Fresno State has a road win at Nevada and is the only Mountain West team that does. The Bulldogs went into Lawlor Events Center on Jan. 21 and shot 54.9 percent, crushed the Wolf Pack on the boards and snapped Nevada’s 11-game home winning streak.
Sitting fifth in the Mountain West, the Bulldogs likely will need a few more road wins if they are to move up or at least maintain that spot, which comes with a pass into the quarterfinals at the conference tournament.
After blowing chances at San Jose State, Air Force and Utah State, all of which are holding toward the bottom of the standings, they have four chances remaining and none would qualify as easy.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry can notch career victory No. 100 on Wednesday at Wyoming, his second shot at that milestone. Those round numbers have not come easily – No. 25 came in overtime at UC Irvine in 2013 and No. 75 in double OT against UNLV in 2016; No. 50 was a rout of Saint Katherine.
The Bulldogs play at Wyoming on Wednesday and at Colorado State on Saturday. Games also remain at San Diego State and Boise State.
“You have to embrace it,” coach Rodney Terry said. “It’s always fun, right? That’s what conference is about. We’re all familiar with each other, this time of year especially. The second time around, we’re all very familiar with what we do and how we do it. It’s who’s going to execute what they’re trying to get done at the highest level.”
The Bulldogs (14-8, 6-5) are one of six teams with four to six losses that stand behind 8-3 Boise State and 7-3 Nevada in the duel for a top-five seed for the Mountain West Tournament next month in Las Vegas. Wyoming (15-9, 5-6) also is in that group.
Colorado State (7-4), New Mexico (7-5), the Bulldogs and San Diego State (5-5) are followed by Wyoming and San Jose State (4-6).
You have to embrace it. It’s always fun, right? That’s what conference is about. We’re all familiar with each other, this time of year especially.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
Last season, Nevada was the fifth seed at 10-8. In 2015, it was Utah State at 11-7.
Fresno State dispatched Wyoming 85-70 with a solid second half Jan. 4 at Save Mart Center. Justin James, the Cowboys’ leading scorer at 15.3 points per game, was in foul trouble in that game and scored five points while playing only 10 minutes.
But the Bulldogs matched up well and could be better defensively now. Since Deshon Taylor, Sam Bittner and Bryson Williams entered the starting lineup, opposition field-goal percentage (down to 41.4 from 42.5) and points per game in conference play (to 70.8 from 74.8) have fallen while steals have increased (8.8 from 7.6).
Paul Watson defended Jason McManamen, the Cowboys’ third-leading scorer and one of the top 3-point shooters in the conference, and held him to six points.
Alexander Aka Gorski hurt the Bulldogs in the first half, hitting 4 of 7 shots and scoring 13 points. But after Terry made a defensive switch on the 6-5 guard, he was 0 of 2 and scored only two points over the final 20 minutes.
Presenting the Bulldogs with their toughest defensive assignment was forward Hayden Dalton, who came off the bench to score 14 points and grab 11 rebounds. He hit only 2 of 8 shots, but made 10 of 10 free throws.
Cowboys starters, however, were a combined 12 of 41 (29.3 percent) and were almost outscored by the Wyoming bench (37-33).
The Bulldogs are 4-7 on the road this season, the seven losses tied with Air Force (0-7) for the most in the Mountain West.
Fresno State, Terry said, is playing with more urgency on defense than it did in the first half of the conference season. But for a team that is 4-7 overall on the road and 1-4 away from home in conference play, the challenge is a bit different at Arena-Auditorium, where Wyoming is 3-2 and racked up some points in an 84-72 victory over Air Force and a 95-87 win over Utah State.
“They have a lot of guys that can shoot the basketball,” Terry said. “James is their leading scorer right now and he’s a dual threat – he can drive the ball, shoot the basketball. We know McManamen can. He had 28 against us last year up at their place.
“It’s going to be a big shooter defense game for us. We have to get out there and close out with high hands on all those guys on the perimeter. We know Dalton can shoot it and drive it. We know (Alan) Herndon can shoot it. They have a team full of shooters over there, so it’s a huge shooter defense game.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT WYOMING
- Wednesday: 6 p.m. at Arena-Auditorium (15,028) in Laramie
- Records: Bulldogs 14-9, 6-5 Mountain West; Cowboys 15-9, 5-6
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themwn.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Notable: The Cowboys won Saturday at Air Force 83-74 with guard Justin James coming off the bench to score 26 points with seven assists. Fresno State beat Wyoming 85-70 on Jan. 4 at Save Mart Center. The Cowboys shot only 31.7 percent, including 28.6 percent at the 3-point line.
MOUNTAIN WEST AT A GLANCE
San Diego State
San Jose State
Utah State at Colorado State, 6 p.m.
San Diego State at San Jose State, 8 p.m.
New Mexico at Air Force, 6 p.m.
Fresno State at Wyoming, 6 p.m.
UNLV at Nevada, 8 p.m.
Fresno State at Colorado State, 1 p.m.
Air Force at Boise State, 3 p.m.
San Jose State at UNLV, 3 p.m.
Wyoming at Utah State, 6 p.m.