There was a little blood midweek, which isn’t the worst thing for Fresno State after a loss at Air Force that was short of expectations when it came to the result and mostly everything that led to it.
Urgency, intensity. They just weren’t there in Wednesday’s loss in Colorado Springs.
“We just didn’t show up with the energy that we needed, and it showed,” senior Paul Watson said. “It’s unfortunate, but you can’t afford to do that especially in this conference and especially on the road. This is a league where on any given night, anybody can beat anybody.
“I can’t really explain why guys didn’t play hard, but it’s something that’s not acceptable, and we’ve been pushing each other in practice to get that out of guys.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Fresno Bee
The Bulldogs did that while preparing for a Mountain West game on Saturday at Save Mart Center against a Boise State team at the top of the conference standings.
We practice really hard and, truth be known, we’ve probably practiced harder than we’ve played in some games, to be honest.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
The Broncos (11-4, 4-0) come in on a seven-game winning streak and in their conference games are leading in scoring defense (69.5) and opponent field-goal percentage (36.9). They have some tough matchups with 6-foot-7 forward Chandler Hutchison and 6-8, 265-pound forward Nick Duncan, who has hit 36 shots from the 3-point line overall, which is leading the team and fifth in the conference.
But the Bulldogs are more concerned with their own issues, after the loss at Air Force left them 10-7 overall and 2-3 in conference play.
They got after one another in practice – freshman Bryson Williams had to come out of a drill for a few minutes to get a small cut over his left eye attended to by a trainer. And coach Rodney Terry said there will be some lineup changes against the Broncos. Terry declined to reveal his plans, but he could go in a number of directions.
In the loss to Air Force, point guard Jaron Hopkins played only 23 minutes and forward Cullen Russo sat out of the final 4:41, exiting an eight-point game. Hopkins had a plus/minus of minus-12 in the game, and Russo a minus-9.
The Bulldogs have won 10 consecutive Mountain West games played at the Save Mart Center. Their last loss was to New Mexico, 77-62 last season.
“We’re going to change it up a little bit,” Terry said, “just to get guys to continue to compete at a high level and continue to push each other.
“We’re still trying to get these guys to compete at the level we want to compete. We’ve shown we can do it in different spurts during the season, but we have to do it for longer periods of time now in conference play and with more urgency.”
The Bulldogs shouldn’t have a problem with that at this point, but the makeup of this team is much different than the one that a year ago landed the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001. The 2015-16 team was led by senior guards Marvelle Harris, Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis.
Bottom line, the current group of players needs better carryover from practice into games.
“We practice really hard and, truth be known, we’ve probably practiced harder than we’ve played in some games, to be honest,” Terry said. “I don’t get that. The thing I’ve tried to say to those guys is it can’t be coach-driven, it has to be player-driven, so when you get on the floor now you have to be able to do that. Obviously, we coach hard in practice and that’s our time to coach and try to get our guys better, but when it’s game time it’s player time and players have to step up and do that, and I think these guys will.”
Time and Boise State – and Colorado State, Nevada and Utah State after that – will tell whether the Bulldogs come up with an appropriate response.
I can’t really explain why guys didn’t play hard, but it’s something that's not acceptable, and we’ve been pushing each other in practice to get that out of guys.
Fresno State senior Paul Watson
“I’m a senior. I’m a leader on the team,” said Watson, the Bulldogs’ top scorer at 14 points per game and best perimeter defender. “If things aren’t going right, it falls on my shoulders. That just comes with the territory. A lot of people can’t deal with it, but I take pride in trying to pull guys together and try to have them embrace the culture that we’ve been built on for so many years now.
“Coach Terry is putting that on me, getting guys to understand what we need to do to win. I’m trying to force guys to continue to play hard, continue to play with energy and continue to talk because that’s what it’s going to take to win.”
Et cetera – The Bulldogs, who began their two-game slide at San Jose State, have not lost three consecutive conference games since the 2013-14 season. They lost five in a row before recovering to go 9-9 in the Mountain West and advance to the championship series of the College Basketball Invitational, where they lost in three games to Siena.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. BOISE STATE
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 10-7, 2-3 Mountain West; Broncos 11-4, 4-0
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themwc.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Notable: Broncos enter on a seven-game winning streak, the past four in conference. They are the only MW team without a conference loss. Boise State was 4-0 in the league last season, then lost to San Diego State. It has not been 5-0 in conference since 1987-88 in the Big Sky.