Ahead of the start of Mountain West Conference play, Fresno State forward Alex Davis put his fitness level at 95%, maybe 98%, somewhere in there, because of a high ankle sprain he suffered before the season.
Davis had been in and out of practice and on and off the floor in games, but he hit triple digits in the Bulldogs’ 61-52 victory over Utah State on Wednesday — if not yet perfect physically, he was at least 100% statistically, hitting 7 of 7 shots to go with five rebounds and three blocks.
That return to health and productivity on both ends of the floor has helped the Bulldogs reverse course after a slow start, providing a presence at a position where coach Rodney Terry and the Bulldogs had been seeing only inconsistent play, and it will be key Saturday when they try to extend their conference winning streak to three against a similarly resurgent opponent at Nevada.
“I think he’s as good as he is been at any point this season moving around,” Terry said of the Bulldogs’ only senior. “Early in the year, he was out there playing on one leg and for him to be very effective, he has to be an active player who can move around. Last year when he was really effective for us he was running the floor, blocking shots, rebounding, just being an active body out there. I think he’s getting a chance to do that now that he’s mobile again.”
Davis is pretty happy to be there. He injured the ankle in a preseason scrimmage and was not right at the start of the season. The 6-foot-9 forward played only 2 minutes in an opening loss at Pepperdine, then was given a break to see if the ankle would respond to rest.
He did not play in a rout of Bristol, but tried again on the Bulldogs’ eight-day, four-game road trip in November, playing 17 minutes at Northern Arizona, then 21 against Evansville, 25 against East Carolina and 27 against Marist at the Gulf Coast Showcase. He tried to play four days later against Cal, but got only a low-impact 10 minutes before taking a step back to rehab the ankle.
“I was very limited,” Davis said. “You come out at an all-time high at the beginning of the year and you suffer an injury that you don’t expect in your senior year, it kind of messes with the confidence part. It kind of makes you start to second guess your game because you can’t do a lot of things.
“You can’t play above the rim like you want to and it kind of hurts the confidence in you and you have to find a way to get it back, find a way to be dominant a different way. It’s a whole different game for me just learning how to play a different way.”
Davis came back in a Dec. 20 loss at Pacific and returned to the starting lineup in the Mountain West opener at New Mexico, playing 30 minutes and building toward the effort against the Aggies on Wednesday, a victory that put the Bulldogs (7-9, 2-1) over .500 in conference for the first time since a 3-0 start in 2010-11.
Over the past three games, Davis has hit 10 of 13 shots, scoring 24 points with 16 rebounds. At the defensive end, he has 10 blocks. Add in Karachi Edo, who has six, and Fresno State is third in the conference with 17 blocks, which has made a significant impact.
“It really helps our guys,” Terry said. “Any time you have a guy back there that can alter some shots and potentially block some shots, it gives your perimeter defenders a little bit of room for error, not a lot, but you have someone back there that has your back. We’re playing a better swarming defense than we were early in the year and it’s something that we have to continue to build on.”
Nevada (6-8, 2-0) is next up. The Wolf Pack, who are coming off a 64-62 victory at UNLV and have won four games in a row, are leading the conference in rebounding margin at plus-5.3 and offensive rebounds with 14.3 per game. The Bulldogs’ physicality inside and ability to keep the Pack off the boards will be tested, and pass or fail could be the difference between winning and losing.
“They’ve always been a team that wanted to put the ball inside, pound it inside, and they’re no different in what they want to do this year,” Terry said. “They’ll pound you inside with their big guys, they’ll pound you inside with their guards as well. Extremely physical team — they’re plus-5 on the glass, so they’re going to really challenge you to have to block out and keep them off the glass.”