Fresno State got itself a victory, beating up on a terribly outmanned team from St. Katherine College, a small liberal arts and sciences school in San Diego that had eight players in uniform and came in 1-11 with some unflattering losses in tow. And, for coach Rodney Terry, the Bulldogs did get something more out of it even though the game had deteriorated quickly after they had seized control midway through the first half on their way to a 93-62 blowout on Sunday at the Save Mart Center.
“It’s not so much about who you’re playing right now as much as it is trying to get some things done in terms of identity,” Terry said. “Since we’ve come back from break, we’ve really talked hard about trying to sit down and guard and become a better defensive team, whether we’re in man-to-man or whether we’re in zone. But in games like this, probably the first 20 minutes we got some true work in terms of what we need to get done.
“There are games like this throughout the course of everybody’s schedule and you have to, one, try to stay the course, give other guys the opportunity to play a little bit; two, you can strengthen your bench a little bit in terms of guys getting out and having an opportunity to play.”
That part, Fresno State (5-8) definitely accomplished. Three players off the bench logged more minutes than any of the five starters, with Darnell Taylor scoring a team-high 16 points.
The Bulldogs went from up one to up 21 in the span of five and a half minutes and that was it, the lead growing to 26 at halftime and 35 in the second half when everything was just exercise.
They forced 18 turnovers, had 15 steals and had no problem scoring at that end of the floor. The Bulldogs scored 56 of their points in the paint.
“We came out and just played our game. We executed and worked on the things defensively and offensively that we needed to work on,” said Marvelle Harris, who had a double-double with 10 points and 10 of the Bulldogs’ 22 assists.
But with Mountain West Conference play for the Bulldogs starting on New Year’s Eve at New Mexico, they found the defensive play still remains a question mark. Fresno State did not overwhelm St. Katherine, by any means, and gave up some easy baskets to a team for whom not much comes easily. That might be the biggest takeaway going forward.
“We still have a long way to go,” Terry said. “It wasn’t until, give or take, just a little bit of the conference season was left a year ago that we finally really started jelling defensively and understanding how you have to play with an urgency defensively.”
In some areas, Fresno State is ahead of where it was a year ago entering conference play. But in others, the Bulldogs have some work to do, particularly staying in front of the basketball.
“I think we’re closer than we were a year ago in that regard,” Terry said. “I think our transition defense can be better. I still think we have a ways to go with that and I think it’s about where it was at this time last year. I do think we have been able to practice game-like situations where we were able to switch defenses a little bit, where we’re switching off on guys. We weren’t able to do that a year ago and feel comfortable. In some areas, I think we’re better.
“I think our ball screen defense is better than what it was at this point last year, as well. Certain areas we’re better, certain areas we’re still about the same. If you say staying in front of the basketball, we’re probably about the same as what we were last year. We still have to continue to build that and get better with staying in front of the basketball ... probably one of our weakest points.”