Fresno State forward Torren Jones was supposed to be back from a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules and play Saturday against UNLV.
The disciplinary action has been lifted, but the 6-foot-9 junior, who was a major piece in the Bulldogs’ win in Las Vegas in their conference opener in December, has been ruled out against the Rebels with what coach Rodney Terry said was a medical issue.
“It’s something that we’re working through day to day,” he said.
Against the Rebels, in a matchup between two of the more perplexing teams in the Mountain West Conference, that could pose a few problems.
UNLV is not the same team it was before the new year, when Fresno State went into the Thomas & Mack Center and came away with a 69-66 victory. Coach Dave Rice was fired Jan 10 in the middle of his fifth season with the Rebels 9-7, including an 0-3 start in Mountain West Conference play. And forward Ben Carter, who led the Rebels with 12 points and had eight rebounds in that game against the Bulldogs, is out after suffering a season-ending left knee injury in a Jan. 30 loss to San Diego State.
Without Carter, interim coach Todd Simon had the Rebels (13-10, 4-6) in a four-guard lineup last time out in an 87-83 loss at New Mexico. And with Jones out, that becomes a much more interesting challenge for the Bulldogs.
They can run for days. That’s one of the things that we need – transition defense.
Fresno State guard Cezar Guerrero ahead of Saturday’s game vs. UNLV
Fresno State (14-8, 5-4) has answers. Terry can slide Paul Watson down to the four from the three if need be; the 6-7 junior played there almost exclusively in his first two seasons. Cullen Russo, who has started the past two games, is a capable defender on the perimeter with his length and athleticism.
But in the first matchup against UNLV, Jones had one of his best games of an uneven season with 18 points and eight rebounds, five at the offensive end. That included a key putback off a missed free throw with 25 seconds remaining that put the Bulldogs in the lead, getting the best on that play of Stephen Zimmerman, the Rebels’ 7-foot freshman forward.
The 6-9 Russo could get some minutes against Zimmerman and in practice Friday guarded the five, the four and three. Karachi Edo, who is listed at 6-6, will start and the Bulldogs also will have to get some productive minutes out of sophomore Terrell Carter.
“I think it will be all of those guys,” Terry said. “I think Terrell using his size in there will really help as well. Karachi has shown he can guard bigger guys from the day he stepped on this campus, so he has guarded bigger guys. Zimmerman is a really good player, a talented player, and we’re going to have to do a good job of contesting his shot and keeping him off the glass.
“A lot will play out within the game, whether you’re battling fouls or whatever. (Russo) will have to be a versatile guy who can play a number of positions.”
33 Bulldogs points off turnovers in the first meeting with UNLV, a 69-66 Fresno State win on Dec. 30
It will be a game of adjustment, though the aim is the same as that first matchup, keeping the Rebels out of transition. Fresno State did that the first time, allowing UNLV only five fast-break points, and the Rebels have not been the same at a slower pace.
They played to 73 possessions against the Bulldogs and when at 73 or fewer the Rebels are 4-7 this season. When at 74 or more, they are 9-3.
“It’s one of the top things we have on our priority list when it comes to them because they’ve got horses and they can run, they can get up and down,” senior guard Cezar Guerrero said. “They can run for days. That’s one of the things that we need – transition defense. And they have a great big man in Zimmerman. He’s having a lot of production in the paint. It’s like how we said against (Wyoming guard Josh Adams), it has to be a team effort to stop him as well as everybody else on the team.
“But you know they’re going to come out hungry the second time around. The first time, we beat them. They’re going to come in hungry and they’re going to come after us. They’re going to see us as meat, because we’re coming in off a loss (at San Jose State). We’re going to have to put our best foot forward and defend our yard.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. UNLV
- Saturday: 4 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 14-8, 5-4 Mountain West; Rebels 13-10, 4-6 (lost to New Mexico 87-83 on Tuesday night)
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)