Fresno State has handled the press deftly enough when it has seen it, not all that often at this point in the season.
But with Cezar Guerrero still ineligible, it might be in the Bulldogs’ best interests to avoid it as much as possible today when they match up against San Diego State in a Red Out game at the Save Mart Center.
The Aztecs present a set of problems than goes beyond a missing point guard.
“The games that we’ve had some success against those guys, we’ve been able to be a pretty good defensive team, getting some stops, and we didn’t have to face constant pressure for 40 minutes,” said coach Rodney Terry, who is 0-4 against the Aztecs — including a three-point loss at home in 2013 and an eight-point loss on the road last season after being down four with less than 4 minutes to go.
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“They’re really at their best when they’re scoring the basketball and really able to set their defense. When they’re scoring, they can really get the pressure that they want,” Terry said. “A dead-ball situation, when they’re shooting free throws or what have you, they’re able to set their defense. They do a great job and they have really smart players, defensively, in terms of anticipation — when to go, when not to go.
“They kind of keep you off balance a little bit with how they bring pressure. It’s not an all-out pressure all the time. They pick and choose opportunities to try to force you into turnovers and they’re probably one of the better teams in the country as far as converting turnovers to points.”
If Fresno State is to limit the number of made baskets, it will require a much better defensive effort than it mustered in a loss at New Mexico to open Mountain West Conference play.
The Lobos made 23 of 39 shots (59.1%) in a 76-64 victory on New Year’s Eve, including 8 of 10 beyond the 3-point line, and scored off six of their eight offensive rebounds including two of those 3-pointers.
Foul trouble in the second half played a part, but it was one of the Bulldogs’ poorest defensive performances of the past three-plus seasons — they allowed 1.25 points per possession and only three times in their past 116 games have they allowed more in a game.
San Diego State (11-3, 1-0) has struggled offensively — the Aztecs are ninth among 11 schools in the Mountain West in scoring at 62.8 points per game, ninth in field-goal percentage (40.3), 10th in 3-point percentage (27.2) and 10th in assists (10 per game).
But so, too, had New Mexico until the Bulldogs arrived. The Lobos were seventh in field-goal percentage (43.3%) and 10th at the 3-point line (27.1%).
The Bulldogs (5-9, 0-1) will have to defend and contest shots much better. They got lost on three consecutive possessions at New Mexico, with the Lobos hitting three straight 3-pointers to push a 41-38 lead to 50-38 in a little more than a minute.
“It’s just communicating on defense and locating the shooters earlier,” said forward Alex Davis, who played 30 minutes after coming back from a high ankle sprain. “Coach told us the scouting report and we just didn’t follow the scouting report. Immature on our behalf and we let them get going. We just have to follow the scouting report and locate shooters.
“San Diego State, it’s the same concept. Communicate and locate their shooters because they’re a physical feel-good team and once you let them feel good, once you let one of their players throw a couple in from the 3-point line, the other ones start making them. We have to limit those guys, limit their good shooters from hitting their shots and we should be fine.”