Fresno State came out swinging, which it had not done in its first three road games. But after Marvelle Harris pulled the Bulldogs to a halftime lead against No. 13 Arizona and the Bulldogs had to work their way back into the game in the second half, the Wildcats were able to break away late on back-to-back three-pointers by Gabe York to escape with an 85-72 victory on Wednesday at McKale Center in Tucson.
The Bulldogs were down by nine midway through the second half, struggling to find offense and going through a stretch in which they hit just 1 of 9 shots with three turnovers. But they closed to within one inside of three minutes to play before stalling, Arizona coming away with a 43rd consecutive victory on its home floor.
York hit a three, then another. Fresno State (6-3), meanwhile, was stuck on 70 points for the next two-plus minutes after a layup by Cezar Guerrero got them to within 71-70 with 2:57 to go. That was the Bulldogs’ last basket. They had critical misses at the free-throw line by Harris and Guerrero, and turned over the ball two times down the stretch.
After hitting 19 of 33 shots (57.6 percent), including all five attempts from the three-point line in the first half, Fresno State was just 12 of 33 in the second (36.4 percent), including 0 of 5 on three-pointers.
The Bulldogs also had eight second-half turnovers and have not beaten a ranked team on the road since Feb. 24, 2000, when they beat then-No. 12 Tulsa. Fresno State also had a streak of 17 consecutive victories when leading at halftime snapped.
Harris, who had 17 points at halftime, finished with a team-high 23 points. Paul Watson had 14 points and five rebounds, and Guerrero had 11 points and two assists.
Board work – Arizona is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, ranked 13th among the 346 teams with a rebounding margin of a plus-11.6. But the Bulldogs played the Wildcats to a draw on the boards, both teams getting 34 rebounds. Fresno State had 14 of those rebounds at the offensive end, with Cullen Russo grabbing four, Torren Jones three and Karachi Edo and Paul Watson two each – and it has been a while since any team had that kind of success against Arizona.
The 14 offensive rebounds were the most by an Arizona opponent since San Diego State had 14 in a NCAA Tournament game on March 27, 2014 – the Wildcats won that one 70-64.
Oregon State is the last team to have more offensive rebounds against Arizona, grabbing 15 on March 5, 2014, a span of 56 games. The Wildcats won 74-69.
“They were 7-1 and they had outrebounded every opponent by double-digits and they just did that at Gonzaga, which has a great frontline,” Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. “For us to break even on the glass with those guys and to be right there, toe-to-toe, that’s a major deal for us.
“But we’ve outrebounded every opponent so far, so it’s something that I think our guys are taking a lot of pride in and understanding how important it is to rebound the basketball.”
It’s not you, it’s me – Harris hit 7 of 12 shots in the first half, including all three of his attempts from three-point land, in scoring 17 points. In the second half, however, he was just 3 of 9 and scored six points.
He missed his first two shots of the second half and got only one shot up between the 18:08 mark and the 10:17 mark, with three-plus minutes in there spent on the bench. His first basket came with 5:53 remaining, then the Bulldogs started their surge back into the game.
“I don’t necessarily think it was them,” Harris said. “I came out, I know I shot an air ball, missed a couple of shots. I think it was more me trying to force things instead of letting it come to me like I did in the first half. I felt like I was excited having a big first half and I felt like I had to bring that to the second half, just forced shots. I don’t really think it was the defense; it was more me not playing within myself.”
Et cetera – Fresno State had seven steals, reversing a downward trend. The Bulldogs had 10 in an 82-65 victory at Rice on Nov. 22, then five in an 80-59 win against Delaware State, four in a 78-73 loss at Oregon and also in an 84-72 win against The Master’s College and three in a 77-65 loss at Cal Poly. The seven steals were the most by an Arizona opponent this season.
▪ The Bulldogs have now dropped their past eight games against Pacific-12 Conference opponents since a 68-65 victory at Arizona State on Dec. 21, 2011. Four of those games have been decided by fewer than 10 points.
▪ Harris on getting back in the game after trailing 69-60 with 7:19 to go: “We just stayed together, were taking it possession by possession, getting stops and converting like we knew we could. Once we did that, the game was right back there for us.”
▪ Arizona was 17 of 28 at the free-throw line compared to 5 of 9 for the Bulldogs, which was only part of the problem. Harris and Guerrero had misses at the line that helped Arizona get away inside the final three minutes. “We left some free throws out there,” Terry said. “We’re a pretty good free throw-shooting team and we didn’t make a couple of those that we needed to make, and as a result of that it put us back on our heels a little bit and we weren’t able to finish the way we wanted to.”
▪ Fresno State went in hitting 71 percent (149 of 210) of its free throws, ranking seventh of 11 in the Mountain West. “We’ll be better,” Terry said. “It’s something we work on and I know our guys take a lot of pride in stepping up there and making free throws. I don’t foresee that being an issue for us. They were important ones down the stretch, but they’re all important. I doesn’t matter if it’s the start of the game or the end of the game. Any time you get a chance to get to that line, you need to try to cash those in, and we’ll be better with that moving forward.”
▪ Arizona got some easy baskets in the first half when the Bulldogs were trying to match up man-to-man – five of the Wildcats’ first seven baskets came on layups or dunks and 11 in the first half. Going zone helped the Bulldogs force some turnovers and get some stops, and get out to that halftime lead. “That was big for us,” Terry said. “We knew going in that we were going to have to guard these guys for 40 minutes, with the pressure they can put on the basket and the size they have inside. We knew we were going to have to mix our defenses up and we were going to have to protect some guys. We got into a little foul trouble there, as well. But we played through it. I thought our zone gave us some possessions.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. PACIFIC
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 6-3, Tigers 1-6
- Of note: The Bulldogs women’s team hosts San Diego at 2 p.m. in a doubleheader with the men’s game. It will be a “red out,” as both Bulldogs teams will wear their red uniforms.