The Fresno State Bulldogs have had the better part of a week now to reinforce everything that went right the last time out in an 18-point victory over San Jose State — which was, really, quite a bit.
Fueled by 14 steals, the most by a Mountain West Conference men’s basketball team this season against a Division I opponent, the Bulldogs were able to get some easy transition baskets. They attacked zone, much more efficiently than in other games, hitting 50.9% of their shots including 47.1% from the 3-point line. They had 17 assists on 27 baskets with only eight turnovers. They attacked the rim, getting 32 points in the paint and 28 free throw attempts. They scored 1.19 points per possession. In all of those categories — field goal percentage, assists, free throw attempts and points per possession — the Bulldogs had their first-, second- or third-best marks against a Division I opponent all season.
But the Bulldogs didn’t answer a pressing question as they head deeper into conference play: Can they do it against teams in the upper two-thirds of the conference, against the teams they need to beat to finish in the top six and avoid a first-day game next month at the conference tournament?
On Tuesday at UNLV they have a chance to find out how well that alone time, having not played a game in six days, set them up for the stretch run. Coach Rodney Terry said they are expecting to see a lot of zone from the Rebels, and pace of play and how they attack zone have been focal points in practices.
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“When we were playing at our best last year and even this year to this point we were able to team rebound,” Terry said. “We were able to come down, we were able to get stops and then we were able to play to our strength in terms of pushing the basketball up the floor, getting some easy transition baskets. But even if we didn’t get transition baskets, we played with great pace of play on offense and we’re still trying to get better with our pace of play.
“As we get more and more chemistry with our guys being in there, then we get better pace of play and we get better spacing and all those things kind of flow for us.”
It obviously has been there against San Jose State, but take those two games out of the equation and the Bulldogs’ efficiency at the offensive end takes a significant hit.
They have hit 51.5% of their shots against the Spartans, who are 2-21 and have yet to beat a Division I team this season. In the Bulldogs’ eight other conference games, they’re shooting 38.4%.
They have 32 assists on 53 baskets (60.4%) against San Jose State, but their assisted basket efficiency against the rest of the Mountain West falls to 45.3%, 77 on 170 makes.
They have scored 1.19 points per possessions against the Spartans, 0.91 in their other league games.
UNLV, which had a modest three-game winning streak (over Utah State in overtime, Nevada and Air Force) snapped on Saturday in an 83-82 loss at Colorado State, will test that.
But Fresno State is feeling good about itself coming out of the brief break. There was a lot of time to rest some nagging injuries, to work on attacking zone. “I think we’re in a perfect place on attacking it,” said forward Karachi Edo, who will make a third consecutive start. “Me and Paul (Watson), Alex (Davis) and Terrell (Carter), everybody knows how to just attack the paint.”
Terry said UNLV is “extremely athletic, an extremely talented team, a team that is probably playing the best they’ve played defensively all year long. Their zone is a very active one and I look to see probably 60% to 70% zone down there. They’re going to make us have to make some shots and probably going into the game hoping we’ll settle for a bunch of jump shots and not be aggressive.
“It’s pace of play and just being decisive with everything we do. They’re one of the best shot-blocking teams in the country (No. 4 at 6.8 per game) — we know that. But you can’t be afraid and not be able to attack. You still have to be able to attack and attack on your terms and understand what we’re trying to get done.”