Fresno State heads to one of America’s iconic college basketball arenas, The Pit in Albuquerque. Officially, it’s now known as Dreamstyle Arena. Opened in 1966, it gets its nickname from its design with the floor 37 feet below street level.
The Bulldogs are only 1-4 at New Mexico since joining the Mountain West, the win coming in 2016 in the middle of a nine-game winning streak that extended from the regular season through winning the conference tournament.
A win would keep Fresno State in or tied for second in the conference race – Utah State, also 9-3 in the MW, plays on the road at Air Force.
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Fresno State: 18-6 and 9-3; tied for second in MW
- Coach: Justin Hutson, 18-6 in first season
New Mexico: 11-13 and 5-7; tied for seventh
- Coach: Paul Weir, 30-28 in second season; 58-34 overall
Tipoff: 4 p.m., Dreamstyle Arena - The Pit
TV/Radio: ESPN3/940AM ESPN
G Deshon Taylor 16.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.6 apg
G Braxton Huggins 18.7, 4.5, 1.6
G Noah Blackwell 8.4, 2.4, 4.0
F Sam Bittner 7.3, 4.9, 2.3
F Nate Grimes 12.2, 9.4, 0.8
G Makuach Maluach 9.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.7 apg
G Keith McGee 8.7, 1.1, 1.7
G Drue Drinnon 3.2, 1.2, 2.5
F Corey Manigault 8.2, 4.3, 0.5
F Carlton Bragg 10.7, 8.0, 0.6
In the Bulldogs’ 82-70 victory over the Lobos at the Save Mart Center they had a 42-20 edge in points in the paint, a lot of it from guards driving to the rim.
Fresno State had 15 layups or dunks with five from Deshon Taylor, who hit seven shots in all, scored 20 points and had four assists. Taylor also got to the foul line 10 times, more than he has in any conference game this season.
Every part of that equation could play for the Bulldogs again.
Fresno State had its worst game of the season in hitting only 4 of 20 shots from the 3-point line – the three ball has accounted for 39.1 percent of the Bulldogs’ offense, highest in the Mountain West. But they still scored 82 points, their second-highest total in conference play, driving the ball to kick, score or get to the line.
The Bulldogs took 32 foul shots, 16.8 more than they have averaged in their 11 other MW games with a high of 22 against San Diego State and a low of six at Utah State.
The 42 points in the paint also was well above an average of 22.5 in their 11 other conference games, the high 30 at San Jose State and the low 16 at UNLV.
Braxton Huggins, who is averaging 26.3 points over the past four games, started his career at New Mexico State and has played at The Pit three times.
The Aggies were 0-3 in those games. But Huggins no doubt will play a larger role for Fresno State than he did in any of those losses.
In the three games, he averaged just 8.7 minutes and scored a total of eight points.
If close late, the ball will likely be in his hands as it was down the stretch of a 65-63 victory over Boise State on Wednesday when an and-one with 28 seconds remaining put the Bulldogs in the lead.
“He has no fear and he’s talented,” coach Justin Hutson said. “I don’t have much fear, either, but I couldn’t make those baskets that he can make. I’m not as talented.
“I think you have to have both. You can’t have a guy who is that talented out there but he’s scared to take the shot or he thinks his coach doesn’t want him to take it or his teammates don’t space the floor for him. It has to take a little bit of everything to have some spacing. But as you can see he can really score the basketball …”
New Mexico will be the second team in a row the Bulldogs get coming off a blowout victory over San Jose State, the Lobos winning 92-60 on Wednesday.
They are not in a great stretch, though. The win over the Spartans (0-11) was only the second in the past six games for New Mexico, and before hitting 50 percent of their shots and 51.9 at the 3-point line it was struggling.
In those five previous games:
▪ They scored 67.8 points per game while allowing 77.0
▪ Hit 38.2 percent of their shots while allowing 45.8
▪ Hit 27.8 percent of their threes while allowing 37.6
▪ Had 32.8 rebounds while allowing 38.2
New Mexico did play road games at Nevada and at Fresno State and had Utah State at home in that stretch, teams that are first and tied for second in the Mountain West.
▪ Nate Grimes is averaging 10.8 rebounds in MW play, second in the conference. More context on the 6-foot-8 junior and his rebounding: he has more rebounds in 12 games than any Bulldogs player has had in a full conference season since 2014.
- 2018: Grimes, 95 in 18 games
- 2017: Jaron Hopkins, 102 in 18 games
- 2016: Cullen Russo, 125 in 18 games
- 2015: Paul Watson, 100 in 18 games
- 2014: Tyler Johnson, 139 in 18 games
▪ After holding Boise State to 3 of 17 at the 3-point line, Fresno State hit the national top 10 in defending the three. The Bulldogs are eighth, opponents hitting just 29.1 percent.
▪ New Mexico point guard Keith McGee didn’t have much of an impact when the Lobos lost at Fresno State, playing to a plus/minus of minus-11.
He could be more of an issue this time around. Over the past three games he has hit 55.9 percent of his shots including 50 percent from three, and is averaging 16.1 points. That includes a dud on the road at Nevada where he was 4 of 14 and scored nine points.
McGee said he and coach Paul Weir had a talk. “He told me, ‘You’ve got to start playing now,’ and it’s been working with him, talking with him, and now sitting down to watch film has gotten easier. When you really sit down to watch film, seeing what mistakes you made before, it makes everything easier.”