The Fresno State Bulldogs’ upward mobility tied into the Mountain West Tournament is a bit limited now. They can be a No. 3 seed, but not a No. 2, and it will take a win Tuesday at Boise State and some help on the final day of the regular season to get there. But against the Broncos, they can keep alive possibilities and send a robust message to the three teams ahead of them in the conference standings.
The Bulldogs already have swept Nevada, which is 12-4 in MW play and tied for the conference lead.
They split with Colorado State, tied for the lead, losing at Moby Arena three days after a four-overtime loss at Wyoming, in their first game without injured senior Karachi Edo, without a suspended Cullen Russo and with key players Paul Watson and Bryson Williams playing though illness.
Fresno State has not won at Boise State since Jan. 15, 2004, a 78-61 victory. In their previous game, the Bulldogs won at San Diego State for the first time since 1999.
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And the first time around with Boise State, which is 11-5 and sitting in third, Fresno State bolted to a 28-point lead in the first half and coasted all the way home in an 89-80 victory Jan. 14 at Save Mart Center.
To repeat that on the road at Taco Bell Arena and sweep the season series – a win would lock up a first-round bye at the MW Tournament – Fresno State (17-11, 9-7 in the MW) will need to attack at the offensive end (and get calls) like a home team.
Foul shots, both ways, could play large.
“We did a good job of getting to the line and we shot the ball well the first time,” coach Rodney Terry said. “But when they’ve gone on their streaks and played really well at a very high level, they’ve got to the foul line.
“It’s a big deal. We’ve got to the line in a lot of games. Look at San Diego State: We got to the line. We have to continue to have good pace of play, move the basketball and not settle (for shots).”
We know them. They know us. We know their personnel. They know our personnel. It comes down to who is going to do it at a high level and out-compete each other on that day.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
In that first matchup against the Broncos, Fresno State attacked the paint. Of the Bulldogs’ 26 baskets, 16 came on layups or dunks and they got to the foul line a season-high 43 times and made a season-high 33. Deshon Taylor, in his first start, reached the line 14 times and scored 13 of his game-high 19 points there. Jaron Hopkins, driving hard to the basket, got to the line a season-high 10 times. The Bulldogs shot 13 more free throws than Boise State – and that does not often happen on the road, which they know all too well.
Fresno State has attempted 178 free throws on the road and 234 at home, playing the same number of games. It is a minus-58 in free-throw differential on the road and plus-67 at home. It has been minus-22 at New Mexico, minus-14 at Colorado State, minus-10 at San Jose State and at Air Force. And at home, the Bulldogs have been plus-16 against Air Force and New Mexico and plus-14 against Nevada.
“This time of year, it’s all about execution,” Terry said. “You have to execute your offense, execute your defense. You have to do what you do. That’s what it gets down to at this time of year. We know them. They know us. We know their personnel. They know our personnel. It comes down to who is going to do it at a high level and out-compete each other on that day.”
Bulldogs guard Deshon Taylor is leading the MW and is 50th in the nation in free-throw shooting percentage at 86.6. The sophomore has made 62 of his last 65 (95.4 percent) in the last seven games.
At the offensive end, that comes down to an attack and adjustment for the Bulldogs, and any points from the line will help in keeping up with a Boise State team that has averaged 80.4 points over its past five games, has three players who have scored 20 or more in a game and six who have put up 19 or more in a game. In beating San Jose State on Saturday, the Broncos got 41 points off their bench with 18 from Paris Austin and 16 from Alex Hobbs.
“This is a really good scoring team,” Terry said. “They put a lot of pressure on you with (Nick) Duncan out there. They can really stretch a defense. You know they’re going to get a chance to get some looks. (James) Reid can shoot the basketball. They have shooters out there. We’re going to have to sit down and guard and try not to give them second-chance opportunities.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT BOISE STATE
- Tuesday: 7 p.m. at Taco Bell Arena (12,644)
- Records: Bulldogs 17-11, 9-7 Mountain West; Broncos 18-9, 11-5
- TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940)
- Notable: The Broncos knocked off San Jose State 85-78 on Saturday, solidifying their hold on third place in the conference. Paris Austin led Boise State with 18 points, one of five players to score 10 or more points. Austin and Alex Hobbs, with 16 points, did it off the bench. Over the past five games the Broncos have had four players lead or tie for the team lead in scoring while averaging 80.4 points. In the first meeting, Fresno State bolted to a 28-point first-half lead in taking an 89-80 decision at Save Mart Center, getting 19 points from Deshon Taylor and 17 from Jahmel Taylor.