Bulldogs put shooting problems – and loss at San Diego State – behind them

New Mexico’s Alex Kirk reacts after scoring against UNLV in the first half on Feb. 9, 2013, in Las Vegas. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Fresno State coach Rodney Terry was running through the strengths of the New Mexico Lobos, who come to the Save Mart Center on Wednesday leading the Mountain West Conference men’s basketball standings.

There were a few of them, all posing big matchup problems for the Bulldogs. But after a woeful game shooting the basketball in a loss at San Diego State, of particular concern has to be the Lobos’ defense: They make you make shots, because they play a packed-in defense,” Terry said. “They protect the elbows and blocks, and they make you have to make shots.”

In that loss to the Aztecs, Fresno State not only didn’t do that they often weren’t close. The Bulldogs hit only 17 of 58 shots (29.3%) including 4 of 19 at the 3-point line (21.1. percent).

To make much of a dent in the Lobos, they are going to have to do better.

“If you sit there and dwell on (San Diego State) and you think about it, you’re definitely not going to make shots,” said guard Tyler Johnson, who led the Bulldogs with 14 points in the loss to the Aztecs, but hit only 5 of 15 shots to get there. “It’s hard enough knock down shots, but when you sit there and think about it and go, ‘Should I take this?’ Or think, ‘Is this a good shot?’ you really have no chance.

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New Mexico has found Fresno State’s missing ingredient

Fresno State men’s basketball coach Rodney Terry often talks about the inexperience of his team, which, really, is unavoidable. The Bulldogs have a freshman starting at point guard in Aaron Anderson, have a freshman playing 24.7 minutes at the two in Marvelle Harris, have freshman bigs coming off the bench in Tanner Giddings, Braeden Anderson and, when he returns from a suspension this weekend, Robert Upshaw.

It’s reality, and the Bulldogs are taking some lumps as those freshmen grow up in one of the toughest conferences in the nation. The Mountain West, this week, again is No. 2 in the RPI.

To turn that around and get a difference perspective on the experience that comes with playing, say, more than 22 college games, New Mexico coach Steve Alford was asked on the Mountain West conference call what separated the Lobos from other teams in the conference.

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When Fresno State’s Upshaw returns from suspension, playing time to be determined

Fresno State’s Robert Upshaw, right, fades back for a jumper while guarded by UC Irvine’s Will Davis II, left, and Adam Folker during their game at the Save Mart Center on Dec. 15, 2012. (CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE)

Robert Upshaw, the 7-foot freshman center at Fresno State, will serve the last of a three-game suspension on Wednesday when the Bulldogs play Mountain West Conference-leading New Mexico at the Save Mart Center.

And when he comes back his seat on the bench will be no farther or closer to the scorer’s table than it was before, coach Rodney Terry said.

“All of that takes care of itself in practice. If a guy works hard, shows he’s focused and he’s ready and he’s prepared to play, then he’ll have a chance to play,” Terry said.

Upshaw, who was suspended for a violation of athletic department policy and missed a victory over Nevada-Las Vegas and a loss at San Diego State, has been in practice with the Bulldogs during the suspension, just not in games. But he has struggled in his first season of college basketball, often floating through games at both ends of the floor and not really being much of a presence. He has hit only 36.8% of his shots (32 of 87) and is averaging 4.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 19.1 minutes per game.

In the four games before the suspension he had hit only 1 of 10 shots and didn’t take any in a loss to Colorado State, and the Bulldogs do have another big body now that they didn’t two weeks ago with the addition of freshman forward Braeden Anderson.

“He hasn’t missed any practice time, he’s missed game time and we look for him to work his way back into the rotation and stay ready for when the opportunity for him to play presents itself,” Terry said.

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.

Fresno State gets Anderson on rebound, and hoping he can do just that

Braeden Anderson

Braeden Anderson will play in his first game for Fresno State on Wednesday, his first matchup a tough one against Nevada-Las Vegas. But it also is against opponents he is familiar with in Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch, all three playing last year at the Canadian national team training camp.

The 6-foot-9 forward, who came to Fresno State after failing to gain entrance to Kansas after the NCAA deemed him a partial academic qualifier, will drag some expectations onto the court with him.

But if he can pull some rebounds and add some physicality around the basket, the Bulldogs, who have been lacking both to this point, figure to be better for it.

“Having not played in two years, getting a chance to play, he’s going to be a guy that probably has a few nerves when he gets out there,” coach Rodney Terry said. “Braeden is a freshman. He’s a young player who right now is still a raw player, a player that is developing and has a chance to come in and play with a motor and give us some physicality both on the defensive end and the offensive end.

