UW vs. Fresno State men’s hoops Q&A

Here is my 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.

Robert Kuwada

Robert Kuwada

Tip off is at 7 p.m. MT at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie

Follow on Twitter: @rkuwada

What is the health status of the Bulldogs heading into this game as they were without four frontcourt players in their last game at Nevada?

Fresno State will go into the game short, but could have at least one player back. Forward Torren Jones has been ruled out and forward Karachi Edo and center Terrell Carter II are doubtful. Forward Paul Watson (calf) could be back, but coach Rodney Terry said they are not going to push and risk further injury. Watson would be a critical piece against the Cowboys – he defended Josh Adams most of the second half in that first matchup down here and he was 3 of 12 over those 18 or so minutes.

Fresno State’s win over first-place San Diego State last week showed how good the Bulldogs are, but aside from the recent rash of injuries and illnesses, what has led to some of the inconsistent play with this group? 

That’s a very good question. It’s a bit weird for an older team with guys like Marvelle Harris, Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis that have played a lot of college basketball, but the consistency of effort hasn’t always been there. I think the loss at San Jose State with a chance to win a third conference game in a row was a tipping point, though, because they have been a lot more competitive since even while missing some key pieces. The Bulldogs beat UNLV without Jones, who had 18 points and eight rebounds in the first meeting. They beat San Diego State without Jones and Edo and with Watson going down early in the second half. They came from 13 down in the second half to force overtime before losing at Nevada, losing Carter that morning. They’re just are competing much better now than they did early in the year.

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UW at Fresno State men’s basketball Q&A

Here is my question-and-answer session with Robert Kuwada, who covers Fresno State men’s basketball for the Fresno Bee, about Tuesday’s game with the University of Wyoming.

Tip off is at 8 p.m. MT at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California.

Follow on Twitter: @rkuwada

How would you assess the Bulldogs’ season so far at 13-7 overall and 4-3 in the Mountain West? Is the team where you thought it would be at this point in the season?

Robert Kuwada

Robert Kuwada

For a team with three seniors in Marvelle Harris, Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis and a couple of others that have played a lot of basketball in the Mountain West, the Bulldogs have been pretty inconsistent. Fresno State has not won back-to-back games against Division I opponents since Dec. 12 and 16 against Pacific and Bakersfield (263 and 167 RPI), and in conference play have followed up every win with a loss. We’ll see what happens against Wyoming, coming off a win at Air Force. They haven’t won more than two in a row since starting 5-0. The ability to get on a run is there, though. This is by far the best team coach Rodney Terry has had at Fresno State, which was a sizable rebuild job when he got there. This could be the Bulldogs’s best chance to go on a run with Wyoming at home, followed by a game at San Jose State before playing at home against UNLV (they beat the Rebels at Thomas & Mack) and San Diego State (they took the Aztecs to overtime at Viejas).

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UW-Fresno State men’s basketball 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.

Tipoff is at 7:35 p.m. MT at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie, and the game will be televised by CBS Sports Network.

Follow on Twitter: @rkuwada

Since Wyoming’s crazy 70-65 triple overtime in at Fresno State on Jan. 17 the Bulldogs have lost five of their last eight games. Where have the struggles been with this team in your opinion?

Part of that is just some tough matchups on the road. Since then, Fresno State has played at San Diego State, at Colorado State and at UNLV. But over the past three games, which includes a home victory over Boise State and a home loss against the Rams, the defense

Robert Kuwada

Robert Kuwada

has been inconsistent. They beat Boise State by doing a great job against Derrick Marks down the final eight minutes of that game. You look at the box and see 31 points and think, “Big game,” and it was. But Marks made only one basket over the final 8:38, which came with 22 seconds remaining, and he got to the free throw line twice in that stretch. They had Boise a little lost without him – it hit only one of its last seven shots and scored only 22 points in the second half. Boise State was on an eight-game winning streak at the time, in which it had scored an average of 39.6 points in the second half. So, they have that kind of defensive effort in them. But they had a tough time against Colorado State and got sliced up a bit at Utah State. The Aggies beat them off the dribble, beat them off ball screens and took advantage of just about every open look they got at the 3-point line, and there were a lot of them. Utah State had 20 assists on 29 baskets and knocked down 10 3-pointers.

