Mountain West Review: Fresno State's conference recovery unprecedented

The Fresno BeeFebruary 17, 2014 

The Fresno State men's basketball team huddles before the start of their game against New Mexico at the Save Mart Center on Jan. 18, 2014.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

Fresno State continued its run, winning on the road then against a team that had thumped the Bulldogs by 19 points the first time around. With its victories at Nevada and over Colorado State, Fresno State has won five in a row, its longest winning streak in eight seasons. And, in keeping that winning streak alive and working, the Bulldogs find themselves recovering nicely after that rough 1-7 start in Mountain West play.

Taking a longer view, the Bulldogs are where no team that's in the conference this season has been over the past 35 years, which is a long time, going back to when Jerry Tarkanian was coaching UNLV when the Rebels were playing as an independent and still a few years away from joining the old Pacific Coast Athletic Association and Boise State and Nevada were in the Big Sky and ...

It is a long time ago.

But at 6-7 Fresno State is the only men's basketball team to get to within one game of the .500 mark after a 1-7 or 0-8 start, and there have been a few of them to have a shot at it over the years -- 47 in all.

Before the Bulldogs, only two of those teams got within three games of .500. The first was a Colorado State team in 1991 that was coached by Boyd Grant -- the Rams started 1-7 in the Western Athletic Conference and got to 4-7 and 6-9 before finishing 6-10. The second was Nevada in 1999, which started 1-7 in the Big West and got to 4-7 before finishing the season 4-12.

Only three teams got within four games of .500. Air Force was 1-7 in the Mountain West in 2012 before getting to 3-7 and finishing 3-11. Boise State started 0-7 in its first season in the Mountain West in 2012 before winning three in a row to get to 3-7 before finishing 3-11. San Jose State was 1-7 in the WAC in 2011 before getting to 3-7 and finishing 5-11 in league play.

The most wins coming into this season for a team in the Mountain West after a 1-7 start in conference play is four, and of the four teams that have started conference play at 0-8 three were unable to win a game (with San Jose State, 0-13 this season, pending).

School (Year), Start, High, Finish

  • Fresno State (2014), 1-7, ???, ???

  • Colorado State (2006), 1-7, 4-10, 4-12

  • San Diego State (2001), 1-7, 4-10, 4-10

  • Boise State (2012), 1-7, 3-7, 3-11

  • Air Force (2012), 1-7, 3-7, 3-11

  • Wyoming (2011), 1-7, 3-10, 3-13

  • Colorado State (2005), 1-7, 3-10, 3-11

  • Colorado State (2002), 1-7, 3-11, 3-11

  • Texas Christian (2006), 1-7, 2-13, 2-14

  • Texas Christian (2011), 1-7, 1-7, 1-15

  • Air Force (2010), 1-7, 1-7, 1-15

The closest Colorado State came to the .500 mark in 2006 was six games -- 4-10. The closest San Diego State came to it in 2001 was six games -- 3-9 and 4-10.

Usually, bad teams stay bad. Fresno State, obviously, doesn't fall into that category. The Bulldogs, who play at Wyoming tonight and at Utah State on Saturday, have managed to top them all.

Posed with an off-putting adjective after the Bulldogs beat Colorado State on Saturday at the Save Mart Center, coach Rodney had to square things.

"I don't know if I'd use the term 'buried,' " he said. "Obviously, we faced some serious adversity at the start of conference play, but I think this group has gotten better and better in terms of details and preparation. They've grown and matured.

"We never got down. We tried to keep a very positive outlook on things. We kept positive thoughts. We had great practices, and these guys have stayed together and kept working. I've liked this group from the start. I've said that from the very beginning of the year. When we've asked these guys to fix something, they've really tried to fix it. They've really worked hard to come in and do the things that as a coaching staff we've asked these guys to do."

