Fresno State didn’t have Nate Grimes available for its first game. Deshon Taylor was out for four games with a dislocated left elbow. Braxton Huggins missed one due to the flu. Before Noah Blackwell settled in at the point, New Williams had started, and both went through stretches where they struggled on the floor.
Coach Justin Hutson has had a lot to deal with 17 games into his first season, and will have more on Tuesday night in a matchup with San Diego State at the Save Mart Center.
Blackwell, who has averaged 5.2 assists in 12 starts, is questionable to play with a hamstring injury suffered in a victory at Boise State in which Hutson and his staff completely flipped their script at halftime after the Bulldogs had hurt only themselves trying to attack the Broncos’ 2-3 zone.
If Blackwell can’t go, that would tug at the Bulldogs’ depth and likely add up to more minutes for Taylor, who already is averaging 35.0 per game, third most in the Mountain West Conference.
“It seems like we have to adjust every week,” Hutson said after the Bulldogs’ win at Boise State. “You want to pressure more, but now if Noah is out it’s going to be harder to pressure, as a point guard.
“But we’ll figure it out. Nobody is crying. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. It’s just part of coaching. You just have to make adjustments and go with what you’ve got.”
Figuring out the Aztecs
Hutson and staff might have an easier time figuring out the Aztecs, who have alternated bad losses and big wins through their first four Mountain West games. San Diego State (10-7, 2-2) opened with an 88-64 loss at Boise State, then came home and drilled Wyoming 84-54. That was followed by a 62-48 loss at Air Force and a 97-77 victory over New Mexico.
Hutson was an assistant at San Diego State in two stints, 2006-11 and then 2013-18 before becoming Fresno State coach. No doubt he is very familiar with the Aztecs’ personnel, and what the Bulldogs need to do against them.
San Diego State had 30 assists on 38 baskets in its victory over New Mexico and a zone that worked against Nevada and has been a disaster against everyone else.
That is the most assists and most made field goals the Aztecs have ever had in a Mountain West game. Matt Mitchell and Jeremy Hemsley both had nine assists, the first time two Aztecs have had nine or more assists in the same game going back to 1996-97.
Against Wyoming, they also saw zone.
But with or without Blackwell, San Diego State poses some difficult matchups starting with 6-foot-10 Jalen McDaniels and 6-11 Nathan Mensah.
McDaniels has a double-double in three games in a row, hitting 54.2 percent of his shots in averaging 21.3 points and 11.7 rebounds in that stretch.
Just … why?
Nevada from the 3-point line in Mountain West play …
▪ vs. Utah State: 7 of 29, .241
▪ at New Mexico: 4 of 22, .182
▪ vs. San Jose State: 13 of 34, .382
▪ at Fresno State: 10 of 37, .270
▪ at Boise State: 9 of 25, .360
▪ vs. Air Force: 5 of 27, .185
▪ Total: 48 of 174, .276
The Wolf Pack, No. 7 in the nation for now, also are last in the Mountain West and 259th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage.
At 29.0 threes per game in conference play, they are on pace to jack up 529. Over the past 10 seasons, only three teams have 500 or more attempts from three in conference play and they took them because they were good or moderately good at it.
New Mexico last season led the conference with 506 attempts, but also had a .339 percentage. Wyoming in 2016-17 led the MW with 502, and was fifth at .353. The Cowboys in 2015-16 had 500 attempts from three and were first in the league at .384.
Coach Eric Musselman to NevadaSportsNet: “We have to start taking less threes if we’re going to keep shooting them this way. We can’t keep trying to shoot our way out of it.”
Air Force sliced up UNLV 106-88 on Wednesday, scoring roughly 40 more points than it averaged in its first 16 games (66.3 ppg).
It also was the most points it had ever scored in a Mountain West Conference game.
Something’s gotta give
San Jose State absorbed two more losses – 81-63 to Utah State and 94-56 at UNLV. The loss to the Aggies was the Spartans’ first in conference play by fewer than 20 points. Their scoring differential in the MW: minus-138, and minus-27.6 per game. They have been outscored 427 to 298, 85.4 to 57.8.
Wyoming also is without a win in conference play, 0-5 after its 83-53 loss to New Mexico. Its scoring differential is minus-102, and 20.4 per game. The Cowboys have been outscored 375 to 273, 75.0 to 54.6.
When Air Force went 0-16 in conference play in 2008-09, the Falcons had a scoring differential of minus-219, and minus-13.5 per game.
Grab the popcorn: The Cowboys and Spartans play on Wednesday in Laramie, Wyo.
In its victory over Wyoming on Saturday, New Mexico went away from the zone it had used to club Nevada – and also had deployed in the double-digit losses to UNLV, at Colorado State and at San Diego State that followed.
Those were not pretty games. The Lobos allowed …
▪ UNLV: 28 of 56, .500, 80 points, 40 points in paint
▪ Colorado State: 32 of 57, .561, 91 points, 44 points in paint
▪ San Diego State: 38 of 69, .551, 97 points, 50 points in paint
New Mexico allowed an injury-depleted Wyoming team to hit only 19 of 54 shots (.352) including 6 of 22 (.273) from the 3-point line.
▪ Ugly numbers at the 3-point line are nothing new to Nevada. Twice in the past five seasons it has ranked last in 3-point field goal percentage in conference games, going 84 of 317 (.265) in 2015-16 and 64 of 240 (.267) in 2014-15.
Those teams finished 24-14 and 10-8 in the Mountain West and 9-22 and 5-13.
▪ In Fresno State’s victory at Boise State it out-rebounded the Broncos by a 33-25 margin. Boise State had been out-rebounded only four times in its first 17 games and the minus-8 against the Bulldogs was its largest differential.
The Bulldogs came out of the game ranked only seventh in the MW in rebounding margin at plus-1.9.
▪ The head referee in Sunday’s Saints-Rams NFC championship game, whose crew is being blamed for costing the Saints a shot at the Super Bowl, is Bill Vinovich. He’s also a college basketball referee, including the Jan. 12 Fresno State-Nevada game at the Save Mart Center.
▪ Utah State center Neemias Queta had a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds along with two assists, two steals and three blocked shots in a victory over Colorado State and the 6-foot-11 freshman from Portugal is developing into a problem for Mountain West opponents.
“That kid will play at the highest level – he’s a pro,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said on his postgame radio show. “I already know NBA guys are talking about him. He’s a terrific player. He changes the game on both ends of the floor.”
When Fresno State won at Utah State 78-77, Queta had 16 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots … but also a plus-minus of minus-4.
One other note: Queta is a journalism major.