Fresno State Basketball

Fresno State game day: Bulldogs can get to 20 wins and grab bye at MW Tournament

Hutson, Bulldogs on three-game winning streak

Fresno State coach Justin Hutson previews the Bulldogs' Mountain West Conference match up against Air Force Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. The Falcons are a tough team to defend, but have struggled playing on the road this season.
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Fresno State coach Justin Hutson previews the Bulldogs' Mountain West Conference match up against Air Force Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. The Falcons are a tough team to defend, but have struggled playing on the road this season.

Fresno State has No. 6-ranked Nevada on Saturday, but can’t get caught looking past Air Force. Get this one and the Bulldogs could be in solid shape for securing the No. 2 seed next month at the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament.

The Bulldogs and Utah State are tied for second place at 10-3 and both play Nevada and fourth-place San Diego State in the final four games of the regular season.

The Aggies have them at home while the Bulldogs have to go on the road for those two games. But Utah State also has games at 6-7 Boise State and at 4-8 Colorado State, while the Bulldogs get 2-10 Wyoming and 0-12 San Jose State at the Save Mart Center.

The basics

Fresno State: 19-6 and 10-3; tied for second in MW

  • Coach: Justin Hutson, 19-6 in first season

Air Force: 10-15 and 5-8; tied for seventh

  • Coach: Dave Pilipovich, 94-128 in eighth season

Series: Fresno State leads 19-6

Tipoff: 7 p.m., Save Mart Center

TV/Radio: AT&T Sports Net/940AM ESPN, 1600AM ESPN Deportes

Fresno State senior Braxton Huggins was selected Mountain West Conference player of the week after averaging 22.5 points in victories over Boise State and New Mexico. The Bulldogs play Air Force Wednesday Feb. 20, 2019 at the Save Mart Center

Probable starters

Fresno State

G Deshon Taylor 16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.5 apg

G Braxton Huggins 19.0, 4.5, 1.6

G Noah Blackwell 8.6, 2.4, 3.9

F Sam Bittner 7.0, 4.8, 2.2

F Nate Grimes 12.0, 9.3, 0.8

Air Force

G A.J. Walker 9.0 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 2.0 apg

G Chris Joyce 7.2, 3.0, 1.6

G Caleb Morris 5.9, 3.1, 1.3

F Lavelle Scottie 15.5, 5.2, 1.3

F Ryan Swan 12.2, 7.2, 1.8

The Falcons

Air Force comes in having lost two games in a row and four of five, but with its Princeton-style offense can give the Bulldogs some problems.

“It’s like going to the dentist, to tell you the truth,” coach Justin Hutson said. “You have to play some zone, when you’re in man you have to switch some things that you don’t want to switch, you have to really communicate and do a great job at it.

Air Force forward Lavelle Scottie fires away during the Falcons 65-58 loss to the New Mexico Lobos on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, at Air Force Academy, Colo. Scottie took 20 shots in the first half, finishing 10 of 27 in scoring 20 points. Dougal Brownlie ASSOCIATED PRESS

“They’re always close until maybe the last six to eight minutes. They’ve had some big wins and they’ve had some tough losses and I don’t expect anything different from the Academy. They always come in and play great.”

The Falcons are led by forward Lavelle Scottie, who is averaging 15.5 points per game and has put up 34, 25 and 25 points over the past three, hitting 67.3 percent of his shots in a victory over Wyoming and losses at UNLV and to Utah State.

Ryan Swan and A.J. Walker are averaging 12.3 and 11.2 points per game in conference play, but the Falcons are not as efficient as they have been over the past few seasons scoring at less than 1.000 points per possession in five of their past seven games.

Not at home on the road

The Falcons are 1-8 in road games, 1-5 in conference road games and it’s an easy guess where they got that one win … at San Jose State, which is 3-21, 0-12 and has lost in Mountain West play by an average of 23.4 points.

Air Force had to go to double overtime to get that win, though.

It has struggled to score away from Clune Arena, where it is 4-3 in MW play and averaging 70.9 points per game.

The Falcons on the MW road …

  • PPG: 62.3
  • FG-FGA, Pct.: 148 of 359, 41.2
  • 3FG-FGA, Pct.: 43 of 146, 29.5
  • FT-FTA, Pct. 35 of 53, 66.0
  • APG: 13.3
  • TOPG: 13.0

Air Force does not make many threes – it had 11 in the win at San Jose State, but took 47 shots to get there, hitting just 23.4 percent. It also does not get to the foul line much, averaging only 8.8 free throws per game.

Layup line

Fresno State is sitting on a 20th win and if it comes on Wednesday against Air Force it would be the fastest the Bulldogs have hit 20 since 2003. The past six 20-win seasons they have hit that marker at 20-8, 20-11, 20-9, 20-16 and 20-8.

deshon taylor.JPG
Deshon Taylor (center), shown here in an archive photo, scored a team-high 26 points and shot 5-of-8 behind the arc in Fresno State’s 81-73 win Saturday at New Mexico. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

A victory also would clinch a first-round bye at the Mountain West Tournament – the Bulldogs and Boise State are the only teams in the conference to secure a bye in each of the past four seasons.

  • The Bulldogs have had some issues the past few years defending Air Force. When Hutson was an assistant at San Diego State and running the Aztecs defense, they went into those matchups well-schooled on all of the Falcons’ actions. In those four games, Air Force hit 39.6 percent of its shots in scoring 56 points, 32.8 percent in scoring 50, 38.5 percent in scoring 60 and 25.0 percent in scoring 38.
  • The Falcons have not won at Fresno State since 1995, losing nine in a row.
  • The 84 points the Falcons’ Scottie has put up over the past three games are the most by an Air Force player in a similar stretch since Jarmica Reese scored 86 in 1998.
  • The Bulldogs go into the game leading the Mountain West in 3-point field goal percentage (37.9), 3-point field goals per game (10.0) and 3-pointers made (239) and are one of 16 teams in the nation averaging at least 10.0 threes per game. Air Force opponents have put up 338 threes, second most in the conference, and the Falcons are fourth allowing opponents to hit 33.7 percent.

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
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