Fresno State is in need of a rebound coming off of an 80-65 loss to Nevada in its Mountain West opener and on Saturday at the Save Mart Center gets Air Force, which would appear an easy mark given its record.
History, though, is not exactly on the Bulldogs’ side.
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While they have won six of their past seven games against Air Force, five of those wins have come by six points or less and four have come by two points or fewer.
Fresno State has had trouble attacking the Falcons’ zones before – in a 56-55 win there two seasons ago, they hit just 20 of 58 shots (34.5 percent) and nine of those baskets were layups or dunks, most coming off turnovers and in transition, not running their offense.
The Bulldogs also have had difficulty with the Falcons’ offense from time to time, which on Friday was a focal point on the practice floor. The loss to Nevada also played into that, obviously.
“Air Force has always been a difficult team for us to defend and have to guard, but that’s what we work for all year along,” coach Rodney Terry said.
I think guys are ready and they have it in the back of their heads now that we have to have urgency on defense in order to win games.
Fresno State forward Ray Bowles Jr.
“You’re not going to be playing your best defense the first part of January, but hopefully over the course of a conference slate you’ve gotten much better defensively and understand how important it is to get stops.”
The lack of steals against Nevada still was irksome two days later – Fresno State, which is leading the Mountain West in steals per game at 8.0, had zero against the Wolf Pack. It was the first time the Bulldogs did not have a steal going back through 2001-02.
“Coming off a game where we had zero steals, that’s definitely not like us,” forward Ray Bowles Jr. said. “We’re usually really good at causing turnovers and getting steals and getting out in transition, and that was definitely lacking against Nevada.
“I think guys are ready and they have it in the back of their heads now that we have to have urgency on defense in order to win games. From the other night, I don’t see how it would leave somebody’s head now. We know what we have to do. That’s why practice has been focused pretty much on defense.”
Fresno State: 10-4, 0-1 in MW
Air Force: 6-7, 0-1
Line: Fresno State -16 1/2
It’s a good sign for the Bulldogs if ...
Not much went right at the offensive end for Fresno State in the loss to Nevada, but despite playing only 30 minutes Deshon Taylor did get to the foul line 12 times, scoring nine of his team-high 16 points there.
Taylor has taken and made more foul shots than anyone in the Mountain West by a fairly substantial margin – he is 95 of 111, 85.6 percent; Jordan Caroline (Nevada), second in both categories, is 69 of 96.
If Taylor and the Bulldogs are at the line Saturday, it’s a fair indicator they are getting into the Falcons’ defense whether they are in man or switching zone defenses.
The magic number would appear to be 24 – Fresno State has won 29 of its past 34 games when taking 24 or more foul shots, a .853 winning percentage.
Against the Falcons, it has made a difference.
It was an 81-72 loss at Air Force last season that propelled Taylor into the starting lineup. He played 29 minutes in that game, scoring nine points with four assists. The rest of the way he averaged 36.6 minutes, 20.2 points and 2.1 assists per game.
Fresno State was 13 of 19 at the line there.
In the return game against the Falcons at the Save Mart Center, Taylor scored 25 points in a 73-64 victory, hitting 6 of 11 shots and going 12 of 13 at the free-throw line.
The Bulldogs were 25 of 32 at the line in that win.
The Bulldogs on Saturday could see more man from the Falcons than they have in the past. “They’ve played a lot of man,” Terry said. “We will see some zone. Obviously, they can play some 2-3, some 3-2, some 1-3-1. They’ve played every kind of zone this year, but they’ve played more man than they ever have this year.”
The big 30-0
Air Force has six victories this season, including wins over Western State and Johnson & Wales, a NCAA Division II team and a NAIA team.
Its four wins against Division I opponents:
▪ Texas State, 339 in the RPI.
▪ Canisius, 240 in the RPI.
▪ Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 350 in the RPI.
▪ Denver, 315 in the RPI.
The Falcons have had a difficult time scoring. Take away the wins over Western State and Johnson & Wales, and against Division I opponents they have hit just 45.0 percent of their 2-point shots and 29.6 percent of their 3-point shots, both the lowest marks in the conference.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
AIR FORCE AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Records: Bulldogs 10-4, 0-1 Mountain West; Falcons 6-7, 0-1
- Of note: The Falcons opened Mountain West play with a 87-58 loss at New Mexico, hitting only 37.9 percent of their shots and turning over the ball 17 times. Air Force had 15 players get into the game, but only one, Lavelle Scottie, scored 10 or more points. Scottie hit 5 of 8 shots in scoring 12 points. The loss was the fourth in five games for the Falcons, the only win in that stretch a rout of Johnson & Wales, a NAIA team.