Fresno State had just hit a Save Mart Center-record 65.3 percent of its shots in taking down New Mexico on Saturday when coach Rodney Terry took one of his own.
The topic was San Diego State, the Bulldogs’ next opponent, Wednesday night at Viejas Arena.
“San Diego State is an established program in this league. They put resources behind what they do. They have a commitment to basketball,” Terry said in his postgame interview.
“You have to go in there and compete at a very high level. You know they are going to have great student-athletes out on the court every night. They have an unbelievable home court advantage there in terms of their people caring about basketball. Win or lose, those people are going to be there to support their team.”
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It hasn’t always been that way. When former Aztecs coach Steve Fisher first got there in 2000 San Diego State averaged just 2,618 for 15 home games.
Coach Brian Dutcher, an assistant at that time, chuckled. “I think that might have been as big a crowd as we had,” he said. “Most nights, we had less than that. It was a struggle to start.”
There was a brief surge in interest and attendance in year three when the Aztecs won 20-plus games for the first time in 18 years and made the NCAA Tournament, just as there was at Fresno State in Terry’s third year when the Bulldogs won 20-plus for the first time in eight years and advanced to the championship series of the College Basketball Invitational.
But the biggest early jump in San Diego State attendance came in year seven, 2005-06, when the Aztecs made a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
This, coincidentally, is Terry’s seventh season at Fresno State.
But Fresno State is going in the opposite direction, aside from its record with Terry and the Bulldogs on pace for what would be a fourth 20-win season in five years.
While San Diego State is leading the Mountain West in attendance (averaging 11,360 in 12,414-seat Viejas Arena), the average attendance at the Save Mart Center through 12 home games is just 5,600, seventh in the Mountain West Conference.
The first 12 games last season drew an average of 6,319 and for the season Fresno State averaged 6,586, sixth in the conference.
There are no suites at Viejas, but there are donor and corporate seats behind the benches. The student section – The Show, as it is called – creates one of the best home courts in the country. And the support goes beyond Viejas: Aztecs basketball programs in 2015 moved into a $15 million practice facility that includes two full courts, locker rooms, a weight room, a training room and team lounges for the men’s and women’s programs.
San Diego State’s commitment is reflected in its men’s basketball success: That seventh year for Fisher at San Diego State also was the first of 11 consecutive 20-win seasons. And the Aztecs played in six straight NCAA Tournaments beginning in 2010.
Dutcher credited facilities for giving San Diego State a leg up: “There aren’t going to be many better than what we have. We have everything that any major conference school would have, and that’s any in every sport. All on one block, we have all our facilities right there.”
Terry and Fresno State, all they have are three wins over San Diego State in the past four meetings and four wins in the past seven.
“Rodney has done an incredible job, a fantastic job,” Dutcher said. “If Rodney continues to win the way he wins, the question becomes, ‘Can you keep him there?’”
Fresno State: 13-6, 3-3 in MW
San Diego State: 11-5, 3-2
The Line: Aztecs -8
Aztecs on O
San Diego State is averaging 78.2 points per game and has been much more efficient at the offensive end of the floor this season than it has the past few years.
The Aztecs scored 68.5 points a game last season and before that 68.6, 61.8, 70.3, and in Mountain West play already have scored at better than 1.000 points per possession in four of their five games. Last season they were there only seven times in 21 games including three games in the conference tournament.
Two of their top six players by minutes played are hitting better than 54 percent of their shots – Jalen McDaniels (58.1) and Malik Pope (54.7). Two others are hitting better than 40 percent – Jeremy Hemsley (40.0) and Devin Watson (42.9).
One who isn’t up there is guard Trey Kell, who has hit only 37.3 percent of his shots. But that could be a completely meaningless stat on Wednesday against the Bulldogs.
Kell in regular-season meetings with Fresno State the past two seasons, field goals and 3s:
▪ Road: 7 of 13, 2 of 3, 22 points
▪ Home: 4 of 11, 0 of 4, 9 points
▪ Home: 9 of 13, 2 of 3, 27 points
▪ Road: 5 of 10, 3 of 6, 16 points
Kell in those games has hit 53.1 percent of his shots against Fresno State including 43.8 percent at the 3-point line in averaging 18.5 points per game.
In his career he has hit just 37.9 percent of his shots, is 31.6 percent on 3s and has averaged 10.5 points per game.
The only time the Bulldogs got him is when it really counted: In the championship game at the 2016 Mountain West Tournament, he was 1 of 9 and scored five points.
Fresno State is ranked second in the conference in field goal percentage, knocking down 50 percent of its shots, and is coming off one of the best games in school history in hitting 65.3 percent of its shots in a victory over New Mexico.
San Diego State will be the fifth team that the Bulldogs have played that is ranked in the Top 150 in the nation in field goal percentage defense. The Aztecs are leading the MW and 33rd in the nation, allowing teams to hit just 40.1 percent of their shots.
Three of those four games didn’t go so well, and all of them games have been at home.
▪ Oregon, No. 54: 18 of 50, 9 of 21, 61 points.
▪ Boise State, Tie, No. 52: 21 of 55, 4 of 14, 64
▪ Nevada, No. 101: 23 of 51, 5 of 20, 65
▪ Weber State, Tie, No. 102: 26 of 54, 5 of 17, 83
The Bulldogs have hit 42.9 percent of their shots in those games, but only 37.8 percent of their shots if Weber State, a Big Sky team, is taken out of the equation.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT SAN DIEGO STATE
- Wednesday: 8 p.m. at Viejas Arena
- TV/radio: ESPNU/KFIG (AM 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 13-6, 3-3 Mountain West; Aztecs 11-5, 3-2
- Of note: San Diego State lost 83-80 at Boise State on Saturday. The Aztecs are 7-1 at home, the loss 63-62 to Cal on Dec. 9. Fresno State won at Viejas Arena last season 63-55 and has won three of the past four matchups including 68-63 in the championship game of the 2016 Mountain West Tournament. The Aztecs again are one of the top defensive teams in the league, but had no answer for Chandler Hutchison in the loss at Boise State. Hutchison hit 15 of 21 shots in scoring 44 points, the most by a player in the Mountain West this season. San Diego State still ranks first in the league in scoring defense (65.8 ppg), field goal percentage defense (40.1) and fourth in 3-point field goal percentage (32.6).