A few months back when Fresno State released its basketball schedule, this one didn’t look to hold a great deal of intrigue.
Lamar, in game three of the 2016-17 season, a year after it went 11-19 with an RPI of 337, visits for an early 11 a.m. tip. On a football Saturday, it is unlikely to draw much of a crowd to Save Mart Center.
But toss a loss to Prairie View A&M into that mix for Fresno State and this becomes a very interesting matchup for the Bulldogs (1-1), who were needled hard by coach Rodney Terry for their lack of just about everything in that loss to the Panthers.
Will they have the needed response?
I was very pointed with them, but I was also very pointed in saying that we were going to get back to work on it. Without watching tape we just went right to work on it, whether it was rotations, whether it was staying in front of the basketball and one on one defense, whether it was taking more charges, transition defense.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
It is a pressing question as Terry and the Bulldogs put together the pieces for a run at a repeat NCAA Tournament bid. They were 14-8 and couldn’t string together more than two wins in a row last season, remember, before finally taking flight – and the schedule only gets tougher after Lamar heads back to Texas.
“We know there are some areas that we have to continue to get better with,” Terry said. “We have to play with better energy and activity from a defensive standpoint. We have to continue to build our defense. But I go back as a reference point to last year. We won the Mountain West and probably the first third of our ballgames, we didn’t have perfect defense. We didn’t have perfect defense for a long stretch.
“There were some possessions in our game with Lamar last year that were just horrendous. Defense is something you have to continue to get better with each and every day. You have to continue to emphasize it and get better with it, keep guys in stances, take the middle away, finish with physical block outs. A lot of times you have to go through some things to get better with it and we will ...”
Forward Paul Watson, one of the Bulldogs’ seniors seemingly called out by Terry after an 84-78 loss to Prairie View, said they will be there.
Fresno State has tickets for its game against Lamar at Save Mart Center starting at $10; those also can be redeemed for a free ticket to the Bulldogs’ football game against Hawaii at 4 p.m.
Among Terry’s postgame statements: “We’re not a tough team right now. 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 right now.
“We’ve got some talented guys and they’re going to have to sit down and really not try to live on last year.”
Watson said the message was received.
“I think every guy has looked in the mirror and learned from the last game,” Watson said, “took the criticism, and I feel like every guy has bounced back and is prepared for (Lamar).
“He might have called some guys out a little bit and let them know that they needed to step up their play, but we all needed to. It’s a team thing, especially on the defensive end. It wasn’t one guy that needed to do anything in particular better. It’s a team effort.”
The tip time and a near empty arena will test that and so will the Cardinals, who won their second straight to open the season with a 63-60 victory at Oregon State on Wednesday.
I think every guy has looked in the mirror and learned from the last game, took the criticism, and I feel like every guy has bounced back and is prepared for (Lamar).
Fresno State forward Paul Watson
The challenge might be at the offensive more than the defensive end, as it was in the loss to Prairie View A&M, but the Bulldogs can take nothing for granted.
Lamar will pressure and try to speed up the Bulldogs, force mistakes. In its victory at Oregon State. the Cardinals forced 27 turnovers, leading to 30 points, and trailed for only 55 seconds against a Pacific-12 Conference team that Fresno State will visit on Nov. 25.
But really, it’s up to the Bulldogs and what they bring to the game.
“I was very pointed with them, but I was also very pointed in saying that we were going to get back to work on it,” Terry said. “Without watching tape we just went right to work on it, whether it was rotations, whether it was staying in front of the basketball and one on one defense, whether it was taking more charges, transition defense.
“I thought our guys responded well to it. Now we just have to have carry over to continue to get better, talking on defense and how important all of that is.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
LAMAR AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 11 a.m. at Save Mart Center (15,596)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-1; Cardinals 2-0
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)