Fresno State has won four men's basketball games in a row, its longest winning streak in conference play since the end of the 2006-'07 season. But on Saturday, into the Save Mart Center comes Colorado State, the team, the Bulldogs have said, that pushed them forward and into that run of victories.
Bullied down the stretch of a 76-57 loss in Fort Collins, the Bulldogs knew then they to change. They were outrebounded and didn't defend well. The Rams, who have had some poor shooting games in conference play including just 29.8% on their home floor last time out in a loss to Utah State, hit 52.4% of their shots in the second half of that game.
And the Bulldogs, they have improved, playing more physically and more competitively in consecutive victories over Wyoming, at Air Force, over San Jose State and at Nevada. Now they get to see how real that has been.
"I think this is the team that probably has set the bar in our league in terms of physicality," Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said of the Rams.
"I think they're the toughest-minded team in our league. They're going to play hard-nosed defense. They're going to guard really hard. They're well coached. They pride themselves on winning the 50-50 game, the effort game. You have to match their physicality and their mindset to have a chance with these guys. That's what they do at a very high level.
"We had a few guys that went through that in playing those guys with Tyler (Johnson) and Allen (Huddleston), Marvelle (Harris). But the other guys really hadn't been through that, knowing the type of effort you have to consistently play with against this type of team. It was a great learning lesson for us up there and I think we've definitely improved since then, but it comes down to doing it for 40 minutes against a team that does it at a very high level."
If the Bulldogs (12-13, 5-7 MW) can match Colorado State (14-11, 5-7) and its physicality, defend and rebound as effectively as they have since that loss at Moby Arena, the game changes quite a bit.
The Rams are ranked last of 11 in the Mountain West in field-goal percentage on the road, hitting only 36.9% of their shots (which is almost two full points behind a San Jose State team that is winless in conference play). Included in that is a 29.4% on 3-pointers away from Moby Arena. Colorado State also is tied for last in the Mountain West in points per possession on the road, scoring 0.95.
"We understand what happened the last time we were there," said Johnson, who has hit 53.1% of his shots (26 of 49) during the Bulldogs' winning streak. "We understand why we lost the game. We were in position to take that game toward the end, but the last five minutes or so, they just really took it to us as far as physicality, getting those 50-50 balls to win the game.
"That's really what's allowed us to turn our season around -- that game. We're not going to repeat the same mistakes that we did that cost us that first game. If we keep playing the way we're playing, we're going to put ourselves in position to win a lot of ball games."
Watch those fouls
In the loss at Moby Arena, the Bulldogs were close -- it was a five-point game (58-53) when Johnson had to take a seat with 9:39 remaining after picking up a fourth foul.
Fresno State couldn't keep things together without its senior guard on the floor, eventually losing 76-57.
"I don't know if it's just up there or what, but I definitely have to stay out of foul trouble," said Johnson, who last year at Colorado State fouled out in just 20 minutes.
Freshman point guard Emmanuel Owootoah, who sat out the Bulldogs' victory at Nevada with a knee injury, again is questionable to play.
It is a day-to-day situation, Terry said.
- If Fresno State wins, the Bulldogs will be 13-13 and at the .500 mark this late in a season for the first time since 2010. They were 9-17 in 2013, 11-15 in '12, 12-14 in '11.
- While Colorado State struggles to hit a high percentage of its shots, the Rams have scored 228 of their 794 points in conference play at the free-throw line. That is the highest percentage (28.7%) of points from the line in the league.
- Colorado State has lost three of its past four conference road games, the victory coming at Air Force.
- Fresno State freshman Paul Watson hit 5 of 7 shots in the second half of Wednesday's victory at Nevada, including two big 3-pointers. A repeat Saturday obviously would help the Bulldogs. The 6-foot-8 forward has hit only 14 of 40 shots at home in MW play (35%).
- Saturday: 7 p.m. at the Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 12-13, 5-7 MW, Rams 14-11, 5-7 MW
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940)
- Series: Colorado State leads 14-8 overal;; Fresno State leads 8-1 in Fresno
- Last Meeting: Colorado State 76, Fresno State 57 -- (Jan. 11, 2014, in Fort Collins)
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