Fresno State had one of those “wow, that’s bad” losses last season – at San Jose State, against a Spartans team that finished 9-22, 4-14 in the Mountain West and with a RPI of 299 among 351 teams nationally.
There are some, but not many, similarities in how that and the 84-78 gut-punch delivered Monday by Prairie View A&M came about. But there is not much value in debating degrees of terrible at this point in the season.
We’re not a tough team right now. We’re going to have to build some toughness and some grit. We’re don’t have enough of that right now. We’re going to still try to find some identity in terms of leadership and some guys have to step up.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
A year ago, that loss to the Spartans propelled Fresno State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001. The Bulldogs went on to win eight of their last nine regular-season games, then three in a row at the conference tournament.
The difference between that team and this one just two games into 2016-17 is that the Bulldogs last season had Marvelle Harris, Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis. Those three seniors , once they figured it all out, brought a harder edge and that carried the Bulldogs down the stretch even with Karachi Edo and Paul Watson missing time with wrist and ankle injuries.
The makeup of the Bulldogs this season is different – mutable, without question, but different.
Edo, a dynamic presence, is ineligible through the fall semester. Watson and Cullen Russo, the other seniors, are quieter personalities, as is junior point guard Jaron Hopkins.
But, coach Rodney Terry said, they are going to have to step out of their comfort zone.
“That’s going to be the challenge – who is going to step up and do that,” Terry said after Monday night’s game. “The thing about it is, at a point you have to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to do something to make other guys around me better right now.’
The loss to Prairie View A&M snapped the Bulldogs’ nine-game winning streak at Save Mart Center. They had not lost since the conference opener last season against New Mexico.
“They’re older players and it’s not enough to know your assignment and know what you have to do. You have to make other guys around you better and those guys are capable of doing that. They have to do it. No one can do it for them. They can’t look around and see if anyone else is going to do it. You have to do it.”
The Bulldogs, having blown this one, can’t afford another Prairie View A&M.
It was a damaging loss for the Bulldogs and for the conference, which is presssing its member schools to schedule better opponents at home to help boost the league’s RPI.
Fresno State could not do that this season, in large part because of a lack of money to buy guarantee games.
The Bulldogs on Saturday at Save Mart Center have Lamar, which like Texas-San Antonio in the opener and Prairie View A&M is another bottom dweller from a year ago. Fresno State’s final nonconference opponents at home are Menlo College, Cal Poly and Holy Names.
It has to win all of those games. It needed to win all of those games.
Waiting on the road are Bakersfield, Oregon State, Drake, Marquette, Pacific and Oregon.
334 RPI for Prairie View A&M in 2015-16
The Bulldogs know how to win those types of games; they did it last season. The question is whether they have it within them this year, and the leadership to drive it.
“I want this to be a player-driven team,” Terry said. “It can’t be a coach-driven team. We can’t want it more than our guys want it right now. This is their season, some of them seniors, some of them juniors, but even as freshmen, that time flies by quick. You better seize the moment and take advantage of every opportunity that you have.”
On the night Fresno State unveiled its Mountain West Tournament championship banner, it didn’t have it. But it needs to find it, fast. The first road game is next Tuesday at Bakersfield, which has three starters and seven letter winners returning from its WAC championship and NCAA Tournament team.
“We’re not a tough team right now,” Terry said. “We’re going to have to build some toughness and some grit. We don’t have enough of that right now. We’re going to still try to find some identity in terms of leadership and some guys have to step up.
“We’ve got some talented guys and they’re going to have to sit down and really not try to live on last year. They have to come on and play right now. I’m not saying anything that I didn’t say to those guys a little while ago. We’re going to build some toughness.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
LAMAR AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 11 a.m. at Save Mart Center (15,596)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-1; Cardinals 1-0
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)