The Fresno State men’s basketball team’s loss at Cal Poly is looking more like a trigger than the trouble it at first appeared three games back. After struggling at the offensive end in that Dec. 5 loss to the Mustangs, shooting 34.8 percent and scoring 65 points, both season lows, the Bulldogs have played with a much better pace and have had much better production.
Their offensive efficiency was up already this season from last, which could be due in part to having a couple of soft matchups on the schedule. But in a loss at Arizona and a victory over Pacific and three halves out of four, the Bulldogs have started to take off out of that loss.
“I think over the last couple of games we’ve really tried to emphasize pace of play,” coach Rodney Terry said. “Our pace is much better, and I think with our pace our offense has gotten better.”
Marvelle Harris leads Bulldogs averaging at least 10 points per game at 18.3. He’s joined by Torren Jones (12.0), Cezar Guerrero (10.8) and Paul Watson (10.2), with Karachi Edo (9.0) close to joining them.
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In games against Division-I teams, the Bulldogs’ offensive efficiency rating is up to 1.019 from 0.956, which is the third largest jump in the Mountain West. One of the two teams with a greater improvement is San Jose State, which really had nowhere to go but up. The Spartans last season were ranked 350th of 351 teams in the nation.
That improvement could get a test Wednesday from Bakersfield, which has allowed opponents to hit 41.4 percent of their shots and 66.1 points per game. But the Bulldogs do hit the game moving at a good pace.
In the first half of an 85-72 loss at Arizona, which was a one-possession game with 2:57 to go, Fresno State hit 57.6 percent of its shots and scored 1.267 points per possession.
Fresno State will host its annual Teddy Bear Toss at halftime and the Fresno State dance team will perform.
In the first half of a 71-52 victory over Pacific, the Bulldogs hit 50 percent of their shots and were at 1.030 points per possession and finished at 48.2 and 1.014.
“We’re doing a really good job of attacking on our terms,” Terry said. “We’re getting better.”
Working the three – Junior Paul Watson has played a few minutes this season back at the four, when the Bulldogs have put a smaller lineup on the floor. But the majority of his time he has been at the three and in the Bulldogs’ victory over Pacific used his length to take away a smaller shooter in Tigers guard Alec Kobre, which could be a significant asset going forward into conference play.
Kobre had just five shots and five points at Fresno State after knocking down 9 of 14 shots and scoring 24 points in the Tigers’ previous game against UC Irvine.
“He’s getting better with that,” Terry said of Watson. “I think he’s really adjusted a lot better and is getting better every day in practice and every day in games defensively. I wasn’t worried about him offensively, but defensively is where he was going to have to have a really good growth curve.
“He had the length and the agility to be able to do it, so you were never really concerned about him being able to move and do it out on the perimeter, because he moves so well. I think the thing was just learning how to fight though screens, ball-screen defense, locating in transition, going from play to play. But he has done well. The next phase is he’s learning how to use his length, so he doesn’t have to always feel like he has to crowd a guy. He can use his length. He’s 6-7. He’s a long dude on the perimeter.”
Et cetera – A Fresno State victory would get the Bulldogs off to a 7-0 start at home, which would be the best by the Bulldogs since opening 12-0 in 2002. Dating to last season, they have won eight in a row at Save Mart Center, which is the Bulldogs’ second-longest winning streak in the building and the second longest active streak in the Mountain West. Boise State has won 13 in a row on its home floor.
▪ The Bulldogs’ longest Save Mart Center winning streak is 10 games, four at the end of the 2005-06 season and the first six in 2006-07.
▪ Fresno State will be giving away 2,000 free tickets to its Dec. 27 game against Pacific Union on Thursday at the Rodney Terry Show between 6 and 7 p.m. at Campus Pointe.
▪ Bakersfield is 6-3 and riding a three-game winning streak, those victories coming against Northern Arizona, at South Dakota and against Dartmouth. The Roadrunners are second in the WAC in scoring defense at 66.1 points allowed per game and third in field-goal percentage defense at 41.4. A difficult matchup will be Aly Ahmed, a 6-9, 250-pound center. The Bulldogs didn’t handle it well a year ago, escaping Bakersfield with a 63-61 victory. “Their inside guys are really good,” Terry said. “The big fella, we had a really hard time with him a year ago. He’s a really good offensive player. He can really hurt you in the paint. He’s a load to deal with. (Kevin) Mays, the four, is much improved. He’s a double-double guy. We know we have a hard game. These guys are playing well and they’re a good team.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD
- Wednesday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 7-3, Roadrunners 6-3
- Online TV: Mountain West Network
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Series: Fresno State leads 8-4
- Last meeting: Fresno State 63, Bakersfield 61 on Dec. 6, 2014 in Bakersfield