Fresno State still is one win away from clinching a bye in the opening round of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament, and Wyoming presents a good opportunity.
So, too, did Air Force one week ago. The Bulldogs fumbled away that one.
But Fresno State with a win over the Cowboys can clinch that bye and then have a week to prepare for a critical matchup at San Diego State. The Aztecs, who play at Utah State on Tuesday, are in third place at 10-4, one-half game ahead of the Bulldogs at 10-5.
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Fresno State: 19-8 and 10-5; fourth in MW
▪ Coach: Justin Hutson, 19-8 in first season
Wyoming: 6-21 and 2-12; 10th in MW
▪ Coach: Allen Edwards, 49-49 in third season
Series: Bulldogs lead 17-11
Tipoff: 7 p.m., Save Mart Center
TV/Radio: Mountain West Network/940AM ESPN, 1600AM ESPN Deportes
G Deshon Taylor 17.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.7 apg
G Braxton Huggins 18.6, 4.4, 1.5
G Noah Blackwell 8.1, 2.4, 3.6
F Sam Bittner 7.1, 4.7, 2.2
F Nate Grimes 11.7, 9.4, 0.8
G Jake Hendricks 10.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.0 apg
G A.J. Banks 4.4, 2.6, 1.1
G Justin James 21.2, 8.4, 4.3
F Hunter Thompson 9.5, 3.0, 0.6
F Trevon Taylor 6.7, 3.3, 0.8
Not getting the calls
After the Bulldogs’ loss at Nevada, Wolf Pack guard Caleb Martin broke down what makes Deshon Taylor such a tough cover. Part of that equation: “He’s one of those guys who knows how to draw fouls and he flops and he’s a little guard compared to our guards so they’re going to give him the call,” Martin said.
Taylor got to the foul line six times in that game, but there were a couple of drives down the stretch where he didn’t get a call.
There also were a few no-calls in the Bulldogs’ loss to Air Force.
A year ago, Taylor got to the line in Mountain West play more than anyone in the conference, 136 times and 7.6 times per game.
To this point this season he is third in foul shots attempted with 81, 5.4 per game.
Fouls and free throw attempts are down this season from last across the conference, but Taylor is not getting to the line at the same rate.
More stunning, though, Fresno State in Mountain West play has been called for 291 fouls, most in the conference, and its foul differential is double that of any other team. The Bulldogs’ opponents have been called for 251 fouls, putting them at a minus-40.
The Top (or Bottom) five …
▪ Fresno State: 291 fouls, 251 opponent fouls, minus-40
▪ San Diego State: 267, 247, minus-20
▪ Wyoming: 242, 224, minus-18
▪ Air Force: 251, 245, minus-6
▪ Boise State: 248, 243, minus-5
The six other teams in the conference have been called for fewer fouls than their opponents led by Nevada and UNLV, both plus-35.
Wyoming is coming off an 83-48 loss at Colorado State, its worst loss ever in the Border War rivalry, and a cursory glance at the box score provides an indication where the Cowboys are at this point in the season.
Justin James, who is leading the Mountain West in scoring overall (21.2 ppg) and is second in conference play (20.1), hit 12 of 24 shots in scoring 29 points. But only three other players hit a field goal and five scored a point. The other 10 Cowboys who got on the floor shot a combined 4 of 28 and 2 of 20 from the 3-point line.
With James missing all four of his threes Wyoming was 2 of 24, 8.3 percent.
“The energy wasn’t there,” James told the Casper Star-Tribune. “They scored more points than we like giving up. It really wasn’t the offense. It was the passion and the energy that should have been displayed out there.”
With an injury-depleted roster James has taken 34.2 percent of the Cowboys’ shots in conference play, highest in the conference by a wide margin.
The top five …
▪ Justin James (Wyoming) 229 of 670, 34.2
▪ Jalen McDaniels (San Diego State) 219 of 803, 27.3
▪ Sam Merrill (Utah State) 220 of 867, 25.4
▪ Lavelle Scottie (Air Force) 223 of 889, 25.1
▪ Caleb Martin (Nevada) 196 of 840, 23.3
When the Bulldogs won at Wyoming on Jan. 30, James hit 8 of 16 shots including 3 of 5 at the 3-point line in scoring 21 points.
▪ Wyoming has scored in the 50s in six of its seven Mountain West road games with its high coming in an 81-76 loss at Air Force.
▪ Fresno State won the first meeting against Wyoming 75-62 at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie, Wyo., Jan. 30, hitting nine 3-pointers in the second half.
Braxton Huggins and Taylor, the Bulldogs’ top two scorers, were a combined 2 of 12 in that game and both finished with just six points.
The altitude might have had some impact – Huggins wasn’t in any foul trouble, but played only 25 minutes in that game. He exited for the first time just 2:56 in and his longest stretches on the floor were less than six minutes.
▪ The Bulldogs have defended James well in the past, aside from the first matchup this season when he scored 21 points with 12 rebounds and six assists.
In seven career games against Fresno State, James has averaged 11.3 points. Among Mountain West opponents, only Boise State has held James to fewer points per game, 10.3 in six games against the Broncos.
▪ Wyoming has used 13 starting lineups this season, tied with Texas-Arlington for the second-most in the nation. National leader Tennessee-Martin, which has had 15 different starting lineups, lost 93-53 at Fresno State in December.
▪ The Cowboys in conference play are a minus-8.9 in rebounding margin, 11th and last in the Mountain West by a wide margin. Boise State is 10th at minus-2.4.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada