13 was a lucky number for the Bulldogs of Fresno State tonight, as they roll to their 5th straight win over UNLV Wednesday night. The Bulldogs (20-8, 10-5) traveled to the Thomas & Mack Center looking to both extend their win streak to 5 games, and to lock up that vital 3rd place seeding before the upcoming conference tournament, while UNLV was looking to maintain a Top 5 seed for that important first round bye game. This 13 point Margin of Victory was the lowest for the Bulldogs during their five game win streak, and shows how strong the offense has been playing in recent weeks. They always talk of peaking at the right time in basketball, and it certainly looks like Fresno State is doing just that this year.
For two teams known for potent offense, the game was decided and dominated by Fresno State’s defense. Known more as a liability than a strength in Rodney Terry’s tenure, the Bulldog defense came to play last night. They entered the game averaging 79 points, and giving up 68 points per game, while the UNLV offense has been averaging 84 points per game on the offensive end. Slowing down the conference’s number 1 offense would be a tall order on any night, but the Dogs stepped up against a fast scoring Rebel offense. The Dogs kept UNLV to their lowest shooting total of the year, and kept them to an abysmal 24% combined shooting, and a horrendous 12% from outside the arc. This was mostly due to the Bulldogs forcing the Rebels into contested shots all night, but the Rebs did themselves no favors when they were able to get open shots. An 80% free throw shooting percentage may be the sole high point for UNLV tonight, as their offense did little else when they had the ball.
The game started off seeming like a solid Wednesday night match. Fresno State and UNLV shot equally through the first 8 minutes of the game, leading to a tight, 12-8 score. After the 12 minute mark though, the first half was all Bulldogs, all the time. They went into the locker room by up 14, and would not look back. The closest that UNLV would get in the final minutes of the half would be 13, as their poor shooting would keep them from getting any closer into the game. What made the first half different for the Dogs was their defensive showing, in which they had 5 steals and 3 blocks in the first half of the game.
If UNLV hoped that the second half would cure their woes, they would have been a bit disappointed. Their shooting did improve in the second half of the game, but that was more of a virtue of taking more free throws, and taking more shots overall than in the first half. Their shooting percentage crept up to 30% from the floor, although their 3 point percentage did sink from 15% to 12% in the second half. Definitely a shooting night to forget for the normally prolific Rebels offense. This is two games in a row now where the Bulldogs have managed to shut down a normally hot shooting group, after keeping Prentiss Nixon from CSU to 0 points, and keeping UNLV to their lowest shooting output of the season.
The second half for the Dogs though, went much like the first. The Bulldog defense chipped in another 6 steals and 4 blocks in the second half, and kept forcing UNLV into contested and poor shots. Offense was no trouble for the Dogs tonight, as three players scored at least 20 points, with Deshon Taylor leading the way with 22. Bryson Williams and Jaron Hopkins followed right behind him with 20, and the rest of the Fresno State team only combined for 15 points. A quiet night was the normally hot-handed Fresno State bench, but they weren’t needed tonight. UNLV did have four shooters break into double digits tonight, but the highest points total was only 13, compared to Fresno State’s 22.
With only 3 games left to play, both teams have their sights set on improving their seeding for the conference tournament, and holding on to that all-important Top 5 bye game later in March. The Dogs will return home Saturday to play Wyoming on ESPNU, while UNLV will travel to the Pit to take on New Mexico Sunday morning on CBSSports.