The last time Fresno State matched up against Wyoming and Josh Adams, the Cowboys’ senior guard, things did not start well.
The leading scorer in the Mountain West knocked down shots, hitting 4 of his first 7, and got to the foul line seven times, hitting all seven in scoring 17 first-half points. Wyoming averaged 1.194 points per possession, was getting good looks and scoring the basketball, and then that all stopped. The Bulldogs put Paul Watson on Adams and the Cowboys slowed considerably, scoring just 11 points over a stretch of almost 13 minutes in the second half.
Watson used his length to disrupt Adams and got help from teammates to cut off a drive or force the ball out of his hands, yielding to teammates who couldn’t muster a single basket in that run.
Wyoming in the second half was at 0.676 points per possession and the Bulldogs went from down seven to up four, which soon enough became seven, then 10, then 12 on the way to a 71-60 victory at Save Mart Center.
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Fresno State is seeking its first season sweep of Wyoming since 1994.
But the rematch Wednesday at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie presents much different challenges, with Watson one of four Bulldogs (16-9, 7-5 MW) who are out or questionable to play.
The 6-foot-7 junior suffered a calf injury in the second half of a victory over San Diego State and did not in the Bulldogs’ overtime loss at Nevada. He made the trip, dressed for the game and was available. But coach Rodney Terry said Watson would not play unless ready and that holds for this matchup at Wyoming as well, which sets up interesting decisions at the defensive end to reach a similar result.
“They’re a really good shooting team,” Terry said of the Cowboys (12-14, 5-8). “They put a lot of pressure on you at every position shooting the basketball, with their guards, with their bigs. Shooter defense is really big in this game because that’s what they do at a very high level.”
37.0 Wyoming’s three-point shooting percentage, which ranks second in the 11-team Mountain West
If Watson does not play, Fresno State could play man with Marvelle Harris or Julien Lewis on Adams at the start of the game or Lionel Ellison off the bench – all three matched up against the guard in the first half of that first meeting.
The difficulty there? None of them had the success Watson did in the second half.
The Bulldogs, a man-to-man team, have played primarily zone defenses in their past two games against San Diego State and Nevada and if down so many significant pieces – with forward Torren Jones out and forward Karachi Edo and center Terrell Carter doubtful to play – they could again against the Cowboys. Carter was cleared to return to practice Tuesday and worked out with the Bulldogs after they arrived in Laramie.
The difference among the three opponents? The Cowboys can actually make shots.
While San Diego State is last of 11 in the conference in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage and Nevada is ninth and 10th, Wyoming is second in the conference at the three-point line in hitting 37 percent and in its last home game knocked down a school-record 20 threes at a 52.6 percent clip in a victory over Utah State. The 20 threes are the most by a Mountain West team this season by two and by five in a game between conference opponents.
The Bulldogs’ zone has improved – San Diego State hit only 38 percent of its shots and Nevada was at 45.5 percent but only 15 percent at the three-point line – but it is not a staple by any means.
With Adams in the mix, it becomes a testing proposition. He is leading the Mountain West in scoring at 24.7 points per game, four points per game more than Elijah Brown (New Mexico) in second. Adams is seventh in the conference in field goal percentage (43.7) and assists (3.9) and has gotten to the free throw line 210 times in 23 games, taking the most foul shots of anyone in the conference.
The Bulldogs’ Harris, by comparison, is third in the Mountain West in scoring at 19.4 points per game and has been to the foul line 149 times in the same number of games.
The Bulldogs are 7-1 this season in their next game following a loss.
Fresno State, which dropped into fourth place in the Mountain West from a tie for second with the overtime loss at Nevada, will likely play man and zone, hoping to find a combination that works.
“We’re going to have some bodies,” Terry said. “I’m not sure what those bodies are going to consist of, but we’re going to have bodies that are ready to rock and roll. We’ll probably play primarily with what we had the other day (at Nevada). I thought those guys gave everything they had. They left it all out on the floor and we’ll continue to try to figure out how we want to play, possession by possession.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
MEN’S BASKETBALL: FRESNO STATE AT WYOMING
- Wednesday: 6 p.m. at Arena-Auditorium in Laramie
- Records: Bulldogs 16-9, 7-5 MW; Cowboys 12-14, 5-8
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940)
- Series history: Fresno State leads 13-9 overall; Wyoming leads 8-2 in Laramie
- Last meeting: Fresno State 71, Wyoming 60 at Save Mart Center on Jan. 26
- Next up for Bulldogs: vs. Utah State on Feb. 20; vs. Air Force on Feb. 24; at New Mexico on Feb. 27