Men's basketball: Fresno State, guard Guerrero look to bounce back at Utah State

The Fresno BeeFebruary 21, 2014 

Fresno State's Cezar Guerrero, smiles after sinking a late-game three-pointer against Air Force in the second half of their game at the Save Mart Center in Fresno Wednesday, January 8, 2014.

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Fresno State and point guard Cezar Guerrero will try to get back on a winning track Saturday in a Mountain West Conference men's basketball game at Utah State, and one definitely can help the other.

Guerrero, who has done some venting on the court at times this season, spent the last four-plus minutes of the first half of a loss at Wyoming this week in the locker room. He had been arguing with teammates and coaches during a timeout following a defensive possession.

Though he returned for the second half, his absence hurt. Fresno State was without backup point guard Emmanuel Owootoah because of a knee injury, and it was able to make one basket in the final 4:36 of the half and went into the break trailing 25-23 after leading much of the way.

But coach Rodney Terry is more concerned with the Bulldogs' defense than the actions of his point guard, quickly putting the Guerrero incident in the rearview mirror after the Wyoming game.

"You learn from those situations. You learn being in that type of adversity that you're facing and you're better for it in the future," Terry said. "You handle it differently. He'll handle it much differently."

Players, including Guerrero, were not allowed to speak to the media before the team departed for Logan, Utah, where they will square off against a Utah State team that is 15-11 overall and 5-9 in the Mountain West, one game behind Fresno State.

Terry said it was made clear to his players what was expected, on and off the court.

"They know what my DNA is," he said. "There's not any guesswork. They know exactly what I expect from them and the level and the accountability that I hold them to."

If anything, Guerrero needs to redirect his fire.

"I want guys that are emotional players, guys that it means something to them in winning and losing," Terry said. "Alex Davis is no different. Julien Lewis is the same kind of kid. I want that kind of cloth. I want guys that it means something to them, being successful, and basketball means something to them, and that they're winning and when they lose they hate to lose.

"I want highly competitive guys. I think (Guerrero) fully understands and embraces what we need him to do from his position. When you're the guy with the ball in your hands, you're going to be held to a higher standard. I do think he has a chance to be one of the better guards in our league and I think he has a chance to be a complete player where he plays on both ends of the floor."

The Bulldogs -- not just Guerrero-- will need to get back there following the loss at Wyoming that snapped a five-game winning streak that had pulled them to within one of the .500 mark in Mountain West play.

Fresno State struggled with on-ball and ball screen defense against the Cowboys, who lost leading scorer Larry Nance Jr. to a knee injury early in the second half and still were able to recover and win.

In building their winning streak, the Bulldogs had limited Air Force, San Jose State, Nevada and Colorado State to 38.2% shooting (79 of 207). But the Cowboys hit better than 50% inside the 3-point line and were able to get to the free throw line 44 times, many of those attempts stemming from the Bulldogs defenders' inability to stay in front of the ball.

Fresno State put together a 9-0 run to tie the score at 40 with 11:58 remaining, after Nance had left the game. But the Cowboys were able to easily get to the rim or the free throw line -- eight of their 11 shots from that point were layups, and they shot 29 free throws.

"We didn't guard particularly well up there," Terry said. "I'm not taking anything away from Wyoming -- those guys played and made shots and did the things they were supposed to do. But we didn't play the way we've played over the past few games defensively."

"But they're all things we can fix and go back to the drawing table and say we have to do a better job of."

Also ...

• Utah State coach Stew Morrill is one victory away from 600 for his career and becoming the 14th active Division I coach and 41st all-time in D-I to reach that milestone.

• The Aggies are 12-4 at home this season and have won 111 of their past 125 games at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

• Fresno State still has a chance to move up in the conference. The Bulldogs are a game behind Nevada and 1 1/2 behind Boise State. Nevada, which just lost to San Jose State, is at Air Force Saturday and Boise State plays UNLV. Boise State comes to the Save Mart Center on Wednesday.

• Senior Tyler Johnson has scored 20 or more points eight times in Mountain West play and is 21st on the Bulldogs' career scoring list with 1,167 points. He is two from tying former teammate Kevin Olekaibe, who is now at UNLV.

Fresno State at Utah State

Saturday: 6 p.m. at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan

Records: Bulldogs 13-14, 6-8 MW; Aggies 15-11, 5-9

Radio/webcast: KFIG (AM 940)/ themw.com

Skinny: Fresno State became first Mountain West school to win six games in conference play after starting 1-7, but five-game winning streak was broken 72-66 Tuesday at Wyoming. ... Utah State leads all-time series 31-18, including 21-5 in Logan. Bulldogs had lost 10 straight to Aggies before 60-54 victory Feb. 4, 2012. Fresno State last won at Spectrum when senior Kevin Bell led way to 71-66 win on March 3, 2007. ... Aggies lead Mountain West in 3-point shooting in conference games (.409) but are eighth in scoring (65.2 ppg). Bulldogs third at 71.4 ppg, but allow conference-worst 71.7.

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

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