Photo by Tina Lerohl
FRESNO, Calif. – Utah State (10-7, 1-3) hits the road for the fourth time in five games to challenge defensive-minded Fresno State (12-4, 2-1). The late-night showdown will be the first of three Aggie games scheduled to tip-off at 9 p.m.
“It will be a good opportunity for us to try and get a win on the road,” head coach Ryan Odom said.
Fresno State will challenge the Aggies on offense. With stifling defense, the Bulldogs have limited opposing teams to an average of 56.6 points per game.
“One of the best defensive teams in the country. They’re really tough to score on,” Odom said. “They do a really good job of protecting the paint. They get out to shooters. They steal the ball in gaps.”
That is not a good sign for an Aggie team that has seen a dip in points per game since conference play started. In non-conference play, Utah State averaged 85.8 points per game, but in the last four contests that has slipped to 69.5 points per game. The Aggies’ three-point accuracy is partly to blame for the drop in production. Their shooting percentage has dropped from 38.1% to 18.9% and their 3-pointers-made per game from 9.85 to 3.75.
“We’ve gotten off to a slow start in the conference from a shooting perspective. I think we’ve got good shooters taking the right shots. I don’t think we’re taking bad shots,” Odom said. “We do shoot threes. Forty-one percent of our shot attempts usually come from three. During conference play, that number has come down. But we’ve still found ways to be in games and have a chance to win each one of them while not shooting it well.”
The close losses sting, but they do prove that the Aggies are within reach of getting to a level where they can beat any team in the conference.
“There’s certainly a silver lining there, but still, can we get a little better on defense, can we rebound a little better… can we get to the free-throw line and keep others off the free-throw line? We’re right there. We just got to stay with it. We can’t get discouraged about the results that have happened, we just (have) to start trying to turn those in our favor and I’m confident that we will,” Odom said.
The Aggies will likely try to take advantage of any fast break opportunities they get because the Bulldogs find most of their success on defense in the half-court.
“They get a lot of their steals and really good defensive stops in the half-court. They ice ball screens, they try to keep you on the side of the court,” Odom said. “They’re tough to score on.”
Solid spacing and ball movement are what Odom preached as keys to success during practice the day before the game.
“We’re going to have to be really good with our spacing and not be on top of one another and move the ball efficiently from side to side,” Odom said.
Last time out, Fresno State took care of business in Las Vegas beating the Rebels 73-68. Just three days before that, the Bulldogs clobbered San Jose State 79 to 59 fueled by forward Orlando Robinson’s season-high 31 points, which is the most points scored in a game in the Mountain West during conference play. In the past two games Robinson has averaged 27.5 points and 11.5 rebounds.
The Aggies will have their hands full with Robinson, the reigning Mountain West player of the week. The junior forward is not only the Bulldogs’ leading scorer but averages the most points per game in the conference. Robinson averages 19.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Odom said this when asked what makes him such a good scorer.
“His ability to play in his (isolation) spots, where he can play off of one or two dribbles and get all the way to the basket. He can certainly play in an (isolation) spot on the block and get to the middle to his right hook,” Odom said. “He can make threes. He can face up. (He is) a little bit like (Colorado State’s David) Roddy. Where if you don’t guard the three, he’ll just shoot it. We have to force him to dribble when he catches out on the perimeter.”
Guard Anthony Holland is another bulldog to watch for. His 46.8% accuracy leads the team in shooting percentage from three-point range. Holland puts up 8.9 points and grabs 5.9 rebounds per game.
“He’s at a confident moment in the season,” Odom said.
Three other Bulldogs average around eight points per game in Fresno State’s balanced supporting cast. The Bulldogs average 12.1 assists per game as a team as they spread the ball around.
“I think Robinson is a willing passer and that certainly helps when one guy draws so much attention, they’re able to get it to other guys and make plays,” Odom said.
A few key players will be out of the lineup for both squads. Guard Brock Miller will sit out for the fourth consecutive as he continues to nurse a back injury. Fellow Aggie guard RJ Eytle-Rock is doubtful due to COVID-19 protocols. If he does play, he will likely come off the bench according to Odom.
Fresno State will be without guard Jemarl Baker Jr. He suffered a knee against Cal Poly Ponoma and has sat out since. According to Jackson Moore of 247sports.com, Baker may come back late in the season but is likely to miss the rest of the year. The Arizona transfer was averaging 8.6 points and 3.6 minutes per game.
The game tips off at 9 p.m. MST and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.