Fresno State In Search of an Identity as It Heads Into Inaugural Mountain West SeasonPosted by AMurawa on December 24th, 2012
As Fresno State gets ready to head into its first season in the Mountain West, the Bulldogs are a team in search of an identity. Under second-year head coach Rodney Terry, FSU has scored some recruiting coups of late, most notably center Robert Upshaw, rated the #55 recruit in the nation last year by ESPN, but also including transfer point guard Allen Huddleston and partial qualifier Braeden Anderson. But now 12 games into the season and following a 13-point loss at UCLA on Saturday night, none of those guys have made a significant impact, for various reasons, and the only thing really clear about this Fresno State team is that they’re going to make things difficult for their opponents with defense and effort.
Upshaw was the big news in the offseason as the local product made good in choosing the Bulldogs over Georgetown and other suitors. His season got off to a delayed start, though, as a leg injury pushed his debut back to late November. Since then, there have been ups and downs for the talented seven-footer. He notched 10 points, seven boards and six blocks against Washington State in 28 minutes, but each of those numbers is a season high as he has struggled with consistency of production and effort. After starting the game against UCLA, he was pulled by Terry one minute later for a discussion on the bench. “It was a matter of how you need to start the ballgame and how you need to be engaged in what we’re trying to get done,” said his head coach of the reason for the move. “He’s got to be ready to start from the outset. So we sat him down and he got a chance to see everything and he was much better the next time around.” In fact, when he got back in the game, the very first time down the court, they threw the ball into Upshaw in the post, he backed down a Wear twin and scored over him with a nice jump hook. Still, his effort and effectiveness varied the rest of the way as his next jump hook was an airball, he struggled to keep smaller guys off the glass, and he showed an inability to process double teams on the offensive end. “As a young player, he has to continue to mature,” said Terry. “Much like the young guys here at UCLA, who are learning how to play hard on the defensive end, he’s got to be able to bring it every time. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not high school anymore. It’s Division I basketball and you better be ready to compete.”
While Upshaw continues to work things out, the Bulldogs got marginally good news on the topic of Anderson. The former Kansas commitment had been waiting on a ruling from the NCAA as to when he would become eligible, and the answer came down on Saturday that he will not be able to play until February 6 when the Bulldogs host UNLV. FSU had been hoping that Anderson would be cleared immediately, but the feeling on the squad now is that late is better than never. “Just knowing that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, that we have a date, that has really energized him,” said Terry. As for his impact this season, however, Terry’s expectations are muted. “Obviously anytime a guy has been out for two years, it is not going to be where he comes right in and makes an unbelievable impact, but he’s gonna be a guy that can give us some energy and a physical body.” That is certainly something that FSU could use, and quick. They were killed on the glass by UCLA Saturday night, allowing the Bruins to grab nearly 50% of their misses on the offensive boards. Furthermore, Anderson will give them some additional size combined with excellent athleticism, something the Bulldogs dearly need. For long stretches against UCLA, FSU was trying to guard Shabazz Muhammad with either Tyler Johnson or Kevin Olekaibe, both 6’2” guards. Predictably, they did not have great success with this strategy.
Terry unveil one big change Saturday night, when freshman Aaron Anderson got the start at point guard over Huddleston, the junior transfer from Pacific who had started the previous 11 games for the Bulldogs. Anderson’s numbers (seven points, six boards, two assists, two turnovers) won’t turn any heads, but Terry was pleased with his performance. “I thought Aaron did a great job getting us in our transition sets,” he said. “He got us in our half-court sets. He did a great job of quarterbacking and giving us some organization out there from an offensive standpoint and then our guys stepped up and made some shots.” Huddleston, meanwhile, earned just 14 minutes and was almost invisible, making just one three-pointer, missing three of four free throws and doing very little else. If by chance this move was made to light a fire under Huddleston, the early returns are not good.
The Bulldogs still have one more non-conference game to go — next Sunday against Sonoma State — but they’re already looking forward to Mountain West play. “We’re in one of the best leagues in the country,” said Terry. “It’s gonna be great for us in terms of getting in there and mixing it up and our guys are excited about the challenge. We’ve got a lot of good coaches and really good venues in this league and I know we’re gonna be ready for them and they’re gonna be ready for us.”