“We’re hoping that he can do that for us now. Like any young player he’s going to have to understand the importance of holding a block-out — you may have to have three block-outs on one possession. Guys at this level are not going to settle for one block-out, they’re going to keep coming, so you have to hit them again and hit them again. That’s going to be a big adjustment for him.

“It takes playing and getting experience to do that and that’s one thing that he lacks right now and he’s going to have to try to get a lot of it here pretty quick.”

Bennett, a 6-8 freshman, is leading the Rebels with 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Birch, a 6-9 transfer from Pitt, is averaging 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 13 games and seven starts.

Terry and the Bulldogs are likely to stay on point against UNLV

Fresno State’s Aaron Anderson grabs a loose ball below Colorado State’s basket at the Save Mart Center on Jan. 26, 2013. (ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEE)

In a loss to Air Force last time out, Fresno State got more production at the offensive end from backup point guard Allen Huddleston than it did from starter Aaron Anderson, for a third consecutive game.

Huddleston scored 11 points with three assists against the Falcons and over the past three games has played the majority of minutes at the point and is averaging 15.3 points and 3.0 assists, while Anderson has not scored and does not have an assist.

But the Bulldogs are likely to keep the rotation intact on Wednesday when they play Nevada-Las Vegas in a Mountain West Conference game at the Save Mart Center.

‘’Allen has been more productive here of late, but I like our rotation,’’ Coach Rodney Terry said, after the loss to the Air Force. ‘’We get some bench scoring and a lift off the bench when Allen comes in and I do think it takes some pressure off of Allen at the start of the game to be able to come in and get a feel for what’s going on out there. He can come in and not have a lot of pressure on him. He can come in and play relaxed and get in the groove of the game.

‘’It think it helps him and I think it helps Aaron, as well. I think Aaron tries to set the tone for us from a defensive standpoint and I think our guys have a lot of confidence in him from a defensive standpoint to start the game. I think it helps us in that regard.

‘’I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that rotation and the way we’re doing it.’’

To this point, the Bulldogs are not on the rebound

Fresno State’s Robert Upshaw, right, snags a rebound away from UC Irvine’s Conor Clifford, left, and Adam Folker during their game at the Save Mart Center Saturday, December 15, 2012. (CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE)

The first step will be to get Air Force to miss a few shots, which will not be easy for the Fresno State Bulldogs because it hasn’t been easy for any team that has matched up against the Falcons. They are leading the Mountain West Conference and ranked 17th in the nation in field goal percentage, have three starters hitting better than 51 percent of their shots.

After that, they can think about rebounding the basketball better and turning around a season-long soft spot that has cost them opportunities to win some basketball games.

The Bulldogs are last in the conference and 310th of 345 in the nation in rebounding margin at minus-4.8 per game, have been out-rebounded in 12 of their 17 games against Division I opponents and by 10 or more rebounds in eight of those games including a minus-19 in losses to UC Irvine (49-30) and Colorado State (40-21).

Like most things with this young group, which includes 7-foot freshman Robert Upshaw and 6-foot-10 freshman Tanner Giddings, it is a learning experience. Minutes on the court count.

‘’That’s something that, again, through experience, through guys getting stronger, we’ll be better in the future for,’’ Coach Rodney Terry said. ‘’Our young guys have learned to do a pretty good job on the first block out, but, I mean, there could be two, three opportunities on one possession to hold that block out.

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Answers at the point guard position for Fresno State are a matter of adjustment

Fresno State’s Allen Huddleston looks for a shot against Colorado’s defenders Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2012 in Fresno, Calif. (GARY KAZANJIAN/THE FRESNO BEE)

Who starts? That’s the coach’s decision, and Allen Huddleston, the Fresno State starting point guard turned backup, just wants to go play some basketball.

But the past two games, when asked to spell freshman Aaron Anderson, who has started at the point since the Bulldogs’ Dec. 22 game at UCLA, Huddleston has played the majority of the minutes and played the point closer to how Coach Rodney Terry was hoping he would at the start of the season.

‘’I’m getting back to what I feel comfortable with and I’ve fortunately been able to knock down some shots,’’ said Huddleston, who had played primarily as a two after losing his spot as the starting point guard. ‘’It’s all getting used to it. I took a year off (sitting out as a transfer from Pacific) so the beginning part of the season it was a little difficult getting back in the flow of things, but I think now I feel pretty comfortable with the ball in my hands, making decisions and shooting the basketball.’’

