Fresno State Basketball

Two shots that Nate Grimes missed in monster game could signal key to Utah State matchup

Bulldogs on the rebound

The Fresno State Bulldogs college basketball team has improved its rebounding since they were a minus-8 and gave up 17 offensive rebounds in a loss to Nevada. The Bulldogs are second now in the Mountain West in rebounding margin.
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The Fresno State Bulldogs college basketball team has improved its rebounding since they were a minus-8 and gave up 17 offensive rebounds in a loss to Nevada. The Bulldogs are second now in the Mountain West in rebounding margin.

Fresno State forward Nate Grimes had a monster basketball game in a victory Saturday over New Mexico – 19 points and a Save Mart Center-record 19 rebounds.

But in Tuesday night’s matchup with Utah State, one of the hottest teams in the Mountain West with six wins in a row, two shots that Grimes missed against New Mexico could play large in the game plan against the Aggies.

They both were threes, good looks. Grimes shot them with no hesitation. He has range outside the paint and, yes, even beyond the 3-point line.

“He worked on it all summer,” coach Justin Hutson said. “He’s confident in that little 15-foot shot. When his feet are set he’s a good shooter.”

Those kinds of shots could be big against the Aggies, who have a force inside in 6-foot-11 Neemias Queta. He is leading the conference with 2.5 blocked shots per game and is a big reason Utah State is second in the nation in 2-point field goal percentage defense.

Grimes has a chance to make Queta edge out of the paint to defend that mid-range game, or make the Aggies pay by knocking down those shots.

It worked to a point for New Mexico on Jan. 26: 6-foot-10 Carlton Bragg, who has scored 10 or more points in a game only 16 times in 82 career games between Kansas and New Mexico, hit 6 of 13 shots around but not in the paint in scoring a career-high 18 points and the Lobos stayed in the game until the end. They lost only after a flubbed call by the officials – the conference acknowledged the error after the game – gave Utah State a possession that it cashed in with a 3-pointer in the final seconds of a 68-66 victory.

The Aggies have not mowed down a scary group during their winning streak – besides that New Mexico game, they have two wins over San Jose State and also beat Wyoming, Colorado State and UNLV. But they are one of only four teams in Division I holding opponents to less than 42 percent on 2-point shots (Utah State is at 41.1); there were just two last season, six in 2016-17, six in 2015-16.

Utah State center Neemias Queta (23) blocks the shot of Fresno State forward Sam Bittner (20) during the Bulldogs 78-77 victory over the Aggies Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Logan, Utah. Eli Lucero ASSOCIATED PRESS

Queta blocked six shots on Jan. 9 but the Bulldogs came back from a 12-point deficit to steal a 78-77 victory at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The Bulldogs in that game hit 15 of 35 shots inside the 3-point line and were 12 of 28 on layups..

Fresno State got back into the game by hitting 10 of 16 on threes in the second half after making just 5 of 15 in the first 20 minutes.

If open, Grimes is not shy about firing that jumper – he has hit 57.5 percent of his shots, 25 percent from three.

“It’s pretty solid right now, but we’ll see,” Grimes said. “I don’t want to jinx myself.”

More on Aggies defense

“They’re a really good man-to-man team,” Hutson said. “They play really good defense. They help each other. When you have a shot blocker, it covers a lot of mistakes. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, but it definitely covers them.”

The Aggies in the past six games, paint points allowed and 2-point field goal percentage ...

Wyoming: 16, 13 of 30, 43.3

at San Jose State: 12, 9 of 23, 39.1

Colorado State: 20, 13 of 27, 48.1

New Mexico: 18, 15 of 34, 44.1

San Jose State: 38, 20 of 41, 48.8

UNLV: 20; 12 of 33, 36.4

Fresno State forward Nate Grimes swats away driving shot by Boise State’s Derrick Alston in the second half Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019 at Taco Bell Arena in Boise. Darin Oswald

About those rebounds …

The Bulldogs have not had a long run of rebounding bigs lately, and Grimes’ 19 rebounds in the victory over the Lobos only accentuated that.

Fresno State’s Terrell Carter, right, fights for a shot against Boise State’s Robin Jorch during their game at the Save Mart Center in Fresno on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. CRAIG KOHLRUSS

He has 14 games with 10 or more rebounds, and it was noted Greg Smith had only 13 games with 10 or more rebounds in 64 career games and 63 starts.

Here are a few more ...

Bryson Williams: 65 games, 10 or more five times

Karachi Edo: 120 games, 10 or more 12 times

Cullen Russo: 60 games, 10 or more eight times

Kevin Foster: 62 games, 10 or more 10 times

Terrell Carter: 112 games, 10 or more 0 times

Alex Davis: 63 games, 10 or more three times

Robert Upshaw: 22 games, 10 or more one time

Jerry Brown: 94 games, 10 or more three times

Fresno State guard Braxton Huggins hit a 3-point shot with five seconds remaining to beat Utah State 78-77 Jan. 9, 2018 at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, Utah. CRAIG KOHLRUSS

Layup line …

The past three games between the Bulldogs and Utah State have been decided by a total of six points with the past two on shots in the final seconds.

Braxton Huggins hit that 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds to go to give the Bulldogs the win on Jan. 9. The last time they played at the Save Mart Center, Utah State guard Daron Henson made a 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds to go and Utah State won 65-62.

The Bulldogs have a large body sitting out this season as a redshirt in the 7-foot-1 Assane Diouf, but didn’t use him much in practice getting ready for Queta and the Aggies.

Hutson has one simple reason for that: he doesn’t want to get anyone hurt. “We get one guy hurt, we’re in trouble. We’ve used Assane before, used him as a big body and rim protector and a post-up guy. But we’re in February … we can’t necessarily have him out there trying to block every shot when a little guy comes in.”

Diouf was on the floor after practice with Hutson and assistant Tim Shelton working on his post moves.

Utah State is leading the Mountain West in field goal percentage (47.8) and field goal percentage defense (38.2).

Another Queta-influenced stat: Utah State is leading the Mountain West in rebounding margin by 7.7, more than the next six teams on the plus side of that stat combined – the Bulldogs are plus-2.4 followed by San Diego State at plus-1.9, Colorado State at plus-0.4, UNLV at plus-0.4, San Jose State at plus-0.3 and Nevada at plus-0.1.

Just 22 games into his career, Queta has 56 blocked shots and is already tied for No. 13 on the Aggies’ all-time blocked shots list.

The Bulldogs and Aggies are 7-2 and tied for second place in the Mountain West, one game behind 8-1 and No. 6 Nevada. Both get another shot at the Wolf Pack – Fresno State plays at Nevada Feb. 23 and Utah State gets Nevada at home March 2.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada