LAS VEGAS — The Fresno State Bulldogs let their youth and inexperience show in a double overtime loss to Nevada, giving up layups at the end of regulation and again at the end of overtime -- both of which allowed the Wolf Pack to tie the score and extend a game they would go on to win.
So on Saturday at UNLV the Bulldogs again will have a go at resetting a men's basketball season in which they are struggling to gain ground in the Mountain West Conference, and this time they will be on the road where their defensive deficiencies have been most acute.
In eight road games, Fresno State is allowing an average of 80.6 points, which ranks last in the Mountain West and is tied for 298th in the nation. The Bulldogs are allowing opponents to hit 46% of their shots away from the Save Mart Center and an average of 1.15 points per offensive possession, both 10th of 11 in the conference and tied for 206th and tied for 209th in the nation.
The reasons are multiple, and varied. They lost forward Braeden Anderson for the season when he was injured in an October automobile accident. The 7-foot center Robert Upshaw, who could serve as a badly-needed rim protector, was suspended twice last season and finally dismissed from the program after a third violation of athletic department policy. The Bulldogs inside are playing freshmen Paul Watson and Karachi Edo and JC transfer Alex Davis, with both Watson and Davis out of position.
The Bulldogs have had a difficult time getting past the growing pains, playing well in stretches and even for a full half, but rarely for a full game.
"Look at our defense a year ago, look at our defense even my first year," coach Rodney Terry said. "So much of it right now is young guys having to learn it ... on the fly. We were playing with older players back then that understood that's what we had to hang our hat on because we had a difficult time scoring the basketball, so we have to have some activity and some energy.
"These guys are learning that, as much as we can score, we have to play with that same urgency on defense and understand that's our identity, that we're going to play extremely hard on that end. ... You're not going to play perfect. You're not going to do everything right. But you can play hard, and just by playing hard, communicating and talking, you can play your way through mistakes on the defensive end."
Can they do it against the Rebels? UNLV could give the Bulldogs opportunities to meld the pieces together defensively -- it has not shot the ball well at times, ranking 10th in the conference in field-goal percentage at 42.8% and eighth in 3-point field-goal percentage at 34%.
But the Bulldogs will need to be more consistent finishing possessions, rebounding the basketball and defending around the rim. Fresno State had improved defending the paint and allowed just 20 points around the basket in losses at San Diego State and to New Mexico before giving up 42 in the double-overtime loss to Nevada.
Terry said they are overdue for more tangible success, which comes in only one form.
"We've got to see something for it. We have to see the fruits of our labor -- a win," Terry said. "Young guys, they don't feel like we do as a staff. We know we've gotten better in some areas -- and we still have some areas to continue to get better. But we know this: Young people, they see it when they see it in the win column and they see it clear. That's the thing that this group is still working on, trying to get to a point where it is crystal clear to them."
MEN'S BASKETBALL: FRESNO STATE AT UNLV
** Saturday: 7 p.m. at Thomas and Mack Center
** Records: Bulldogs 8-12, 1-6 MW; Rebels 12-7, 3-3
** TV: CBS Sports Network
** Radio: KFIG AM 940
** Series: Rebels leads 29-7 and 15-1 in Las Vegas
** Bulldogs: Fresno State looking to snap four-game losing streak (with three coming against 2013 NCAA Tournament teams). ... Bulldogs' only victory at UNLV was March 9, 2013, completing season sweep of Rebels. ... Bulldogs coaches will wear sneakers as part of the national Coaches vs. Cancer weekend.
** Rebels: UNLV is 7-5 at home (1-2 MW). ... Rebels led by Bryce Dejean-Jones (14.7 ppg) and Roscoe Smith (12.1 ppg/12.5 rpg).
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