Fresno State Basketball

Warszawski: Dash of Curry helps Fresno State’s Julien Lewis spice up his game

Fresno State’s Julien Lewis (0) shoots against UNLV during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Mountain West Conference men’s tournament Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Las Vegas.
Fresno State’s Julien Lewis (0) shoots against UNLV during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Mountain West Conference men’s tournament Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Las Vegas. AP

Taking after the best shooter in the world has helped Julien Lewis become the best shooter he can be.

The senior guard continued his recent scorching play in Thursday night’s Mountain West Tournament quarterfinal, scoring a game-high 27 points in Fresno State’s 95-82 triumph over UNLV.

Lewis finished 10 of 19 from the field and went 3 of 5 from beyond the arc, giving him 15 three-pointers (out of 23 attempts) over the Bulldogs’ last four games.

Not bad for a guy who, until a couple weeks ago, was known almost exclusively for his defense and mid-range game.

What’s behind the sudden transformation? Turns out Lewis has been watching a certain superstar shooter who plays for the Golden State Warriors.

“To be honest, really what it is is I’ve been looking at Steph Curry,” Lewis said when I cornered him during postgame interviews. “Not trying to copy what he’s doing, but when I watch him I say, ‘I know I can make that same shot.’ I just feel confident.”

Mind you, Lewis isn’t comparing himself to Curry. He’s simply been watching, studying and trying to emulate the soon-to-be two-time NBA MVP.

“When he comes off a pick-and-roll screen I do the same thing: Just raise up,” Lewis said. “I was just, why not? If they come under the screen, I’m just going to raise up. Why not raise up?

“I’ve been looking at what (Curry) does. Not imitating his game but watching the little details when he comes off ball screens. I just read them.”

Lewis’ hot streak – his 22.5 points over the last four games dwarfs a season average of 8.5 – could not have come for a better time for a red-hot Bulldogs team that’s now two wins from the NCAA Tournament.

Fresno State already has a standout performer in MW Player of the Year Marvelle Harris, who was limited to 16 points in 30 foul-plagued minutes. Karachi Edo, Cezar Guerrero and Cullen Russo have been fairly steady.

But when the Bulldogs get Curry-like contributions from Lewis, it changes the whole template.

“We’re a completely different team when Juice is playing at this level,” said Harris, using Lewis’ nickname. “I feel like we’d be a problem for anybody with all the pieces we have.”

Those pieces were certainly a problem for a leg-heavy UNLV squad coming off a triple-overtime victory the day before.

However, fatigue had nothing to do with Fresno State’s 8 for 8 start from the field that set the tone for the evening.

Lewis made two buckets during the early surge and went on to sink his first six shots before clanging a long jumper off the rim. The ball caromed straight to Guerrero, who grabbed the rebound and swished a three-pointer.

Even Lewis’ misses are productive these days.

“What he’s given us is a third scorer that we can count on,” Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry. “Teams have to have that this time of year. They can’t just have one primary scorer or two guys. You need a third guy than can step up any given night and carry you.”

If this keeps up, Lewis will be the one carrying Fresno State to its first NCAA Tournament since 2001.

Ask Lewis’ teammates about his recent play and they’ll feign no surprise. Why? Because this is the guy they’re accustomed to.

“This is the Julien we see in practice every day, the Julien we’ve seen the whole time he’s been here, but he’s never gotten a chance to show it at the level we know we can,” Harris said.

Lewis’ minutes saw a considerable boost when junior Paul Watson suffered a late-season calf injury, opening the door for the native of Galveston, Texas, to crack the starting lineup.

With more scoring responsibility has come more confidence and freedom on the offensive end.

“The confidence he has in practice has really carried over into games,” Terry said.

Lewis, who’s pretty soft-spoken and does not go out of his way to seek attention, would rather deflect praise.

“It’s these guys,” he said, gesturing toward Harris and Guerrero. “These guys have faith in me. I like how they push me every day. They’re the ones pushing me to take those shots I’m taking right now.”

When Lewis transferred from Texas, where he was recruited by Terry and played two seasons for the Longhorns, much was expected.

The production didn’t come as soon as the Bulldogs would’ve liked, but right now the timing couldn’t be better.

“This is what Coach Terry expected me to do and what I expected of myself,” Lewis said. “My ceiling is high – I expect the roof.”

With that, Lewis raised his hand and toward the 60-tall cement ceiling in the Cox Pavilion.

Thanks to Lewis’ elevated game, Fresno State’s NCAA hopes have seldom been higher.

FRESNO STATE 95, UNLV 82

FG

FT

Reb

Min

M-A

M-A

O-T

A

PF

PTS

Lewis

38

10-19

4-5

1-8

1

3

27

Edo

18

5-8

2-2

2-4

1

2

12

Guerrero

22

4-6

8-8

2-5

4

1

17

Russo

34

2-9

0-0

5-7

4

3

4

Harris

30

8-17

0-3

0-3

5

5

16

Watson

3

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Taylor

19

1-4

3-4

0-2

1

1

6

Ellison III

10

0-0

0-0

0-3

0

1

0

Bittner

4

0-1

0-0

0-0

0

1

0

Campbell

0

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

Carter II

22

6-9

1-2

3-6

1

2

13

Totals

200

36-73

18-24

14-40

17

19

95

Percentages: FG .493, FT .750.

3-Point Goals: 5-16, .313 (Lewis 3-5, Guerrero 1-2, Taylor 1-4, Russo 0-1, Bittner 0-1, Harris 0-3).

Team Rebounds: 2.

Blocked Shots: 5 (Edo 3, Russo 2).

Turnovers: 7 (Carter II 2, Harris 2, Russo, Lewis, Edo).

Steals: 6 (Taylor 3, Russo, Guerrero, Harris).

Technical Fouls: None.

FG

FT

Reb

Min

M-A

M-A

O-T

A

PF

PTS

Seagears

38

6-8

4-4

2-4

11

4

17

Cornish

32

1-6

2-4

1-5

1

1

4

McCaw

37

11-17

3-4

1-3

0

1

28

Zimmerman Jr

27

5-11

3-3

1-6

0

5

13

Nwamu

36

5-11

1-3

0-7

1

4

12

Cheaney

12

1-4

0-0

0-0

0

1

3

Poyser

18

1-6

3-4

2-4

0

4

5

Totals

200

30-63

16-22

8-31

13

20

82

Percentages: FG .476, FT .727.

3-Point Goals: 6-22, .273 (McCaw 3-7, Seagears 1-3, Cheaney 1-3, Nwamu 1-4, Zimmerman Jr. 0-1, Poyser 0-2, Cornish 0-2).

Team Rebounds: 2.

Blocked Shots: 2 (Zimmerman Jr., McCaw).

Turnovers: 14 (Nwamu 5, Zimmerman Jr. 3, Seagears 2, Cornish 2, Poyser).

Steals: 3 (Seagears, Poyser, McCaw).

Technical Fouls: Zimmerman Jr..

Fresno St.

40

55

95

UNLV

35

47

82

A—NA.

Officials—Mike Reed, Eric Curry, Brad Ferrie.

Related stories from Fresno Bee

  Comments