The last time Fresno State was here, it lost a game that had some spice to it. Playing without Paul Watson, Karachi Edo, Torren Jones and Terrell Carter II, all of whom were injured or ill, the Bulldogs overcame a 13-point deficit in the second half and took Nevada to overtime before running out of juice.
The postgame was interesting, too. Coach Rodney Terry had some choice words for the Wolf Pack, which he seems to have misplaced over time.
“The only thing I said, they asked me one question and I gave one answer to it, and that was about it,” Terry said. “I didn’t say anything else about their program or of that nature, and from that point on, it’s one game, it’s one day, and you move to the next one.
Fresno State has won five of its past six games against Nevada, the loss coming in overtime last season at Lawlor Events Center when the Bulldogs were missing four key frontline players.
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“We have a lot of respect for (Nevada coach Eric Mussleman) and what he has done with their program. There’s no disrespect toward what they do and how they do it.”
Terry actually said plenty, giving the Wolf Pack no kudos for the win, not even an obligatory or insincere, “They played a good game.”
“No credit,” he said. “They had the size on us today because we don’t have our guys, but that’s OK. We’ll bounce back. We competed hard. We left it on the floor. Who knows, we get a chance to play these guys again, and if we’re mended the right way, we’ll see what happens.”
But the Bulldogs’ coach is right. They have moved on. The past is a curiosity Saturday, if that. So is a 77-76 Fresno State victory over the Wolf Pack on New Year’s Eve at Save Mart Center, a game Nevada led for most of the second half. So is the Bulldogs’ trip to Reno through the snow on I-80.
For Fresno State, it comes down to whether it is ready to make a stand on the road and whether it has the pieces to contend with a Wolf Pack team that tops the Mountain West standings and leads the conference in scoring at 80.1 points per game. They have yet to lose at home this season.
The road has not been kind to the Bulldogs lately – they are 0-3 there in conference play and have not won away from Save Mart Center since Dec. 17 at Pacific. When last away from home, they didn’t play with much urgency or energy in a loss to Air Force. But Terry and his staff seem to have taken care of that.
We have to bring our defense with us. On the road, I think we’ve struggled with guarding guys straight up, one-on-one defense, and that messes up our rotations and it frees guys up for open shots.
Fresno State point guard Jaron Hopkins on the Bulldogs trying to solve their road hex at Nevada
The plane ride home – the trip to Air Force was one of the few charters the Bulldogs will take this season – was very quiet. When they landed, Terry stood up and told his team, “We’re meeting tomorrow.”
“We got into that meeting knowing that they were going to kind of get on us,” guard Jahmel Taylor said. “I think guys took it well, though. Guys are seeing the game a lot differently. Guys are playing with a lot more urgency and fire and more will to win.”
Since then, the Bulldogs have made the going very difficult for their opponents, allowing Boise State and Colorado State to hit only 36.5 and 34.4 percent of their shots, respectively.
“We have to bring our defense with us,” point guard Jaron Hopkins said. “On the road, I think we’ve struggled with guarding guys straight up, one-on-one defense, and that messes up our rotations and it frees guys up for open shots.
“If we tighten up on our one-on-one defense and stay in front of guys, it makes it hard for teams to get into the flow of their offense and it works in our favor.”
They definitely have some offensive weapons on that team, so we’re going to have to really pay attention to the scouting report, pay attention to detail on their plays when we go through them. We just have to make every shot hard for them.
Fresno State point guard Jaron Hopkins on slowing the Wolf Pack, who lead the Mountain West in scoring
The Bulldogs will have Cullen Russo available – the 6-foot-9 senior missed the past two games while working his way through an ongoing academic issue – and his length will be an asset against the Wolf Pack.
Nevada has some difficult matchups, from 6-3 Marcus Marshall (a conference-leading 21.5 ppg) to 6-6 D.J. Fenner (13.4), to 6-7 Jordan Caroline (14.2) to 6-8 Cameron Oliver (14.6).
Russo, benched for the first half of the first meeting against Nevada after missing a team workout one day earlier, turned out to be a key piece. He entered the game in the second half, allowing the 6-7 Watson to pick up Marshall, who at that point was well on his way to a game-high 26 points. He hit one of his last seven shots.
Russo didn’t practice with the team while he was out but did on Friday and likely will log minutes.
“He’s 22 years old. He’s a young guy,” Terry said. “That guy can run all day. He’ll be fine. He just has to come back with the right mindset and get back into what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. It’s not like he hasn’t played here before and played in significant games and at significant times, so he knows how we want to do it and what we stand for.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. NEVADA
- Saturday: 3 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center (11,536) in Reno
- Records: Bulldogs 12-7, 4-3 Mountain West; Wolf Pack 16-3, 5-1
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940)
- Notable: Nevada beat Air Force 83-76 on Wednesday in Reno for its fourth consecutive win. Its last loss was at Save Mart Center on New Year’s Eve. D.J. Fenner scored 30 points in the victory over the Falcons, and Marcus Marshall, the leading scorer in the conference, added 25.