Fresno State forward Cullen Russo spent practice Friday walking up and down the steps inside Save Mart Center, taking more than a few laps around the building after an unexcused absence from a team activity earlier in the day.
His status for the Bulldogs’ Mountain West Conference game Saturday against Nevada is something of a 6-foot-9 question mark.
“We’ll see,” coach Rodney Terry said. “You have to be where you’re supposed to be and do what you’re supposed to be doing right now because the ship isn’t waiting for you. The ship is moving and the ship understands the urgency right now. You just have to do the things that you’re supposed to do.
“How much he’ll play, we’ll see. I’m not going to put myself in a box with it. I just know this: We’ve dealt with adversity before and we have guys that can play and we have guys that are committed to playing right now, so I’m not going to worry about it.”
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Fresno State has won four of its past five games against Nevada. The last time the Wolf Pack played at the Save Mart Center, the Bulldogs raced out to a 12-0 lead and were up 30-5 with 8:31 to go in the half.
Russo, who has been fairly inconsistent since opening the season with a double-double in the Bulldogs’ victory over Texas San-Antonio, will play. And playing though adversity is nothing new, obviously.
When Fresno State played Nevada last season at Reno, it was without injured forwards Karachi Edo and Paul Watson, and lost Terrell Carter II when the 6-11 center took ill the morning of the game. The Bulldogs, down 13 with 12 minutes to play, still extended the game to overtime before losing 77-72.
Of bigger concern for Terry on Friday was the Bulldogs’ defense and their ability to defend without fouling, which cost them Wednesday in a loss to New Mexico.
The Lobos were 29 of 33 at the line, compared with 7 of 12 for the Bulldogs (8-5, 0-1 Mountain West).
Nevada (12-2, 1-0) has two players in the top four in the conference in foul shots: forward Jordan Caroline has gone to the line 102 times and guard Marcus Marshall 81, ranking first and fourth.
You have to be where you’re supposed to be and do what you’re supposed to be doing right now because the ship isn’t waiting for you. The ship is moving and the ship understands the urgency right now. You just have to do the things that you’re supposed to do.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
The Bulldogs have matchups with Paul Watson and Jaron Hopkins, and with or without Russo some depth to deploy against 6-8 Cameron Oliver, who took advantage of their missing pieces last season in scoring 20 points and grabbing 24 rebounds.
But they have to defend without fouling.
“We just have to keep our hands back,” guard Jahmel Taylor said. “We did a lot of reaching. They were talking to me after the game – certain fouls that I had, they weren’t really that I was playing bad defense, it was just that I was reaching down and bailing a guy out at the end. With that, the ref is always going to give them the foul.
“We can play aggressive on defense, but just don’t reach, especially in a critical moment. Defend with our feet, play more with our chest and beat them to the spot rather than reaching down and stuff like that.”
Marshall is leading the conference in scoring at 20.6 points per game. Oliver is averaging 15.2 with 7.2 rebounds and Caroline 12.6 with 9.2 rebounds.
“We’ve played guys that can score,” Terry said. “We’ve played a good nonconference schedule, played people that have guys. You can’t worry about that.
52.8 3-point shooting percentage for the Bulldogs’ Jahmel Taylor, sixth in the nation
“You just have to sit down and guard. As much as we talked about them shooting foul shots the other night, we bailed those guys out a lot by putting our hands on them and putting them on the line. We can’t have those kinds of fouls. We had some guys taking shots that they can’t make and we put them on the free-throw line and they made their free throws. We have to do a better job of playing with our hands back and playing with our feet, moving our feet a little bit better.”
Et cetera – Freshman Lazaro Rojas, set back by an ankle injury before the season started, has been a candidate to redshirt this season. But Terry said he and the coaching staff have kicked around the idea of playing the 6-11 forward.
“Are you kidding me?” Terry said. “Rojas is going to be a good player. You come in and watch him practice, he can do some things. The only reason I haven’t played him is because he got behind those three weeks and those were critical weeks, but he’s coming. He has worked his way back into pretty good shape. I’ve tried to look out for him and his future, to be honest, in terms of him being able to have a full four years to play. But he’s a guy that I think at some point can help us this year.
“I haven’t made up my mind with that. Part of me wants to look out for him and part of me wants to be selfish and put him out there. But we’ve definitely talked about that as a staff because he has gotten better and better.”
▪ Fresno State has lost its past two games, at Oregon and the conference opener at New Mexico. The Bulldogs have not lost three straight since dropping five in a row early in the 2014-15 season – they lost at Northern Arizona on the way to the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida, where they lost to Evansville, East Carolina and Marist, then lost at Cal.
▪ Ex-Bulldogs guard Cezar Guerrero practiced with the team Friday.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center (15,544)
- Records: Bulldogs 8-5, 0-1 Mountain West; Wolf Pack 12-2, 1-0
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: Nevada opened conference play with an 80-55 victory over San Jose State. The Wolf Pack’s Marcus Marshall, a 6-foot-3 guard, leads the conference in scoring (20.6 ppg) and has hit 53 shots from beyond the 3-point line, most in the conference by 13 over Wyoming guard Jason McManamen. The Bulldogs’ Jahmel Taylor is third with 38.