Fresno State plays a man defense and coach Rodney Terry only very begrudgingly will throw in some zone, as a change up. He had to do that the first time the Bulldogs played San Diego State and it was a key component in a 77-73 victory at Viejas Arena, which started with the Aztecs in a full-on assault on the basket.
In that first half the Aztecs were 13 of 24, 54.2 percent, and 11 of those baskets came right at the rim on a lay up or a dunk and there was one tip-in off a missed lay up.
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They were 11 of 14 there.
They were 1 of 8 on jump shots.
They were 1 of 2 at the 3-point line.
“They played downhill and got into the teeth of our defense,” Terry said. “They drove that basketball on us, whether it was (Matt) Mitchell, (Trey) Kell ...”
By aggressively going to the rim, the Aztecs also got to the foul line, taking 21 free throws in the first half, which were more attempts than they had in every one of their first five Mountain West games.
San Diego State had attempted 15✔ foul shots in an opening loss at Wyoming. It had 20✔, 18✔ and 9✔ in victories over Utah State, at Colorado State and against San Jose State. It had taken 12✔ foul shots in a loss at Boise State.
Driving the ball was a point of emphasis.
San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher after that game: “We really worked on over the last two to three weeks trying to get a second penetration, to drive the ball and kick it, and instead of settling for that three to drive it again.
“I think we had some success with that, so that is the team trying to listen to what we are trying to do as a game plan. Do the second drive, maybe turn down the three if you’re in great rhythm. I don’t want them nervous to shoot threes, but it is something we’ve been working on to try and get to the rim more aggressively.”
But the Bulldogs’ zone helped slow down that game and in what could be a tricky rematch of adjustments on Tuesday at the Save Mart Center, they’re likely to need it again at some point against an Aztecs team that is averaging 78.8 points per game.
San Diego State took only nine shots from the 3-point line when it lost to the Bulldogs. In its first five Mountain West games, the Aztecs averaged 23.4 threes and hit 35.9 percent; in its past four San Diego State has put up 24.8 three and has hit 41.4.
“We’re going to have to play the game as it goes along and get a feel for the ebb and flow of it,” Terry said. “The last time we played those guys, we had to pick and choose. They were getting to the basket and we were getting in foul trouble.
“It was an opportune time for us to go zone. We went with about 14 minutes to go in the game – we had to do it because we were protecting some guys and then we needed to see if we could steal some possessions.”
San Diego State: 13-8, 5-5 in the Mountain West
Fresno State: 16-8, 6-5
The line: Bulldogs -2.5
Re-writing the scouting report
Forward Nate Grimes gave Mountain West opponents a peek at more than just a high-energy rebounder and a shot blocker in the Bulldogs’ victory at Wyoming, showing a mid-range game, knocking down three jump shots from 15 to 17 feet.
The redshirt sophomore has been an intriguing piece this season, coming a long way since his first year in the program.
“I think you’ll see more as it goes down the stretch and hopefully right into his future,” assistant coach Byron Jones said. “He starting to expand his game with jump shots and post moves, but it all goes back to playing time and being comfortable with what he’s doing out there on the floor.
“There’s a lot more (there). He’s playing a little bit as an undersized five, a four. The next part of his game is he has to get better with some ball handling, some passing and it’s not necessarily that he needs to step out and make threes, but he has to be able to handle the ball in traffic and make some things happen facing the basket. Our off-season with him is getting him to be a better face the basket – stretch four as they call them in college. That’s what he needs to get to.”
Not a mystery, man
Fresno State has given up some big games to players in secondary roles.
The last time the Bulldogs were at home, a 65-62 loss to Utah State, they held the Aggies’ two leading scorers, Sam Merrill and Koby McEwen, to 11 and nine points. But redshirt freshman Daron Henson, who came in averaging just 4.1 points per game, hit 6 of 7 shots in scoring 18 points, all from the 3-point line, including the game-winner with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Before that New Mexico guard Makuach Maluach, averaging 7.2 points per game, put up 21 points on the Bulldogs. Fresno State at least won that game. After that Nevada guard Josh Hall, averaging 5.8 points per game, had 19 against the Bulldogs.
The Aztecs’ could be without guard Trey Kell (ankle), a key piece at the defensive end and, when they play Fresno State, the offensive end. Kell, averaging 10.4 points per game over his career, has scored 17.6 points over his past five regular-season games agtainst the Bulldogs.
But Fresno State will have Max Montana to deal with, though the 6-foot-9 forward definitely is on the radar.
“He’s a shooter,” Terry said. “He adds another dimension in there for our big guys. Hopefully we’ll do a good job recognize he’s going to shoot it and keep shooting it.”
Montana did not play in the first matchup against the Bulldogs and to that point had played in only 10 of 16 games, scoring 6.4 points per game, a number bolstered by three double-digit scoring games. He scored three points or fewer six times.
Over the past three games, Montana has put up 20 points in a victory over Colorado State, 11 in a loss to UNLV and 13 in a victory over Air Force and hit 15 of 28 shots (53.6 percent) including 10 of 20 at the 3-point line.
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.