The game plan against Colorado State and, more specifically, its 6-foot-10 center Colton Iverson, was the same as it was the first two times Fresno State came up against them.
When he had the ball in the post, trap, and see if they could force him to pass out of the doubles or get him into foul trouble and off the floor for stretches. The Bulldogs did not have much success with that during the regular season — Iverson had double-doubles in both games, with 11 points and 13 rebounds in the game at the Save Mart Center and 12 and 12 when they played in Fort Collins, Colo.
It was different, but didn’t make a difference in the end result for Fresno State in a 67-61 loss to the Rams in the quarterfinal round of the Mountain West Tournament, Iverson scoring only seven points with five rebounds while spending extended periods on the bench in foul trouble. He played only 23 minutes, after averaging 31.4 in conference play.
“He’s a load to slow down, to begin with,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We pretty much had the same type of defensive set that we wanted to work with. We work with the baseline trap coming mostly from out guards, perimeter players, hoping to pick up a charge and get him off the floor. We know they’re a different team with him not being on the floor.
“We were able to do that early in this ball game, got him off the floor early. But I’ll give him a lot of credit. He’s one of the best big man passers, not only in our league, but in the country. He finds guys.”
Iverson got only two shots, a season low. Over the final four regular season games he had hit 26 of 32 shots (81.2 percent), including a 12 for 12 in a victory at Wyoming.
What the Bulldogs didn’t count on was the production from Gerson Santo, who gave the Rams 11 strong minutes off the bench, scoring 10 points (he had only seven in 14 conference games).
With not a lot available to Iverson, it was Santo and guard Daniel Bejarano off the bench that made a big difference for Colorado State, which advanced to the tournament semifinals against UNLV.
“Gerson brings a lot,” said Bejarano, who knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half, the first to put Colorado State up 46-42 with 9:59 to go and the second up 49-42 with 9:17 to play. “You just have him rebounding. You have him playing defense, taking charges. He’s a big key to us winning, for us to go down the stretch, so what we want to do.”
Freshman center Robert Upshaw might have helped against Colorado State and its bigs — at the very least, he would have provided five more fouls to use in a game the Bulldogs lost Kevin Foster to fouls with 6:26 remaining and had Braeden Anderson and Jerry Brown playing with four at the end.
But the 7-footer from Memorial High was suspended for a violation of athletic department policy and team rules, his second suspension this season.
“I’m still excited about what Robert can be,” Terry said. “He’s a young kid, a young player that’s still growing, still maturing. It’s my job as a coach and as an educator to continue to help him make the right choices and become a better man. We’re not giving up on Robert. We’re going to continue to push him and continue to help him get better.”
The Bulldogs will open the 2013-14 season at UC Irvine next season, the game scheduled for Nov. 8.
Fresno State also will play a non-conference game at Cal in the first of a home-and-home series, and at Utah in the last of a 2-for-1 series. The Bulldogs played at Utah in 2010-11 and at home last season.
Terry on Colorado State and its NCAA Tournament prospects: “I know this is considered the best team that ever played at Colorado State. I’ve said this to (Coach Larry Eustachy), no pressure to him, but I think they’re a Sweet 16 team, can make a deep run in March if they’re healthy and if the guys are playing at the level they’ve been playing.” … The Bulldogs made only 13 of 23 free throws – 56.5 percent. That is not the worst they have fared at the line this season, making only 40 percent (6 of 15) in a 62-50 loss at Air Force, 53.3 percent (8 of 15) in a loss at New Mexico and 54.5 percent (6 of 11) in a loss at Texas. … Colorado State is the top rebounding team in the nation, the Rams grabbing more than 12 rebounds per game more than their opponents. Fresno State was only a minus-5 (33 to 28). They were a minus-19 (40 to 21) when they played Jan. 26 at the Same Mart Center and minus-8 (32-24) when they played Feb. 27 at Colorado State. … The Bulldogs (eight) and Rams (seven) combined had only 15 turnovers, tied for the third fewest ever in a Mountain West Conference Tournament game. … Jerry Brown came off the bench and hit four of seven shots, finishing with a season high-tying 12 points. It was the third time Brown has scored in double-digits this season – he also had 12 points in a loss at Washington State.