The layup line was a dead giveaway.
Pregame layups are a time-honored tradition at all levels of basketball. Teams use the informal drill to warm up and get loose. Not for any other reasons.
So it was odd to see Fresno State guarding the layup line Wednesday before its Mountain West Conference opener at the Save Mart Center.
Coach Rodney Terry stationed a team manager near the basket with a large pad. Each time a Bulldog went for a layup, the manager gave him a padded shove.
Never seen that before. But after watching UNLV outmuscle and outhustle Fresno State 75-62, I completely understand Terry's rationale:
These Bulldogs need toughening up. They need to play more physical and less timid. I won't go so far as to call them soft -- not yet anyway -- but this group will never be confused with the '89 Detroit Pistons.
"Whether we're getting contact on the guy or we're coming through contact, it's about physicality," Terry said about the padded pregame layups.
"I don't know how many baskets we missed at the rim today. We've got to score."
I was going to suggest to Terry that he borrow a few tackling dummies from football coach Tim DeRuyter.
Except his guys would get toppled.
It's easy to look at the stat sheet and say Fresno State lost because it shot 33.3% from the field.
And to some extent, that's true. The Bulldogs, as a whole, did shoot lousy. But what the stats don't show is the kind of shots they settled for while unable -- or unwilling -- to create better ones.
There were exceptions. Marvelle Harris is a clever penetrator who accounted for 19 of Fresno State's 31 second-half points. Point guard Cezar Guerrero (16 points, eight assists, three steals, three blocks) had a good game, as did freshman forward Karachi Edo (eight points, nine rebounds).
But that's it.
You've got to have more than three guys show up to have a chance against a team like UNLV.
Considering it was a noon tipoff on New Year's Day (Fiesta Bowl plans, anyone?), the rest of the Bulldogs might as well have stayed in bed.
Take Tyler Johnson, normally one of Fresno State's steadiest players. The senior guard shot 2 of 10 even though he was being guarded by Kevin Olekaibe -- who Bulldogs fans know isn't exactly Bruce Bowen on defense.
There's more. The starting frontcourt of Paul Watson and Alex Davis finished with six combined points and rebounds. Six!
Both battled foul trouble contending with UNLV's springy forwards Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch, two of the nation's leading rebounders. Except when Watson and Davis did commit fouls, they didn't foul hard enough.
During UNLV's decisive 10-0 run midway through the second half, Rebels guard Bryce Dejean-Jones twice completed three-point plays while being bumped in the process.
If you're going to foul the shooter, foul him hard enough so that he can't make the shot.
No love taps allowed.
"If you're asking me, 'Should we have committed some harder fouls?' Absolutely," Terry said.
That's not the only example of timid play by the Bulldogs.
With shoulders as wide as Shaw Avenue, Edo owned the most muscular frame on the floor. Yet he has a habit of settling for layups after grabbing an offensive rebound instead of flushing the ball through the hoop. He tends to miss them.
Edo, of course, is a true freshman. So is Watson, who disappears for long stretches when his shot isn't falling. They'll both grow and gain experience, and right now it's a little unfair to ask them to guard the likes of Smith and Burch.
Fresno State has little choice.
"We miss Braeden (Anderson) in this game," Terry said of the power forward whose season ended before it began with a September car accident. "You have to have physical guys to match up with their athleticism and physicality."
The Bulldogs don't have those guys right now. And the guys they do have seem unwilling to mix it up against a physical opponent.
Until that changes, the exasperated tone of Terry's postgame comments will continue.
"UNLV is good, but we're just as good," he said. "They're not any better than we are. We have to compete at the same level, and they outcompeted us today. That's what fired me up. That's the problem that I had."
Not sure I agree with Terry that Fresno State is as good as UNLV. But the part about competing, certainly. To have any chance of making a dent in the MW, the Bulldogs will have to show more toughness than they did New Year's Day.
Besides in the layup line.
The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, email@example.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.