There were three games at the end of November and the start of December where Fresno State hit an early-season offensive peak. The Bulldogs attacked the rim, played inside-out and got to the foul line more than they had before or since that run.
The Bulldogs hit 52.4 percent of their shots in scoring 89.7 points per game, beating Montana State, Weber State and Long Beach State, which might not sound like much but represent three of the best five wins they have by RPI.
“We were clicking pretty good,” coach Rodney Terry said.
But in the fourth game of that run, a victory over Cal State Bakersfield, point guard Jaron Hopkins went down with a back injury and Johnny McWilliams with an ankle. Fresno State won three of its next four, but the performances weren’t as well put together.
The Bulldogs are in better health and will have all of their pieces back for the start of Mountain West Conference play Wednesday night against Nevada at Save Mart Center. But they will be pressed to put the pieces back together in a hurry.
McWilliams played 9 minutes against Oregon and 12 in a rout of Cal State Monterey Bay. Hopkins, who spurred that run with a 29-point game against Weber State and a 26-point game at Long Beach State in which he hit 21 of 29 shots and got to the line 17 times, half his season total, has been in practice the past three days. He has not played since the 3:40 mark in the first half of a Dec. 5 victory over Bakersfield.
“I’m still going to play as hard as I can, compete as best as I can for my team, and hopefully we can get back to the groove that we had into conference because it will be big for us,” said Hopkins, who had two transverse process fractures.
I feel good. I feel like I’m ready to play. I feel just as good as I was before the injury, so hopefully I can get out there and play the same way I was playing.
Fresno State point guard Jaron Hopkins
The minutes he can or will play are a question Wednesday against Nevada, the preseason pick to win the Mountain West.
And, Terry said, it will take some time for Hopkins and the Bulldogs to work back to where they were when the point guard was injured taking a spill after contact on a drive to the basket.
“He was playing his best basketball of the season at that point,” Terry said. “Any time you miss time it’s really hard to come back and think you’re going to jump right back where you were. He’s not going to come back playing that same way. It’s going to take him a while to play back in here and get back to the level that he was competing at.”
The Bulldogs also will be trying to fit in an additional piece in 6-foot-1 guard New Williams, a midyear transfer from Auburn.
Williams can score the ball, but needs to carve out a spot in a backcourt rotation that includes three of the Bulldogs’ top four scorers in Deshon Taylor (first, 18.6 ppg), Hopkins (second, 12.4) and Jahmel Taylor (fourth, 11.2).
Jahmel Taylor was a critical piece in the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament run in 2016, but he played 10 minutes or less in six of his first eight games and didn’t play more than 20 until an overtime loss at Nevada when Terry was without Torren Jones, Karachi Edo, Paul Watson and Terrell Carter II because of injury or illness.
“It’s always hard for midyear guys, go back to even Jahmel Taylor and trying to crack in with a group that is already kind of established a rotation already,” Terry said.
“New is going to play his way in, in particular on defense, come in and show us he can guard either on the ball or off the ball, and be a defender for us and really play hard on that end of the floor. Offensively, New can make some shots. He’s a guy that has potential to score the ball when he really wants to score the ball. New is going to have to play his way through it and he’s going to have to get a feel for what we’re doing offensively and get a feel for what we’re trying to do defensively.”
Nevada (11-3) is not an easy first target, though it comes in off a 66-64 loss to San Francisco at the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic.
The Wolf Pack pose some difficult matchups with forward Jordan Caroline and twins Caleb and Cody Martin, transfers from North Carolina State. They are second in the conference in scoring at 82.2 points per game and have four true road wins, tied for second most in the nation.
“They a really talented team,” Terry said. “The thing that really impresses you is their length all the way around and the way they push the ball hard in transition and can score the ball at every spot in transition. It’s pretty impressive.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
NEVADA AT FRESNO STATE
- Wednesday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (940 ESPN), KGST (1600 ESPN Deportes)
- Records: Bulldogs 10-3, Wolf Pack 11-3
- Of note: Nevada comes into conference play off a 66-64 loss to San Francisco before Christmas at the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. The Wolf Pack were picked to win the Mountain West Conference in a preseason media poll and have been led by forward Jordan Caroline and twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Caleb Martin is leading Nevada in scoring at 18.5 points per game, Caroline is second at 17.8 and Cody Martin third at 13.7. … The Bulldogs won both regular-season meetings last season, but lost to the Wolf Pack in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament 83-72. … The Wolf Pack is second in the Mountain West in scoring, averaging 82.2 points per game and the Bulldogs are third at 80.8.
FRESNO STATE MEN’S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
Home games at Save Mart Center
at Saint Mary’s (exhibition)
Pacific Union (exhibition)
UC Merced (exhibition)
UC Santa Cruz
Evansville at Cancun, Mexico
George Mason at Cancun
at Long Beach State
at Cal Poly
Cal State-Monterey Bay
at Utah State
at Colorado State
at San Diego State
at Air Force
San Diego State
at San Jose State
4 or 7 p.m.
at New Mexico
Mountain West tournament at UNLV
Mountain West Conference men’s basketball preseason poll
As voted Oct, 18, 2017, by conference media, with predicted order of finish, first-place votes in parentheses and total poll points
1. Nevada (19)
2. San Diego State (2)
3. Boise State (2)
4. Fresno State
5. Colorado State
6. UNLV (1)
8. Utah State
9. New Mexico
10. San Jose State
11. Air Force