Fresno State forward Nate Grimes did it again in an 80-62 victory at Wyoming.
He had played no more than 14 minutes in any of the Bulldogs’ three previous games, but in just 25 minutes against the Cowboys Grimes hit 8 of 11 shots in scoring a career-high 20 points, had 12 rebounds, two steals and one assist.
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When his numbers are projected over 40 minutes they get up there: the points jump to 14.5 from 4.6, the rebounds to 19.2 from 6.0, the blocks to 4.2 from 1.3.
But a start or more minutes are not necessarily any more productive and for the Bulldogs right now, matchups play whether it’s Grimes, Sam Bittner or Terrell Carter II out on the floor with Bryson Williams.
“We’re going game to game right now,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We’re not getting caught up in who starts and who doesn’t start.
“We’re thinking, ‘What’s the best matchup to get us off to a good start and give us a chance to be successful.’ ”
Bittner was back in the starting lineup at Wyoming, after coming off the bench in a loss at Nevada.
He didn’t score, going 0 of 3, but his plus-minus illustrates his value on the floor, moving the basketball at the offensive end, defending, rebounding. Bittner had three rebounds, two assists, two steals and a plus-minus of +15.
This streak goes back more than five games, but starting with the Bulldogs’ victory at San Diego State when Grimes busted out with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, Bittner has had a higher plus-minus in every game:
▪ at San Diego State: Bittner +12, Grimes +2.
▪ UNLV: Bittner -3, Grimes -4.
▪ Utah State: Bittner -2, Grimes -5.
▪ Nevada: Bittner +3, Grimes -1.
▪ Wyoming: Bittner +15, Grimes +14.
Carter, too, will be a valuable piece when the Bulldogs go to UNLV on Feb. 21. The Rebels couldn’t move Carter off the block, where he thrived in the Bulldogs’ 69-63 victory over the Rebels on Jan. 23 at the Save Mart Center, scoring 18 points with six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots.
And Grimes’ minutes?
“It’s simple,” Terry said. “We ask him to come in and play with energy and be a motor guy, rebound and defend for us, and then everything else comes along with that.”
The redshirt sophomore, who has made a huge forward leap this season, did show that he can expand his game and that caught the Cowboys off-guard.
In scoring those 15 points at San Diego State, Grimes hit 7 of 7 shots and all of them came in the paint – layups, a dunk, a tip-in, a short jumper.
In scoring 20 at Wyoming, he hit five shots in the paint but also stepped out to 15 to 17 feet and knocked down mid-range shots, going 5 of 6 in the lane and 3 of 5 on jumpers.
“He has had some good games throughout the year,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said. “He’s an energy guy for them, but at the same time I thought he did a good job defending, and made a consistent 15-foot jump shot.
“Maybe that was a little bit of a surprise, that part of it. But all of the other areas in the game of basketball, I’m not surprised.”
The Bulldogs’ victory ran their record to 7-0 over the past three-plus seasons in games after returning home on a charter flight.
Fresno State took a bus to its game at Nevada, but the Bulldogs were able to fly home and were back in Fresno before midnight.
“The charter is a huge deal, just having an opportunity to get back and be in a regular routine,” Terry said. “The guys can sleep in their own beds, get up and go to their 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, classes and stay in a regular routine. That’s huge.
“It gives you a chance. This is a tough league to navigate through with travel and that’s a big deal any time we’re able to do that. We’re thankful our administration gave us a chance to do that. It gives you a chance to be prepared and have the energy level that you need to compete at a very high level.”
Fresno State also chartered to and from Wyoming and will put that streak on the line on Tuesday against San Diego State at the Save Mart Center.
At the start of conference play, Fresno State was having some difficulty defending bigger guards or an opponent’s leading scorer. On their first road trip, Utah State guard Koby McEwen put up 28 on the Bulldogs and Colorado State guard Prentiss Nixon had 21. Between them, they hit 16 of 29 shots, 55.2 percent.
The Bulldogs have beene hurt a time or two by secondary scorers, but they have had much better results with Ray Bowles Jr., Jaron Hopkins and Deshon Taylor applying pressure to those top scorers over the past two weeks. At Wyoming, Hopkins the primary against the Cowboys’ Justin James, who went in ranked fourth in the Mountain West in scoring, averaging 19.1 points per game, and over the past three had put up 33 against Nevada, 33 at San Jose State and 25 at Colorado State.
James hit just 3 of 10 shots, scoring nine points. He also got to the free throw line just three times – James had taken 12 foul shots in his past two games and was averaging 8.1 per game in conference play – and had three turnovers.
Over the past five games, the opponent’s leading scorer against the Bulldogs:..
▪ Justin James, Wyoming, 19.1 points per game: FG, 3 of 10; 3FG, 2 of 5; FT, 1 of 3; points, 9.
▪ Caleb Martin, Nevada, 19.6 points per game: FG, 7 of 10; 3FG, 4 of 5; FT, 0 of 0; points, 19.
▪ Sam Merrill, Utah State, 15.7 points per game: FG, 4 of 15; 3FG, 1 of 7; FT, 2 of 2; points, 11.
▪ Brandon McCoy, UNLV, 17.6 points per game: FG, 6 of 15; 3FG, 0 of 0; FT, 1 of 2; points, 13.
▪ Devin Watson, San Diego State, 13.7 points per game: FG, 2 of 8; 3FG, 2 of 7; FT, 0 of 1; points, 11.
The Bulldogs have allowed those five players to hit only 22 of 58 shots, 37.9 percent, and been able to keep them off the foul line. They have scored 12.4 points per game.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
SAN DIEGO STATE AT FRESNO STATE
- Tuesday: 8 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- TV/radio: CBSSports Network/KFIG (AM ESPN 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Records: Bulldogs 16-8, 6-5 Mountain West; Aztecs 13-8, 5-5
- Of note: The Aztecs ripped up Air Force 81-50 on Saturday at Viejas Arena, but before that had lost four of their past five games. San Diego State is 1-4 on the road in Mountain West play, the win coming at Colorado State. The Aztecs were second in the Mountain West in scoring defense (68.8 ppg) and third in field-goal percentage defense (41.9), but had allowed 81.0 points per game over the past five games and have allowed opponents to hit 50.2 percent of their shots. The Falcons went in ranked 10th in the Mountain West in scoring offense and field goal percentage, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. The Bulldogs won the first matchup 77-73 at Viejas on Jan. 17, getting 22 points from Deshon Taylor and a double-double from Nate Grimes, who hit all seven of his shots in scoring 15 points with 10 rebounds.