When Fresno State played at Nevada two weeks ago, the Bulldogs got a career-high 40 points from Marvelle Harris, a key Mountain West Conference road victory and a good idea what they needed to do in the rematch to keep the Wolf Pack from reversing their fortunes the second time around.
Deny paint touches to forward A.J. West, certainly. But more than that, stop the basketball in transition and in the half court, keep guards Marqueze Coleman and D.J. Fenner out of the lane and away from what has been a soft spot in the Bulldogs’ defense much of the season.
“One-on-one defense, staying in front of the basketball is going to be at a premium in this game,” coach Rodney Terry said. “They’re a good driving team; they can drive the basketball. You have to guard their guys straight up. They can all make shots. You want to stay in front if at all possible and then contest their shots.”
If the Bulldogs can do that and turn them all into jump shooters in the rematch on Saturday at the Save Mart Center, their chances to rebound from that triple-overtime loss to Wyoming go up considerably, with the Wolf Pack coming in as one of the poorest-shooting teams in Division I.
In a three-game losing streak, which started with the Bulldogs’ 69-66 victory on Jan. 10 at the Lawlor Events Center, the Wolf Pack has shot just 36.4% and that is with West, their leading scorer, hitting 19 of 33 shots (57.6%) — all of them coming from in close around the basket.
At the 3-point line during the skid, the Pack has made an ugly 9% of their shots. That’s a 5 of 44 — 2 of 16 against Fresno State, 1 of 10 at Colorado State and 2 of 18 against Utah State.
And that, obviously, stands out to the Bulldogs, who are 9-10 but 4-2 in the Mountain West and have a chance to move back up in the conference standings.
Nevada is ranked in a tie for 312th of 351 in the nation in 2-point field-goal percentage, hitting only 43.1%. It is 350th in 3-point field-goal percentage, making only 24.5%.
The Wolf Pack and San Jose State (2-15) are the only MW teams that have not hit at least 50% of their shots in a game this season — Nevada topping out at 48.1% in a victory over Northwest Christian, an NAIA Division II program.
“We know they’re a running team, so we’re just really stressing getting back and stopping the fire, stopping their transition and make them play in the half court,” point guard Emmanuel Owootoah said.
The Bulldogs did that in stretches in the first meeting. But Nevada scored 34 of its points in the paint, with West hitting 8 of 11 shots. Coleman was 5 of 8, three of those baskets coming at the rim, and he got to the free-throw line 14 times, most of those foul shots the result of strong moves to the basket.
And when the Wolf Pack put together a 16-3 run in the second half to tie the score at 56 with 3:55 remaining, 12 of their points came in the paint. They scored six points off of offensive rebounds by West, four on layups when they got out in transition and two on a drive through the Bulldogs’ defense.
“Their guards are always in attack mode,” Terry said. “Their guards are good in transition, really good in transition putting pressure on the basket and their post guys put a lot of pressure on you from a physical standpoint, having to block out and guard them in the post because they’ll just pound that ball inside.
“We have to stay in front. They do a great job putting pressure on the basket. They really make you have to guard. We have to get back with our transition defense or they’ll come down and if you’re not stopping the ball they’ll go right past you.”