Fresno State is likely to be without Jaron Hopkins and Johnny McWilliams on Saturday at Cal Poly, complicating things on both ends of the floor.
Hopkins, the point guard, hurt his back Tuesday in a victory over Bakersfield and is listed as doubtful. McWilliams is questionable with an ankle injury, making coming away with what would be a sixth consecutive victory just a little trickier.
“Just like anybody this time of year, you have guys that are playing through something,” coach Rodney Terry said. “Obviously, you’re always trying to mend guys and keep guys moving. We’re on the mend a little bit right now, but it’s next man up.”
Jahmel Taylor moved to the point in the second half of that victory over the Roadrunners, and while his shots were down the overall production was up.
After hitting all three of his shots in the first half, including two 3-pointers, he was 1 of 3 in the second half with five rebounds and three assists. The Bulldogs’ points per possession jumped to 1.167 from .993, the big difference coming at the foul line. They went to the basket much more aggressively, going to the line 26 times and making 21.
Deshon Taylor also handled the ball, and the Bulldogs have a number of options in initiating offense against the Mustangs’ zone.
“They had to do it the whole half the other night against a good Bakersfield team that pressured us up the floor the whole game,” Terry said. “We’ll miss Jaron coming down and getting some rebounds for us, and he could score in transition, too.
“If we were dominated by a one-dribble guy then we’d be in a world of hurt right now because we’d have to figure it out right now. But we’ve always had multiple guys that can initiate offense for us. Ray Bowles can initiate offense. Deshon can initiate it. J.T. can initiate it. Any of those guys can initiate it.”
Cal Poly is a different challenge than the Roadrunners, who in addition to the pressure threw some junk defenses against the Bulldogs.
There is risk in not attacking and handling it well – a 25-win Fresno State team in 2015-16 went to Cal Poly in December and lost 77-65, hitting just 34.8 percent of its shots including 22.7 percent on 3-pointers.
Since losses at Stanford and at Cal in November, Cal Poly opponents have hit 40.2 percent of their shots and 29.7 percent beyond the 3-point line.
Hopkins, who had put together games with 29 points, five rebounds, four assists and seven steals in a victory over Weber State and 26 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in a win at Long Beach State before his injury, would help.
But the Bulldogs will proceed carefully – Fresno State over the next nine days has games at home against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Oregon and Cal State Monterey Bay and opens Mountain West play on Dec. 27 against Nevada, which was picked to win the conference in a preseason media poll.
“We don’t really have a timetable on his situation,” Terry said. “It’s going to be touch and go for a while with him. We’re not going to put him in a position where he’s not fully healthy to be out there. We’ll never put any of our guys in that situation.
“I think for him right now his role to continue to help this team is to see it through a coach’s lens and help his teammates out there on the floor, be an extension of a coach right now. I think it will really help him when it’s time for him to start playing again.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT CAL POLY
- Saturday: 7 p.m. at Mott Athletics Center (3,032) in San Luis Obispo
- Webcast/radio: Big West TV/KFIG (940 ESPN)
- Records: Bulldogs 7-2, Mustangs 4-4
- Of note: Cal Poly was picked last of nine in the Big West Conference preseason poll, but it has a win at Santa Clara, against Charleston and last out at home over Pepperdine. The Mustangs have been led by 5-10 point guard Donovan Fields, averaging 16.6 points and 5.4 assists per game. He has hit 46 percent of his shots, including 16 of 32 beyond the 3-point line, and 25 of 25 at the free-throw line. Senior guard Victor Joseph averages 14.6 points per game, but has hit only 39.4 percent of his shots, taking 99, one fewer than Fields.