-back just ahead of the buzzer and missed that.

They’re taking some lumps learning how to really compete and succeed at this level.

What would you say are the strengths of this team when things are going well?

That’s a tough one, because the Bulldogs are not very consistent game to game or even half to half. But, compared to where they were a year ago, they’re much better scoring the ball in transition.

They have more of a true point now in Cezar Guerrero and some guys who can knock down shots from the wing or get to the basket in Tyler Johnson and Marvelle Harris.

They’ve also rebounded much better the past four games. At one point, they were a minus-11 in rebounding margin in conference play, but had a plus-margin at San Diego State (38-37), pushed with New Mexico at home and just beat UNLV on the boards (47-44), and those are three pretty good rebounding teams. They had 21 offense rebounds against UNLV, which is the most they have had in a game since they had 22 a win over East Tennessee State in 2004.

 

Defensively the Bulldogs are near the bottom in the conference in terms of scoring and field-goal percentage, is there a specific area where the team breaks down?

They’re terrible around the basket – or have been. They lost a 7-foot center, Robert Upshaw, who was dismissed from the team over the summer for repeated violations of athletic department policy. They also are without Braeden Anderson, a 6-9 forward, who was severely injured in an auto accident before practice started. Because of that, they’ve had to play guys out of position at the four and five. They weren’t deep to begin with, but of the four players they rotate there, two are freshmen (Paul Watson and Karachi Edo) and another is a JC transfer (Alex Davis), all in their first years of Mountain West basketball.

They don’t have a rim protector or even any bodies with girth that can hold ground there and they just give up too many easy baskets – Nevada scored 42 points in the paint against them and another 12 at the free throw line, Colorado State scored 30 with 17 at the line, the Air Force had 28 with 17 at the line.

They defend the 3-ball pretty well – fourth in the conference at 31.6 percent. But any team that has a strong inside presence can give them a lot of problems.

New Mexico just beat them up in the second half – the Lobos shot 38 free throws in the second half against them, which is more than they shot in 14 of 16 full games before playing Fresno State.

 

How is the mental state of this team after its recent bout of tough losses?

They’re disappointed, obviously, but still play hard and they’ve competed better the past couple of weeks than they did early in the season. It doesn’t show in the standings, but even at 1-7 they’re getting better from where they were a year ago and I think they get that. The points per game are up in conference play this year from last, so are the rebounding, assists and points per possession.

They need to win a game, though, to validate some of that progress. I think they get that, too.

 

What are some of the key match-ups you see in this game, and how do you see the game unfolding?

Obviously, they have to figure out how to defend Larry Nance Jr. without a lot of good options. And, I think Wyoming will make them work hard for the shots they get, which obviously is not a good thing for Fresno State. As you pointed out, they’re hitting only 38.2 percent of their shots in MW play to begin with.

Harris is kind of the wildcard guy for Fresno State right now. He was leading the team in scoring a few weeks back – 16.6 points per game. But he has really struggled the past three weeks, going 0 of 8 at Colorado State, 3 of 12 at San Diego State, 4 of 14 against New Mexico, 6 of 17 against Nevada and 1 of 9 at UNLV. If he becomes part of the equation, they’re a lot tougher to defend.