Fresno State has five games remaining in the regular season, three at Save Mart Center starting Saturday with a Mountain West Conference matchup against Utah State, and there is a lot at stake not only for the Bulldogs but also an athletic department facing an $800,000 budget shortfall after a lack of football ticket sales in a 3-9 season.
The Bulldogs, despite missing key pieces the past two weeks because of injury and illness, are in a tie for third with Nevada and with a schedule on the soft side down the stretch figure to chase front-running San Diego State all the way to the conference tournament. But they also are doing it in front of small home crowds, averaging fewer fans than they did a year ago despite their best season in a decade.
Coach Rodney Terry has the Bulldogs at 17-9 and on pace to win 20 in the regular season for the first time since 2006-07. They are led by senior Marvelle Harris, who is second on the school’s career scoring list and has a chance to finish in the top five all-time in at least five other categories.
The Bulldogs also are 13-2 on their home floor, the past two wins a 111-104 victory over UNLV in double overtime and 58-57 over San Diego State, which had come to Save Mart Center at 11-0 in the conference.
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But in 15 home dates the Bulldogs have averaged 6,002 in a building that when the upper deck is open can accommodate 15,596. They rank eighth of 11 in the Mountain West in home attendance.
I hope our fans realize we’re really good at the end and there are only three more times you get to come out and see this team play, and they’re really important games.
Fresno State senior associate athletic director Paul Ladwig, on the hope for bigger home crowds at Bulldogs men’s basketball games
Fresno State last season started 1-6 and was 5-8 in its nonconference games before finishing 10-8 in the Mountain West. The Bulldogs averaged 6,190 for 14 home games.
With three home games remaining, while playing four more at home than it did a year ago, the athletic department is on pace to hit its budget projections for basketball ticket sales.
But surpassing projections would help take some of the sting out of that football shortfall.
“Obviously it’s a revenue stream and we need as many people as we can,” said Franklin Alegria, senior associate athletic director for external development.
“We need it as strong as it can be for us, given other streams of revenue were significantly down. Obviously men’s basketball is one of those revenue teams that really helps our department.”
6,476 Announced crowd for Fresno State’s 58-57 victory over previously Mountain West unbeaten San Diego State on Feb. 10 at Save Mart Center. The Aztecs drew 12,414 for their home win over the Bulldogs on Jan. 19.
Gate receipts are the third-highest source of revenue for the athletic department, behind university and state support and development. It accounts for 15.3 percent of a $33.1 million budget.
“The fans that are there have been awesome,” Alegria said. “It’s just about getting people who have bought tickets to come and use their tickets and more people who maybe aren’t in the habit of going to basketball for one reason or another to come out.”
Terry obviously would like to see that as well down the stretch, giving the Bulldogs a homecourt advantage that a San Diego State, New Mexico or Utah State in the Mountain West enjoy.
“Homecourt is really important in college basketball,” he said. “You have to make your place a really tough place to play because you go into tough environments every night in this league.
When we go on the road, our guys are excited about being on the road because we’re playing in front of good crowds. I’m not saying ours is not good, but we have to make it a tough place to play because it does make a difference.
Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry
“Our guys feed off of that. Kids this age, you ask would you rather play in front of a full house as opposed to not having people in the stands, yeah that affects you. You want to have people in the stands. When we go on the road, our guys are excited about being on the road because we’re playing in front of good crowds. I’m not saying ours is not good, but we have to make it a tough place to play because it does make a difference. When we have a crowd in here, it makes a huge difference for our players, just like it does for a lot of teams in our league that have good homecourts.”
Utah State (13-11, 5-8) is one of those teams and the Bulldogs make a return trip there March 5 to end the regular season. The Aggies come into this one having won two in a row, beating teams that are ahead of it in the conference standings in second-place New Mexico and sixth-place Colorado State.
The Bulldogs are healthier than they have been – forward Torren Jones (medical issue) has been ruled out, but forward Karachi Edo (wrist) will play and Paul Watson (calf) was able to get some work in during practice Friday and is getting closer to a return. With or without, Fresno State will have to contend with an efficient offensive team led by Chris Smith and Jalen Moore, who are second and eighth in the conference in field-goal percentage and eighth and ninth in scoring.
“I would hope that the play on the court and how this coaching staff has taken this team over the past four or five games would get this community pretty fired up,” said Paul Ladwig, senior associate athletic director for external relations.
“I think this team is playing its best basketball of the season. They’re peaking. Everybody talks about being really good at the end. Well, I think Rodney Terry and this team are really good at the end. I hope our fans realize we’re really good at the end and there are only three more times you get to come out and see this team play, and they’re really important games.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. UTAH STATE
- Saturday: 3 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 17-9, 8-5 MW; Aggies 13-11, 5-8
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themwc.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Series history: Utah State leads 32-21; Fresno State leads 15-8 in games played in Fresno
- Last meeting: Utah State 85, Fresno State 79 in Logan on Feb. 21, 2015
Women on road
FRESNO STATE AT UTAH STATE
- Saturday: 1 p.m. at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan
- Records: Bulldogs 15-9, 11-2 Mountain West; Aggies 11-13, 6-7
- Webcast: Mountain West Network (themwc.com)
- Of note: First meeting of year between the teams, with a rematch to close the regular season March 4 in Fresno. … Fresno State sophomore center Bego Faz Davalos ranks in top 15 in Mountain West in scoring (12.0) rebounding (10.0), field-goal percentage (.506), assists (2.8), blocks (4.2), assist/turnover ratio (1.2), offensive rebounds (3.3 rpg) and defensive rebounds (6.8 rpg). Her 100 blocks are five off conference single-season record. … Matchup of two of top five field-goal percentage defenses in Mountain West, with Fresno State (.369) third and Utah State (.384) fifth, though Aggies are 10th against three-pointers (.338) and ninth in scoring defense (69.0 ppg). … Utah State sophomore guard Funda Nakkasoglu, an Australian, averages conference-best 21.8 points per game and is fourth in assists (4.5).