The Fresno State Bulldogs were back at work the past two days, trying to clean up the one-on-one defense and the ball screen defense, the things that had hurt them in losses to Colorado State and at Utah State.
Those are also the same things that can leave them submerged under the .500 mark in Mountain West Conference play for the first time since opening with a loss if not cleaned up when going up Wednesday at Wyoming, which is expected to have forward Larry Nance back in the lineup.
The Cowboys are not a high possession men’s basketball team, but with Nance on the floor along with guards Josh Adams and Riley Grabau, there is a premium on all of the things they didn’t do well in the past two losses when giving up 80-plus points and 1.10 and 1.30 points per possession.
With Nance sidelined with mononucleosis, out the past four games, Adams has averaged 16.8 points and 43 assists, including 22.0 points over the past two games.
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In a victory at Nevada last out, the junior scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half, scoring off the dribble and getting to the foul line to lead the Cowboys back from a 14-point halftime deficit.
“He just took over,” Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. “He willed that team to a win.”
The Bulldogs can’t let Adams be that guy again.
“We just have to grind it out, go hard,” said Fresno State guard Darnell Taylor. “He’s a tough player. You have to stay with him, try to make him uncomfortable and force him into tough shots, really.”
The Bulldogs also can’t let Grabau get open looks on 3-pointers that have been there the past two games, and they can’t let Nance come back and crush them in the paint.
In the first meeting, which Wyoming won in triple overtime, Nance scored 21 points, hitting 7 of 14 shots. He got to the free-throw line 12 times, making seven, and had 11 rebounds. For the Bulldogs, there is no question Nance will be in the lineup.
“He’s been practicing with the team,” Terry said. “This time of year, you’re not going to get these games back. He’s a senior and he has to cherish every opportunity right now, so we look forward to him being on the floor.”
If it is the quick fix that Terry believes, the Bulldogs will be much better positioned needing wins to maintain position in the conference race. Before giving up 81 points to Colorado State and 85 to Utah State, they had allowed an average of 65.3 points in their Mountain West games.
With UNLV losing at Utah State on Tuesday, Fresno State (12-15, 7-7 MW) is sixth in the standings. The top six teams in the Mountain West get an opening bye at the conference tournament next month while the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds and No. 7 and No. 10 seeds are playing.
“We had the energy (at Utah State),” Terry said. “We were scoring the ball pretty well. We got into trading baskets instead of getting stops. They’d score, we’d score. We’d score, they’d score. We weren’t getting stops.
“In those type of games, especially on the road, you have to bone up and get some stops. You can’t trade baskets with them. We didn’t stay in front of the basketball and gave them some straight line drives, stuff that we can’t give up.
“So, we need to clean up a few things. We need to work on our one-in-one defense, we need to work on our ball screen defense. Our ball screen defense has been pretty good for us for a better part of the year, but the other night and probably over the last two or three games we’ve had some slippage in that area and we need to clean that up and get back to doing what we were doing defensively.”