In 27 minutes in a loss at Boise State, the 6-foot-2 junior scored a season-high 20 points with five assists, three rebounds, two steals and three turnovers.

And in 28 minutes in a loss to Colorado State, he put up 15 points with one assist, two rebound, two steals and two turnovers.

Anderson played 18 minutes in the two games and did not score (he attempted only two shots) with no assists, one rebound, two steals and five turnovers.

Fresno State’s Aaron Anderson shoots while defended by Nevada’s Marquez Coleman in second-half action on Jan. 19, 2013. (MARK CROSSE/THE FRESNO BEE)

The Bulldogs, who play at Air Force on Wednesday in the Mountain West Conference game, did not close against Boise State or Colorado State even though they had a 64-61 lead with 2:55 to go against the Broncos and were within 50-45 with 10:13 to play against the Rams. They had opportunities with Huddleston on the floor.

But Anderson is likely to again be in the starting lineup against the Falcons, a team that has four seniors in the starting lineup.

‘’He’s battling through it and, again, it’s just a typical freshman,’’ Terry said. ‘’Freshmen are like roller coaster rides. One night they might be great, the next night they might not be. They might not make the solid plays one night, the next night they might. You just sometimes really don’t know what you’re going to get consistently from young guys. Even some of the best players in the country as freshmen, they go up and down sometimes. They’re not consistent every time.

‘’We’re going through some growing pains with that, but that’s typical. Until he gets that back in terms of really executing the fundamentals of the game, just initiating our offense and getting us in whatever we’re doing, he’ll get back to being a solid player. And then it is same thing on the defensive end, you just have to follow who you’re guarding personnel wise and understand what’s expected of you, even if you switch off on another guy at some point on the possession, you’ve got to know the scouting report and how we’re playing guys. All those things, just being solid and having a great understanding and being focused helps you get some of those things done.’’

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Bulldogs’ Allen Huddleston, coming off his best game this season, will remain in bench role

Fresno State’s Allen Huddleston takes off down court against Colorado’s Eli Stalzer Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2012 in Fresno, Calif. (GARY KAZANJIAN/THE FRESNO BEE)

Fresno State freshman point guard Aaron Anderson has had a rough go the past two times out when matched against Nevada junior Deonte Burton and then Boise State sophomore Derrick Marks, and spent most of the second of those games on the bench.

Coach Rodney Terry sat his freshman point guard in the loss to the Broncos, instead playing junior transfer Allen Huddleston 28 minutes, the most he has been on the court since his last start, Dec. 15, in a loss to UC Irvine. Huddleston made the most of it, scoring a season-high 20 points (he had only 18 over the ‘Dogs past six games) with five assists and two steals.

He made good decisions with the ball, took good shots and ran the offense … things he struggled with when starting early in the year and off the bench the past few weeks.

But when the Bulldogs play Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference game on Saturday at the Save Mart Center, Anderson will be back in the starting lineup. Terry said he won’t change the rotation, but is likely to adjust the number of minutes played.

‘’Allen did a great job of stepping in,’’ Terry said. ‘’I had a great talk with him a couple days prior and just said, ‘Hey, we need to spell Aaron some minutes right now. He’s playing a lot of minutes and we need to cut his minutes back and we want you on the floor. You have to take on that responsibility. You took on that challenge early in the year and we need a backup point right now.’ Read more →

Fresno State assistant not at risk in NCAA investigation into rules violations at Miami

Michael Schwartz is in his second year as a Fresno State men’s basketball assistant coach.

The NCAA investigation into rules violations and impermissible benefits to athletes at the University of Miami continues along a messy course, but Fresno State assistant basketball coach Michael Schwartz is not at risk of penalties from his time at the school.

There were reports this week that all three of Coach Frank Haith’s assistant coaches would be charged with unethical conduct, but Fresno State athletics director Thomas Boeh took the unusual step on Friday of announcing in a press release that Schwartz would not receive a notice of allegations from the NCAA.

“Fresno State has been advised by a representative of the NCAA that assistant men’s basketball coach Michael Schwartz is not at risk and will not receive a notice of allegations stemming from his previous employment at another Division I institution. Given that Fresno State is not involved with the issue, and with respect to the NCAA’s investigation and adjudication process, there will be no further comment regarding the matter,” Boeh said.

Schwartz spent four seasons as an assistant at Miami and six overall — the same period that booster Nevin Shapiro, who is in jail for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, was providing a slew of impermissible benefits to football and basketball players.

The school was notified by the NCAA on Tuesday that Schwartz would not be implicated in the case, the day before it admitted to improper conduct into its investigation into Miami.