The Bulldogs did their best to avoid that pressure as much as possible, defending, getting stops, limiting the opportunities for San Diego State to pounce, and when they couldn’t get away from it, they just dealt with it. The Aztecs forced only six turnovers in that game.
The Bulldogs know it will be there on Tuesday night in the rematch at Viejas Arena. It’s a constant, this time fueled by one of the best home crowds in college basketball.
“It’s what they do,” Fresno State men’s basketball coach Rodney Terry said.
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But the Bulldogs could have a more difficult time, not just because the Aztecs are at home, where they have won 25 in a row including 11 this season and scuttled just about every offense that has hit the floor. San Diego State has not allowed 60 points at Viejas this season and seven of those 11 teams have been held in the 40s — or lower. The Aztecs also are better at the offensive end now than they were then, more efficient, shooting the basketball better, and if they continue the upswing against the Bulldogs they will have more opportunities to get into what they do best where they do it best.
That is the concern for Terry. “They’re able to really set their defense the way they want to when they’re scoring on offense,” he said. “If we’re not doing a great job defending and getting stops, then we’re going to be seeing a lot of their pressure on a regular basis.
“We have to play good defense against those guys. We have to defend and try to get some stops. When they’re playing really well, they’re making shots and setting their defense.”
The Aztecs had hit only 40.3% of their shots in 14 games before playing at Fresno State and had some poor games — they hit 20.4% in a loss at Washington, 24.6% in a victory over Cal State Bakersfield, 32.7% in a victory over Utah and 37.3% in a victory over San Diego.
Guard Aqeel Quinn had hit only 36.3% of his shots to that point, but is 15 of 32 over the past three games, victories over UNLV and at Air Force and a loss at Colorado State.
Forward J.J O’Brien did not score in the loss at Fresno State, going 0 of 6. He’s 20-for-40 in the past four games and scored a season-high 14 Saturday at Colorado State. Forward Matt Shrigley had hit only 12 of his first 49 shots (24.5%), but was 9 of 13 (7 of 10 on 3-pointers) in last week’s road trip.
The Bulldogs also have to be aware of 6-foot-10 freshman Malik Pope, who in the loss at Colorado State hit 9 of 11 shots including 4 of 4 at the 3-point line in scoring 22 points. Three weeks ago, he was playing 10 minutes per game and had hit only 6 of 26 shots (23.1%).
“Well, Malik will make Fresno State’s scout board,” coach Steve Fisher said at his weekly media conference. “I don’t know if he made Colorado State’s scout board. He’s gotten their attention, so I would imagine (Fresno State) will guard him when he steps out to shoot the ball. Colorado State said, ‘Prove it,’ and he made shot after shot. He played terrific. I don’t have to tell you that. We’ve seen flashes of that in practice and that’s the player we recruited.”
That is not a mix favorable to the Bulldogs, who are tied with the Aztecs and Colorado State for second place in the Mountain West at 5-2 behind 6-1 Wyoming.
The Bulldogs’ 10 worst games defensively by points allowed per possession this season have come on the road or at a neutral site (the Gulf Coast Showcase).
“We’ve gotten better,” Terry said. “We still have a ways to go. I think our guys continue to improve with understanding urgency of when we need to get stops, when we set our defense and are really settling in and getting the meaningful stops that you need to win games.
“But so much is predicated on how we guard, to dictate how much pressure we see on a consistent basis. We have to play good defense against those guys.”