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS

Tuesday:

  • Utah State 71, at Colorado State 62

  • at Wyoming, 68, San Diego State 62

Wednesday:

  • at Boise State 71, New Mexico 70

  • Air Force 51, San Jose State 48

  • Fresno State 75, at Nevada 67

Saturday:

  • at New Mexico 90, Nevada 72

  • UNLV 73, at Utah State 62

  • Wyoming 46, at San Jose State 38

  • at San Diego State 64, Air Force 56

  • at Fresno State 75, Colorado State 66

LOSING CONTINUES, BUT STREAK DIES

The losing streak continues. San Jose State, after dropping games to Air Force and Wyoming, is 0-13 in conference play. But the Spartans at least had a lead in the second half of a 51-48 loss to the Falcons, coming when Dylan Alexander hit a jump shot with 2:58 remaining.

It lasted all of 27 seconds, until Tre Coggins scored to put Air Force back in front.

But it was the Spartans' first lead in a game since the last time they had played the Falcons, back on Jan. 15.

San Jose State had a lead in that game with 18:17 remaining, lost it, and then lost from start to finish in games at Wyoming, against San Diego State, at Boise State, against UNLV, at New Mexico and at Fresno State.

The Spartans went 295 minutes and 19 seconds of game time between leads.

TIP-INS

  • San Jose State followed up that loss to Air Force by scoring only nine points in the second half of a 46-38 loss to Wyoming. The Spartans went into halftime leading 29-26 but hit only 4 of 20 shots, including 1 of 10 on 3-pointers, in the second half and turned over the basketball 10 times. They did not get to the free-throw line even one time. The 38 points is not good, but not the worst in MW play -- just last season Wyoming lost 49-36 at Fresno State and New Mexico lost 55-34 at San Diego State.

  • Poor shooting finally caught up to San Diego State, which had won eight games this season when hitting less than 40% of its shots, including a season-low 33.3% on its home floor in beating Fresno State. The Aztecs made only 22 of 58 (37.9%), including 5 of 21 (23.8%) on 3-pointers, in a six-point loss at Wyoming, their first after winning their first 10 MW games by an average of 9.5 points.

    The No. 6 Aztecs were one win from matching the best start in MW history -- Utah was 11-0 in 2003-'04.

  • Wyoming's victory against then-No. 5 San Diego State was the Cowboys' first against an opponent ranked in the top five since beating No. 5 Utah on Feb. 12, 1998. There must be something about No. 5 -- Wyoming is 3-2 all-time against teams ranked fifth, and 29-118 against all other ranked opponents.

  • Boise State was down by seven at halftime and came back to knock off New Mexico, as the Broncos reversed their fortunes a bit. They had blown 10- and nine-point halftime leads in losses to UNLV and San Diego State, which are the two largest halftime deficits overcome by a winning team in the MW this season.

  • UNLV forward Khem Birch just missed a triple-double in a victory at Utah State, scoring 11 points with 12 rebounds and nine blocks. He was going after everything toward the end of the game. "I'm trying to get a triple-double," he said. "I know that sounds selfish, but I'm trying to get 10 blocks and break Joel Anthony's record."

  • New Mexico had 27 assists on 32 made baskets in a blowout victory over Nevada -- the 27 assists is the high in a MW game this season by five. Eight of those assists came from the Lobos' bigs: Cameron Bairstow had five and the 7-foot Alex Kirk had three."

BENCHED

In the Aztecs' loss at Wyoming, guard Aqeel Quinn was 0 of 5 in 15 minutes off the bench and made a bit of a run at joining a list he really didn't want to be on -- the most misses without a made basket off the bench in a MW game this season:

  • Thomas Bropleh, Boise State: 0 of 7 in 25 minutes at Utah State, 0 points.

  • Rashad Muhammad, San Jose State: 0 of 7 in 26 minutes at Wyoming, 2 points.

  • Jalen Kendrick, UNLV: 0 of 6 in 22 minutes at San Diego State, 0 points.

  • Matt Shrigley, San Diego State: 0 of 6 in 12 minutes vs. UNLV, 0 points.

  • Marqueze Coleman, Nevada: 0 of 6 in 19 minutes at Wyoming, 0 points.

The reporter can be reached at rkuwada@fresnobee.com or @rkuwada on Twitter.

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