The Fresno State Bulldogs had not yet boarded a flight that would take them to a basketball game Saturday at Colorado State and already they were in some foul trouble, a twofold problem that could impact their shot at the program’s first 4-0 conference road start.
When the Bulldogs beat Colorado State on Jan. 5 at the Save Mart Center, Deshon Taylor harassed J.D. Paige, the Rams’ second-leading scorer, into a dismal 1-of-10 afternoon. But Fresno State had problems with Nico Carvacho, the 6-foot-11 junior who is leading the Mountain West in scoring (19.5 points per game), rebounds (12.3) and offensive rebounds (3.8) in conference play.
Against the Bulldogs, Carvacho scored 23 points with 13 rebounds and got to the foul line 13 times, taking more free throws than anyone has to this point in a Mountain West game.
Nate Grimes fouled out, playing 26 minutes. Christian Gray picked up three fouls in 14 minutes.
On the other side of that equation, the Bulldogs are averaging just 8.3 foul shots in conference road games, which could run deeper than just not getting any calls.
Fresno State has won at San Jose State, at Utah State and at Boise State. The victory over San Jose State appears more and more a walkover – the Spartans are 0-6 in the Mountain West and have lost those games by an average of 25.2 points. But the Bulldogs did not start well at the offensive end at Utah State or at Boise State, hitting 33.3 percent and 34.5 percent of their shots, scoring 30 and 22 points and taking only one first-half foul shot between the two games.
“Sometimes you don’t get the calls on the road as much as you do at home, but we have to make sure we’re attacking inside out and getting good shots,” coach Justin Hutson said.
“What we can control is to attack more. We have to be able to get to the line sometimes. We can’t make them foul us, but we have to make sure we’re playing our game and not just moving the ball around the perimeter and shooting jump shots.”
The Bulldogs could have some success with that, even with point guard Noah Blackwell likely out for a second game with a hamstring injury.
The past seven teams to play at Moby Arena have hit a combined 47.6 percent of their shots with four teams shooting better than 50 percent, and some starting guard combos have given Colorado State (7-12, 2-4 in the MW) a lot of trouble.
Deshon Taylor, Braxton Huggins and New Williams all can drive the basketball – the Bulldogs last out came back from a 20-point, first-half deficit to beat San Diego State by doing a much better job attacking the paint and playing inside out, scoring in the lane or kicking the basketball to open shooters. Five of their first six second-half baskets came through the paint, either in the lane or off an assist.
“We have to make sure we attack more,” Hutson said.
Solving Carvacho could be much more of a challenge.
Fresno State (14-4, 5-1) did a good job keeping the Rams center off the offensive boards, blocking out and at times getting an extra body on him.
Carvacho, who had nine offensive rebounds in games against San Houston State and Long Beach State and eight against UNLV, had just two against the Bulldogs.
But to get another road win they will need to be able to defend and keep Carvacho off the boards without fouling, an issue last time.
“We have to stay out of foul trouble and box him out, no question,” Hutson said. “Those are big.”
Grimes is coming off a career-high 38 minutes in the victory over San Diego State – the 6-8 junior had played 30 or more minutes just three times, with a high of 33. That is not the direction Hutson was hoping to go, but the depth there has been inconsistent.
Gray gave the Bulldogs a solid 14 minutes in the first game against the Rams, coming up with eight rebounds, but has played in just two of the past four games for a total of 10 minutes.
Laz Rojas did not get into that first game against Colorado State and in the victory over the Aztecs was on the floor for just one minute – he gave up a post basket to Nathan Mensah, grabbed a defensive rebound off a missed layup, then mishandled a pass in the post and lost the ball for a turnover; in at 14:06, out at 13:09.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada