Tyler Johnson honored as Bulldogs’ most valuable player

Tyler Johnson was named team MVP at Fresno State’s postseason awards banquet on April 15, 2013.

Fresno State guard Tyler Johnson, who scored a team-high 12.1 points per game and 58 assists, was honored as the Bulldogs’ most valuable player on Monday at the men’s basketball team’s annual banquet.

The other Bulldogs honored:

Outstanding defender: Jerry Brown III.

Outstanding rebounder: Kevin Foster.

Four-year Achievement and Commitment Award: Garrett Johnson.

Bulldog Award: Brad Ely.

Top free-throw shooter: Kevin Olekaibe.

Outstanding student-athlete: Braeden Anderson.

Outstanding service: Allen Huddleston.

Playmaker Award: Marvelle Harris.

Most improved: Tanner Giddings.

At Mountain West Tournament, key for Bulldogs could be Olekaibe’s passing, not shooting

Fresno State’s Kevin Olekaibe, left, drives in past UNLV’s Katin Reinhardt in the first half of their game at the Save Mart Center in Fresno Wednesday, February 6, 2013. (CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE)

Kevin Olekaibe gets a chance to get home for the Mountain West Conference Tournament, not only to Las Vegas, where he grew up, but on Tuesday the Fresno State Bulldogs practiced at Cimarron-Memorial High, where as a senior he led the state and was fifth in the nation in scoring.

Surprisingly, his teammates did not make him sing the alma mater or the school fight song, the words to which are painted in big letters on one wall of the gym.

Olekaibe did not miss much during practice, which should come as no surprise, given the familiar surroundings. The 6-foot-2 guard scored 1,065 points in that senior year, averaging 35.6 per game. He hit 50 percent of his shots including 37 percent at the 3-point line.

‘’I still wish I could play back in this gym,’’ he said. ‘’There’s a lot of memories in here.’’

But with the Bulldogs opening the Mountain West Conference Tournament on Wednesday against Colorado State, Olekaibe knows that he does not have to replicate that senior season for Fresno State to have success in its rapidly-evolving offense.

Down the stretch, the player movement and the ball movement have improved dramatically, the result victories at Nevada, against Air Force and at UNLV, and losses to Boise State and Colorado State in which they scored 63 and 67 points, above their average of 58.1 in conference play.

‘’It’s much-needed. We needed it a lot sooner. But it’s better late than never,’’ guard Tyler Johnson said. ‘’Coach (Byron) Jones is always the one coming at halftime reading how many assists we have to how many turnovers and he always tells us when we have more than 15 assists, we’re a very good team.’’

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VIDEO: Fresno State coach Terry, along with Olekaibe and Johnson after win over UNLV

Fresno State pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Mountain West Conference this season, beating Nevada-Las Vegas 64-55 on Wednesday at the Save Mart Center.

The Bulldogs, who have wilted when challenged down the stretch for the past season-half and lost seven games this season by seven points or fewer, made plays this time, got stops this time. And they were rewarded.

Kevin Olekaibe led the Bulldogs with 21 points and Tyler Johnson added 15, leading four players in double-digits. And they held the Rebels to a season-low 55 points in nabbing a second conference win in eight games.

Coach Rodney Terry, Olekaibe and Johnson discussed the victory in a post-game press conference.

More from Fresno State Coach Rodney Terry on lineup moves

Fresno State’s Robert Upshaw goes around Colorado’s Josh Scott Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2012 in Fresno, Calif. (GARY KAZANJIAN/THE FRESNO BEE)

The question could be asked, ‘What took you so long?’ Robert Upshaw, the 7-foot center at Fresno State, was grinding a bit trying to find a fit on the basketball court, after getting a late start due to a knee injury suffered the first week of practices back in October. That goes at both ends of the court, and beyond his statistics – 5.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per game.

But the decision to sit Upshaw in a 49-36 victory over Wyoming at the Save Mart Center, did not just happen. Coach Rodney Terry pointed out that he had played the freshman only 24 minutes in a loss at New Mexico when the Lobos had a 7-footer on the floor in Alex Kirk and the Bulldogs were down a big man with Kevin Foster home in Florida with his family after a death in the family.

‘’You know what, he’s just a freshman, just a freshman and understanding the urgency of play at this time of year and what it means. That’s all,’’ Terry said. ‘’There’s nothing different from any other freshman that we have right now. They’re learning that whole process likewise and understanding every possession counts. I don’t care if you’re in practice or in games it matters this time of year.

‘’He is working through that. I think all of our young guys are working through that and understanding the accountability and what we expect and we’re not going to settle for anything less.