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UW-Fresno State men’s hoops Q&A

Robert Kuwada

Robert Kuwada

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 Saturday’s game with the University of Wyoming. Tip-off is at 5 p.m. MT at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California.

Follow on Twitter: @rkuwada

He’s only been back for one game, but what kind of impact do you think junior point guard Cezar Guerrero will have on the Bulldogs?

Guerrero helps them a lot, just from a depth standpoint. I would expect he will work his way back into the starting lineup down the road, but he can play at the one and the two

Cesar Guerrero

Cesar Guerrero

(the year he was at Oklahoma State he played off the ball) and having another guy that can score the ball shouldn’t hurt. The Bulldogs went through a stretch where they didn’t have a lot of options and they have not had a lot of scoring off the bench. In the first four Mountain West games before Guerrero became eligible, the bench had scored only 33 points and 19 of that came from Marvelle Harris, who did not start at New Mexico after showing up late for a practice.

After a slow start to the season, Fresno State has won four in a row and are tied for the league lead. What has changed that’s led to the improved play?

They got healthy, really. Julien Lewis, the Texas transfer, missed 18 days of preseason practice due to a concussion and got off to a very slow start. Forward Alex Davis suffered a high ankle sprain in a preseason scrimmage, and he was not close to ready at the start of the season. He tried to play, but they ended up shutting him down for close to a month. It’s not like they were doing some stuff in practice and just not playing – they weren’t even able to practice. But both of those guys are much better now than they were one month ago. Paul Watson got off to a slow start shooting the ball, as well, so they were pretty limited. That’s three starters right there. The inexperience at the point guard position also hurt them – they had three games at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida that they lost by six or fewer points and could have won all of them had they managed the late-game situations with the ball better. One of those losses is to Marist, which is 1-15. So, they’re healthy now. They’ve had some time to practice and play together with all of their pieces. The play at the point has improved with Emmanuel Owootoah and Harris, and now with Guerrero returning.

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UW-Fresno State football Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Robert Kuwada, who covers Fresno State football for the Fresno Bee, about Saturday’s game with the University of Wyoming. Kickoff is at 8:45 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, California.

Follow on Twitter: @rkuwada

Look for Q&As with beat writers that cover UW football opponents every week throughout the season.

As the defending MW champs and picked by many to win the West Division, are you surprised the Bulldogs are 3-5 overall and what has been the biggest issues or struggles with this team?

Robert Kuwada

Robert Kuwada

The 3-5 record is not much of a surprise. The three losses at the start of the season certainly are not. Fresno State isn’t at a point yet where it can compete physically with well-established Power Five teams like USC, Utah or Nebraska. Even last year, they needed extraordinary performances from an offense with Derek Carr, Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse to get by the more physical teams on the schedule. The surprise in there is the loss at UNLV, but they threw the ball 44 times against a defense that was ranked second to last in the nation in rushing defense and didn’t make any plays at the end.

The issues on offense are to be expected to a point, with a lot of last year’s playmakers gone. They have had very inconsistent play from the quarterback position, and some inexperience at the outside and inside receiver positions. Brian Burrell, who lost the starting job, has completed only 56.4 percent of his passes. Fresno State is ninth in the MW in passing efficiency rating and 11th in yards per pass play. That obviously is not a good combination for a team that leads the league in passing attempts.

Defensively, it’s more of the same. Fresno State had issues with is cornerback play last season and is again, giving up 9.0 yards per pass play and 254.2 yards per game. They’ve given up 34 pass plays of 20 or more yards and 17 of 30 or more yards, both worst in the conference.

 

I’m sure you listed defense as one of the team’s struggles this season. What has been the biggest issues with this group and has that surprised you this season?

The struggles against the pass aren’t a huge surprise. Fresno State had depth and talent issues last season that it thought was fixed to a degree through recruiting But junior-college transfer Corey Ferguson was dismissed before the season for a violation of athletic department policy, and Arizona transfer Bryan Harper quit the team for personal reasons after playing poorly early in the season.

The Bulldogs have had five players start at least one game at the corner spots, including strong safety Charles Washington, who they moved out there for a couple of games. The lack of a pass rush hasn’t helped. The sacks are down by almost one per game from last season, but it’s also quarterback pressures and hurries. They pulled the redshirt off of freshman outside linebacker Justin Green in the seventh game of the season to try to get more pressure off the edge.

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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.

Follow on Twitter: @rkuwada

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.

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