Fresno State came down the stretch with a chance to win in a lot of basketball games last season, but quite often those opportunities went awry.
Shots were missed. Passes were fumbled. A high-level of execution was not always there at the offensive end when in need of a basket.
Eleven times in an 11-19 season, the Bulldogs lost by seven or fewer points — four times by four or less.
But they are expected to have a better chance at closing this season with the addition of point guard Cezar Guerrero, who sat out a year ago after transferring from Oklahoma State. He gives the Bulldogs a primary ball-handler who can create opportunities for teammates and also score.
"At the end of the game, you're not going to draw up a play that's going to get you a basket at the rim," said coach Rodney Terry, whose team, after a couple of exhibition games, opens the regular season Nov. 8 at at UC Irvine. "A guy is going to have to improvise and make a play. You just hope you put them in the right position to give them an opportunity to do that.
"Now, somebody has got to make a play. They may take Option A away, Option B, what am I doing with Option 3? I have to create and make something happen myself, so having a guy that can score as well as make a decision with the ball is a huge deal. We haven't had that, and that's a really good dynamic for us."
With Guerrero on the floor, backed up by another true point in freshman Emmanuel Owootoah, returning players Tyler Johnson and Allen Huddleston can play off the ball.
It all should help an offense that had a tendency to go stagnant, particularly in the second half when averaging 31.2 points in games against Division I opponents — tied for 323rd in the nation.
Johnson and Huddleston had to play out of position at the point at times last season, with Huddleston starting there much of the year.
"It's going to help a lot, the chance to free up Hud off the ball … a lot of his shots last year were coming off the dribble, off of screens," said Johnson, who led the team in scoring at 12.1 points per game.
"Now, we get back to where he was at Pacific. He averaged like 12 points a game as a sophomore just spotting up, shooting his shot, running off cuts. He's hard to stay with coming off those screens, so that frees him up a lot more and as far as myself, just being able to run the wing, being able to rebound instead of having to get all the way back sometimes running the point."
The Bulldogs obviously have issues in the front court — the latest loss was forward Tanner Giddings, declared out for an indefinite period Tuesday with a right wrist injury. That adds to the problem after center Robert Upshaw was dismissed for repeated violations of Athletic Department policy, and forward Braeden Anderson was lost for the season after an auto crash.
But Guerrero said he is ready for the challenge after spending last season transitioning back to a full-time point guard after playing primarily off the ball at Oklahoma State.
"In high school, I had the luxury of scoring and just having the green light," he said. "But now, I have to know pace of play; I have to know that I have other people on my team as well. I have big men to feed, which last year that didn't happen a lot. We just have to get everybody involved because we had some unfortunate circumstances with Braeden and with Tanner and it's a guard system now.
"I know I can get people involved, and I can get people shots. I can get them the ball. We have a great shooter in Allen Huddleston. We have a great scorer in Tyler Johnson. We have a great shooter and scorer in Marvelle Harris. And we have new guys, getting them involved and getting them acclimated to the system. I have to get them the ball and get them going as well.
"I think I have a big part in this team and something big to do."
Said Terry: "Having a point guard, it's a big deal. We had that our first year with (Steven) Shepp. He pushed the ball for us and did a great job. To go from having that to not having that was tough.
"I think he's done a pretty good job (with the transition). We really tried to start that a year ago with him in terms of getting him thinking like a point guard again and making him try to make the guys around him better.
"It would be easy for us to say, 'Cezar, go off the ball; just score the ball; shoot the ball.' But we really challenged him a year ago in practice to work on getting the other guys around him better; make them better; get them a shot."
The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or @rkuwada on Twitter. Read his daily Fresno State updates at fresnobee.com/bulldogs.