‘’The urgency needs to be there and the understanding, from the first day of preparation for that game. It doesn’t have to be just the day of the game, it’s everything that leads up to that and we’re going to go with the guys that we feel most confident in doing that. Guys show that every day in practice, who deserves to play and who doesn’t deserve to play. They earn that.

‘’Like I said last night, guys have to punch the clock every day. They do what they’re supposed to do and work the way we want them to work and have the urgency then they’re going to play. If they don’t, they won’t. It’s pretty simple.’’

The situation with Kevin Olekaibe was different. The junior guard was not in the starting lineup for the first time this season and played only 11 minutes, a career-low.

Olekaibe, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer last season with 17.8 points a game, has been struggling with his shot since coming back from an elbow injury. He has made only 32.1 percent of his shots and only 28 percent at the 3-point line. He was at 37.2 percent and 33.8 percent last season.

‘’I think K.O. is definitely giving us effort. He’s definitely trying as hard as he can,’’ Terry said. ‘’We wanted to take some pressure off him and I think that helped him in the rotation a little bit in terms of not putting so much pressure on himself to feel like he has to do more than he has to right now.’’

 

Minutes now at a premium in the back court for Fresno State and Coach Rodney Terry

Allen Huddleston went from the starting point guard and playing 29.8 minutes per game, tied for most on the team, to playing only 14 minutes in a loss at UCLA when splitting time at the two.

Now that freshman Aaron Anderson has taken over at the point the role for Huddleston is different, but not necessarily diminished. He still is the Fresno State Bulldogs’ leading scorer and at 11.1 points per game the only one on the team with double-digits to the left of the decimal point.

‘’I think it gives us another added dimension in terms of you’ve got another guy that can score the basketball. Allen scored the ball pretty effectively from the point and now sliding him off the ball a little bit more and playing off the ball, he’ll still be asked to score the ball, take open shots, and score for us,’’ Coach Rodney Terry said. ‘’I think he’ll still play significant minutes. I said to him, he’ll still play close to starter minutes without having to run the point all the time. He’ll still play some point for us, he just won’t do it exclusively for us anymore.’’

The move off the ball should also help Huddleston on the defensive end – he won’t be matched up with the opponent’s point any more. But playing off the ball Huddleston and Kevin Olekaibe are very similar and Olekaibe, who has struggled with his shot coming back from an elbow injury, is the leading returning scorer from a year ago.

Terry will have some interesting decisions to make game to game, with freshman Marvelle Harris coming off a career-high 19 points in that loss at UCLA and Tyler Johnson also in the mix at the two and three.

Against the Bruins, Olekaibe played 19 minutes and hit four of nine shots (44.4 percent) in scoring 10 points, his best game by shooting percentage since making five of 10 in a Nov. 19 win at Cal Poly. Harris played 26 off the bench.

‘’I don’t think you can have enough guys that can score the ball, whether he’s coming off the bench of in your starting lineup, you want guys that can put the ball in the cup,’’ Terry said.

 

‘Dogs Kevin Olekaibe ready to start in season-opener at Texas

Fresno State guard Kevin Olekaibe has missed significant time through practice with a right elbow injury, but has made enough improvement that Coach Rodney Terry said the Bulldogs are expected to have their leading scorer in the starting lineup on Friday when they open the season at No. 24 Texas.

The Bulldogs will go with basically the same lineup used at the start of an exhibition victory last week over Fresno Pacific – point guard Allen Huddleston, with guard Tyler Johnson and forwards Jerry Brown and Kevin Foster and Olekaibe sliding in for freshman Marvelle Harris.

‘’I think that’ll be good for him,’’ Terry said. ‘’But just because he’s back in there we can’t expect right off the bat he’s going to be an 18- or 20-point guy because it’s going to take some time. He missed most of the preseason, so he’s going to have to play his way back into playing shape and get his timing and get on the same page with what we’re doing, with all the new wrinkles we’ve put in.’’

Fresno State guard Kevin Olekaibe nearing a return

Fresno State guard Kevin Olekaibe, who has been limited through the first two-plus weeks of practice because of an elbow injury, has one more hurdle to clear and if he does Coach Rodney Terry said he will be back in practice next week. ‘’Full tilt,’’ Terry said.

The Bulldogs’ guard will not play on Friday in an exhibition against Fresno Pacific at the Save Mart Center, but the season-opener on Nov. 9 at Texas has not been ruled out.

‘’For a guy like him, for an older player, he’s already in good shape. He’s maybe not in tip-top shape, but he’s in good enough shape to go out there and compete,’’ Terry said.

‘’The question for him, he’s got to come up to speed with a lot of the things that we’ve been doing – some are similar, some are newer wrinkles here and there than what we did a year ago. But he’s the kind of kid that will get it. He’ll pick it up quick.

”But we’ve never been concerned about his conditioning, about him coming out and being ready in a short amount of time.’’