The game was played coming up on five years ago now, but it still sticks out. Fresno State went to Wyoming in 2014 and in a 72-66 loss the officials called 22 fouls on the Bulldogs and sent the Cowboys to the free throw line 37 times – in the second half.
It’s just a footnote and dubious outside of its trivia value on Saturday, when the Bulldogs play at Wyoming needing a victory to gain ground in the race for a first-round bye next month at the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
Saturday’s game could also be won from 15 feet, by the Bulldogs or by the Cowboys.
Now into the second half of conference play, no team has attempted more free throws or put its opponent at the free throw line more than Wyoming.
The Cowboys have scored 26.7 percent of their points from the foul line, hitting 201 of 266 free throws, 75.6 percent. Against all Division I opponents, 25.0 percent of their points have come from free throws, tied with South Carolina for third in the nation.
They have attempted 57 more foul shots than Colorado State and 94 more than Utah State and the Rams and the Aggies have played two more Mountain West games than the Cowboys.
They have attempted 57 more free throws than Fresno State, 91 more than New Mexico, 92 more than Boise State and 106 more than San Jose State and the Bulldogs, Lobos, Broncos and Spartans all have played one more conference game.
That could become an issue for the Bulldogs, who can rack up fouls, and in this game will have some tough individual matchups at the three, four and five against Justin James, Hayden Dalton and Alan Herndon.
“That Dalton, every year he has gotten better and better,” Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. “He is such a hard matchup, not only for us but for everybody in the league because he is a guy that can take you inside out, he can handle the basketball, he can rebound the basketball and he’s 6-9. He’s one of the better players in our league, he and James, both.”
James has scored 30 or more four times in MW play with a high of 33 in wins over Nevada and at San Jose State, is fourth in the conference in scoring at 19.1 points per game and fourth in made free throws with 107. Dalton is eighth in the MW at 17.3 and 81 of his points have come from the line, tied for ninth in the conference.
How important are those foul shots to the Cowboys? Wyoming is third in the Mountain West in scoring at 79.9 points per game, but is eighth in field goal percentage (43.6) and 10th in 3-point field goal percentage (33.2).
“Can’t put them on the line,” Terry said.
But the Bulldogs also can flip that to their favor.
Wyoming has put its opponents at the line an average of 26.1 times per game in conference play, and the Bulldogs are a team that can rack up foul shots.
Deshon Taylor is leading the conference in free throws attempted and free throws made by wide margins; his 190 free throw attempts are 39 more than Boise State forward Chandler Hutchison in second, and his 158 free throws are 49 more than Hutchison and Nevada forward Jordan Caroline tied for second.
That is an exploitable area against the Cowboys, who could be a bit leg-weary after playing double overtime against Nevada, overtime at San Jose State and double overtime at Colorado State in their past three games.
Once they get to the free throw line, though, Fresno State has to make those foul shots.
The Bulldogs are tied for third in the Mountain West in free throw attempts in conference play and only ninth in free throw percentage at 69.4.
Terry said he’s expecting the stripe to be an important spot on the court Saturday.
“That has always been a place where every time we go there it seems like there’s a lot of foul shots,” Terry said. “We’re not going to be surprised by it. We just have to go in and hopefully do our part and not give them more than we get.”
Fresno State: 15-8, 5-5 in the MW
Wyoming: 15-7, 6-3
The line: Cowboys -1.5
Forward Nate Grimes has played only 11, 10 and 14 minutes since he had 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots in a 77-73 victory at San Diego State on Jan. 17, but he could see that expand in a matchup against Herndon.
“This will be a good challenge for Nate, having to guard a shooting big man in this game,” Terry said. “They’ll bring (Andrew) Moemeka in and Moemeka is more of a player like Nate, who rebounds the ball and brings energy.
“But Herndon is going to be a different challenge, seeing a five man that can really shoot the ball. We used to have a lot of pick-and-pop fives in this league. You can’t lose those guys because the minute you get sunk in, those guys can drill a 3 on you and Herndon is going to pose that threat all the time.”
Wyoming has won four games in a row, the last three in at least one overtime. The Cowboys beat Nevada 104-103 in double overtime on Jan. 24, won at San Jose State 90-86 in overtime on Jan. 27 and won at Colorado State 91-86 in double overtime on Jan. 31.
A look at the average minutes logged over the past three games for both teams:
PG: Cody Kelley, 15.3 minutes
SG: Hunter Maldonado, 28.3
SF: Justin James, 41.3
PF: Hayden Dalton, 38.3
C: Alan Herndon, 42.0
PG: Jaron Hopkins, 32.6 minutes
G: Deshon Taylor, 33.3
G: Ray Bowles Jr., 35.3
F: Sam Bittner, 24.3
F: Bryson Williams, 31.0
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT WYOMING
- Saturday: 11 a.m. at Arena-Auditorium, Laramie, Wyo.
- TV/radio: AT&TSportsNet/KFIG (AM ESPN 940)
- Records: Bulldogs 15-8, 5-5 Mountain West; Cowboys 15-7, 6-3
- Of note: The Cowboys won at Colorado State 91-86 in two overtimes on Wednesday, getting 26 points from Hayden Dalton and 25 from Justin James. Alan Herndon also had 11 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three blocked shots and two steals for the Cowboys, who have won four games in a row. Wyoming has not shot the ball well this season, ranking only eighth in the Mountain West in field goal percentage, but is third in the conference in scoring offense. The Cowboys are averaging 79.9 points per game. James is fourth in the Mountain West in scoring, averaging 19.1 points per game. Wyoming also is last in the Mountain West in scoring defense, allowing 78.3 points per game.