Fresno State starts its first Mountain West road trip at Utah State on Wednesday with a chance to gain some traction in the conference race, facing a team that has not rebounded or defended well to this point in the season.
The Bulldogs split their first two MW games at home, losing to Nevada and beating Air Force – and with point guard Jaron Hopkins in a second game back after missing time with a back injury they made some progress in that victory over the Falcons.
Fresno State did a much better job at the offensive end, getting 16 assists on 25 made baskets and hitting 53.2 percent of its shots.
“We aren’t where we needed to be at the end of the year in terms of ball movement and player movement, but as we get Jaron back up to speed the better we’ll do,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We did a better job on offense (against Air Force), but we have work to do. What excites me most about this team is that we haven’t even begun to reach our potential. We have a long way to go.”
The Dee Glen Smith Spectrum has been one more the more difficult buildings for the Bulldogs in the Mountain West and before that in the WAC.
Since 2008, Fresno State is only 2-7 at Utah State and the wins have come by 79-76 in 2014 and 86-85 in ’16.
Fresno State 11-4, 1-1 in the MW
Utah State 6-7, 1-1
Line: Bulldogs -2
Did they pack the defense?
The problems Fresno State has had playing at Utah State have started on the defensive end. Here are the Aggies’ field goal percentages against the Bulldogs when at home:
▪ 2017 – 22 of 39, 56.4
▪ 2016 – 27 of 59, 45.8
▪ 2015 – 29 of 54, 53.7
▪ 2014 – 30 of 59, 50.8
▪ 2012 – 28 of 43, 65.1
Add that all up, and it’s 136 of 254, 53.5 percent.
The Bulldogs this season are 2-1 in their road games, with Arkansas hitting 27 of 56 (48.2 percent) of its shots, Long Beach State 21 of 50 (42.0) and Cal Poly 22 of 60 (36.7).
There might be a plus for Fresno State in those wins at Long Beach State and Cal Poly – the 49ers have hit 49.8 percent of their shots at home, the Mustangs 44.9 percent.
The Bulldogs held both to their worst shooting games on their home floors to this point.
Fresno State has 18 offensive rebounds in its first two MW games and an offensive rebounding percentage of 33.9, second best in the conference.
The Bulldogs turned 10 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance points in the loss to Nevada, eight into seven points in the victory over Air Force and could have the opportunity for more against Utah State. The Aggies lost 6-foot-11 center Norbert Janicek, one of their top returning rebounders, to a season-ending foot injury. They also are only ninth in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage.
The Bulldogs last season were fourth in offensive rebounding percentage, eighth in the three years before that.
Merrill, McEwen at 3
The Bulldogs had a difficult time with Koby McEwen last season, the MW Freshman of the Year hitting 6 of 7 shots including 3 of 4 at the 3-point line in scoring a game-high 22 points in the Aggies’ 78-65 victory.
That 3-point line could be big, not just because the Bulldogs have not defended well there, ranking 10th of 11 in the conference in 3-point field goal defense.
McEwen and Sam Merrill, who is leading Utah State in scoring at 15.1 points per game, took 63.6 percent of their shots there the opening weekend of MW play in a victory over San Jose State and a loss at San Diego State.
“They are another team with a great offensive program,” Terry said. “It is going to be a challenge for us to defend their young guards that can score the basketball and do a great job initiating their offense. Logan is always a difficult place to play, it always has been. It is also one of the better college environments to play in, so I hope we are ready for that challenge.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT UTAH STATE
- Wednesday: 6 p.m. at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (10,270), Logan, Utah
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFIG (AM 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 11-4, 1-1 Mountain West; Aggies 8-7, 1-1
- Of note: The Aggies opened conference play with an 86-72 victory over San Jose State and lost at San Diego State 79-59 Saturday night. Utah State is now 0-5 in road games, including a 65-59 loss at Weber State, a team the Bulldogs dispatched at the Save Mart Center 83-71. The Aggies have been led by guards Sam Merrill and Koby McEwen, who are averaging 15.0 and 13.1 points per game. McEwen hit 6 of 7 shots including 3 of 4 at the 3-point line in scoring a game-high 22 points when Utah State beat Fresno State 78-65 last season in Logan, their only meeting of the season. The Bulldogs hit a season-low 35 percent of their shots (21 of 60) in that loss.