Fresno State has dropped three of its past four games, all on the road, all when getting beaten decisively on the boards.
San Diego State was a plus-12 in rebounding margin with 17 offensive rebounds, Colorado State a plus-20 with 15 at the offensive end and UNLV a plus-8 with 15 at the offensive end. The end result: 47 costly second-chance points, 22 and 21 in the past two games.
But before those shots went up, the Bulldogs had held in and defended well — of the three, only the Rams hit better than 40% of their shots. And that one-on-one and shooter defense that kept them in and fueled runs in those games will be severely tested and a crucial element Saturday at Save Mart Center against Boise State, which comes in the hottest men’s basketball team in the Mountain West Conference, having won eight in a row by an average of 15.9 points.
That number is inflated a bit by a 50-point blowout of San Jose State, but four of those victories have come by double-digits and in that run the Broncos have averaged 74 points a game, hit 47.1% of their shots, including 45.2% on 3-pointers, and averaged 1.18 points per possession.
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The Broncos last failed to make 40% of their field goals in a Jan. 10 loss at Wyoming, the last of a three-game losing streak to start conference play, and only three times this season.
Seven times, they have been at or above 50%.
“This is a game that puts a lot of pressure on us defensively,” Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. “We’re playing one of the better offensive teams in the country — we’re playing one of the hottest players in the country in Derrick Marks, along with the supporting class that’s playing at an elite level. (James) Webb is playing as well as any forward in the league. (Nick) Duncan is shooting the ball as well as any center in our league. They’ve got weapons all the way around. They have a very potent offense that can score the basketball and puts a lot of pressure on you defensively.”
The Bulldogs last season made the going tough against Marks, who is leading the Mountain West with 19.5 points per game, including 22.2 points in conference games. The Boise State guard hit just 2 of 7 shots in an 86-79 victory over Fresno State at Taco Bell Arena and was 2 of 7 again when the Bulldogs won 76-56 at Save Mart Center. He was held to eight total points (four in each game), with six turnovers and three assists.
But, now like then, the Broncos have weapons to deploy and a versatility that presents some difficult matchups for the Bulldogs stretching out to the 3-point line.
“It’s going to be about bringing the fight to them, not letting them bring it to us,” guard Marvelle Harris said. “Just stay aggressive and after guarding them, make them have to come down and guard us. Don’t settle for shots, make them have to work.”
Marks is one of the top 3-point shooters in the nation, hitting 50.5%. Webb at 6-foot-9 has hit 46.5% of 71 shots from the 3-point line, eighth best in the conference, and is 52.2% in Mountain West games. Duncan at 6-8 has hit 37.7% of a team-leading 130 3-point shots, and is 43.3% in conference games.
“I think Boise is one of the better offensive teams in the country because they don’t settle,” Terry said. “They run their offense and they score their 3s. They make 10 or 11 3s a game, but they make those 3s on their terms. They’re not a team that just comes down and jacks 3s up. They run their offense. They look to get into the paint and see if they can get good scoring opportunities for their shooters. The biggest thing with those guys, they don’t settle. They take really good 3s.
“We guarded pretty well a UNLV. We guarded to me the second-hottest offensive team in our league the other night. UNLV has talented offensive players and we guarded pretty hard. I thought our defense was pretty good the other night. The effort was pretty good. But these guys spread you out and they have big guys that can shoot the ball. That’s the difference. Their big guys shoot the ball at a good clip. Webb shoots the ball at a high percentage.
“They’re going to put a lot of pressure on your defense, there’s no question about that.”