Fresno State and Cezar Guerrero went through a long process to get the point guard back on the court, through the fall semester and into the winter intersession.
But now he is back, ready to play starting today in a Mountain West Conference game at San Jose State after sitting out the first 17 games while ineligible for failing to meet NCAA continuing eligibility requirements. And a potentially tricky process of integrating Guerrero into a lineup that is thriving with sophomore Emmanuel Owootoah running the point is one that will start slowly.
Coach Rodney Terry is not concerned about disputing a floor chemistry that has developed through a three-game conference winning streak, but more about Guerrero and his conditioning and readiness to rejoin the fray after not playing in a game for eight months.
“Our guys understand what Cezar brings to the table,” Terry said. “He started every game for us a year ago. He creates opportunities for other people. It’s just a matter of getting him in game shape and up to game speed with what we’re doing and how we’ve been doing it this year.
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“The guys all like Cezar. They like him as a teammate. With that being said, we just have to ease him back in at a good pace because, again, you look at it and it’s probably going to take him five or six ball games to get game wind and game speed because we can practice, but it’s not the same as being in the game. It’s going to take him a little bit of time to get back in that kind of shape. We’re not expecting him to come in and be a guy who has to win a ball game for us shooting the basketball, has to be a guy that has to win a ball game for us doing all these different things. We just need him to come in, be solid for us and work his way into the chemistry of our team and play the way we know he’s capable of playing.
“He missed a lot of game time, a lot of game situations … the timing. It’s going to take a little bit for him to get back with what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. ”
Owootoah, who has only two turnovers in 135 minutes in four conference games and hit a 3-pointer from the right corner with 3:32 remaining to give the Bulldogs a lead in Saturday’s victory at Nevada, will remain the starter. Guerrero, who will not be made available to the media until after he plays in a game, will come off the bench and play as much as his conditioning level will allow.
“Emmanuel has done a great job,” Terry said. “Emmanuel has run our team, done a great job defensively for us. We have great chemistry right now with how we’re playing and what we’re doing.”
Fresno State has not shot the basketball particularly well in two of its past three victories — 38.9% against San Diego State, 38.6% at Nevada. But the Bulldogs were at their most efficient in beating the Wolf Pack with 1.07 points per possession, their highest against Division I opponents.
Against the Spartans, the Bulldogs theoretically have some room to tinker. San Jose State is 2-14, neither of those wins against a D-I school (Bethesda and Saint Katherine). It is last of 11 in the Mountain West in scoring offense (54.6 ppg), scoring defense (67.7), field goal percentage (37.2), field goal percentage defense (45.1) and assist-to-turnover ratio (0.7).
But coming off the road victory at Nevada and ahead of a matchup this Saturday against first-place Wyoming at the Save Mart Center, the return of Guerrero adds to what still could be a precarious mix.
Marvelle Harris, coming off a 40-point game against the Wolf Pack, said the Bulldogs cannot let San Jose State find any rhythm at the offensive end.
“They shoot a lot of 3’s,” he said. “They have a lot of players with a green light who can let it go and when they’re hitting shots, they’re hard to guard.
“We have to take every game like every other one. You can’t take any win for granted in this league. I know there are a lot of teams that said, ‘Oh, Fresno is coming in here. That’s an easy win,’ and we changed that so it’s something they can do, too.”