San Jose State (6-10, 0-2 WAC) first and foremost needs to get its top guns back shooting on target or it will have no chance Saturday.
Wil Carter scored just two points in the loss to Nevada after scoring 20 the previous game against Hawaii, and Keith Shamburger (14.7 points per game) was 1-for-11 from the floor while scoring five points Thursday.
The first half of the Nevada game showed just how important Carter is to the team, especially on the glass. He played only 10 minutes before halftime after getting banged up, and he had just one rebound. Nevada outrebounded the Spartans 20-12 in the first half and 35-26 for the game. Of course, when the opponent makes 16 of 32 3-point attempts and shots 54 percent from the floor, there aren't as many opportunities for defensive rebounds.
"They shot us out of the game," San Jose State coach George Nessman said.
While the Spartans are just two games into the conference season, they need a win Saturday. Nessman called it a pivotal game. A win means a 3-3 road trip and some confidence heading into a stretch in which the Spartans play six of eight at home.
Beating the Bulldogs won't be easy, though. Fresno State is led by 6-1 sophomore Kevin Olekaibe, who is averaging 18 points per game. Olekaibe had a monster game with 30 points in Fresno State's win last week at Arizona State, and he scored 15 points Thursday in the Bulldogs' overtime loss to Hawaii.
Fresno State isn't a one-man show. It can win even when Olekaibe isn't playing at the top of his game, as it did against Boise State and Pacific when Olekaibe had a combined 17 points.
TRENDING: In its final two pre-conference games, San Jose State won twice and made a combined 28 3-pointers. Living by the long ball also means dying by the long ball, and that's what happened at Hawaii on Jan. 8 and in Reno on Thursday. The Spartans made just four of 19 3-pointers against the Warriors and were a brutal six of 23 against the Wolf Pack. Not only must the Spartans shoot better, but their shot selection from beyond the arc also must improve. They took some questionable 3-pointers in the loss to Nevada and fell behind 39-26 at the half before being blown out in the second half. Meanwhile, Nevada finished 16 of 32 from beyond the arc for the game. The Spartans need to find a good balance and think more about getting good looks instead of just jacking it up from beyond the arc.
Spartans living and dying with 3-point shot
--San Jose State is built to live off the 3-point shot, but the needed accuracy isn't going to be there every night.
Through 15 games, the Spartans were taking 24.1 shots per game from the behind the arc, which was more than anybody else in the WAC and one of the biggest numbers in the nation. They went cold from the field against Hawaii, though, losing 82-69 on Jan. 7 when they managed to make only four of 19 3-point attempts.
"We have a similar quality as last year, where we were hard to shake," Nessman told the Bay Area Sports Group. "Three or four possessions, we'd knock down some 3s and were right back in the game."
San Jose State does have a dangerous quality to it, but victories haven't come in great quantity despite the barrage of 3-point attempts. Guard James Kinney led the way by hitting 42.3 percent (44 of 104) through Jan. 7, but the team mark of 34.5 percent was merely average.
The lack of scoring punch from the outside hurt the Spartans vs. the Warriors.
"We started out poorly in both halves and they were very good," Nessman said. "Hawaii defended us very well. It's hard for us to win when we don't make more than four 3-pointers."
--Senior post Wil Carter had a monster game at Hawaii on Jan. 7, setting personal bests with 21 points and 20 rebounds in a loss to the Warriors. The last time a SJSU player reached 20 rebounds came exactly 31 years to the day when Chris McNealy had 21 vs. Utah. Carter's contributions included 12 offensive boards. He was 9 of 12 from the foul line, too.
"He got a lot of those points from the foul line, but he did a monster job," Hawaii coach Gib Arnold said. "It seemed like every time I looked up, Carter got an offensive rebound and we fouled him."
--San Jose State will retire the No. 45 jersey of Darnell Hillman on Feb. 4 during the home game against Hawaii. Hillman, a 6-foot-9 native of Sacramento who played at SJSU in the late 1960s, went on to a 10-year career in the ABA and NBA. He averaged 15.3 points and 14.2 rebounds for the Spartans in the 1968-69 season.
--Sophomore G Keith Shamburger earned his first WAC Player of the Week honors when he won the award for the week of Dec. 26-Jan. 1. He averaged 17.0 points, 7.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in two games, leading SJSU to the title of the Elgin Baylor Classic in Seattle.
BY THE NUMBERS: Minus-4.5 -- San Jose State's rebounding margin entering the week, which ranked last in the WAC. True to form, the Spartans were out-rebounded 44-39 in their league opener at Hawaii, despite grabbing 20 offensive boards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Keith is a budding star. He's getting comfortable with the controls of the team." -- Coach George Nessman, on sophomore PG Keith Shamburger.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Fresno State, Jan. 14
KEY MATCHUPS: This will be a guard-oriented matchup, as a small Fresno State team is led by sophomore guard Kevin Olekaibe, who entered the week averaging 18.0 points per game, second in the WAC. These are the two worst rebounding teams in the conference, but the edge inside should go to SJSU because of Wil Carter. If he asserts himself, the Spartans have a chance to come away with a road win in this area rivalry.
FUTURES MARKET: Will San Jose State see more trick defenses in the future? Hawaii went with a triangle-and-two, focusing on stopping SJSU's high-scoring guards James Kinney and Keith Shamburger. It worked, as Kinney and Shamburger were five of 19 from the field, combining for 17 points -- 14 points below their combined average. Hawaii schemed other ways to take away the outside shot and turn up the pressure on Kinney and Shamburger. "We had a good defensive game plan," said Hawaii coach Gib Arnold. "I thought we were frustrating them. We did things different on defense and when they missed, that led us out to baskets early."
--Senior F Wil Carter had career highs in points (21) and rebounds (20) in San Jose State's WAC opener Jan. 8 at Hawaii. Despite Carter's efforts, the Spartans lost to the Rainbow Warriors 82-69. Carter is the first Spartan to collect 20 or more rebounds in a game in 31 years. Fast forward to Thursday, and Carter finished with just two points and two rebounds, missing all six field-goal attempts. He had just one rebound in the first half against Nevada after playing only 10 minutes after getting banged up.
--The Spartans won't be returning from Nevada with many highlights, but the play of Stephon Smith will certainly be on the film. The reserve freshman forward had a career-high 14 points in 28 minutes and also grabbed seven rebounds. Confidence is a big factor at this level, and Smith showed plenty of it Thursday night by attacking the basket and looking anything like a freshman. He came in having scored just eight points in the previous four games, but he showed that he has the ability to contribute now. He needs to continue cutting down on freshman mistakes but also play with the aggressiveness he showed Thursday.
--C/F Chris Cunningham transferred to San Jose State from Santa Clara over the summer. Cunningham (6-8, 225) averaged 4.4 points and 2.8 rebounds a game for Santa Clara. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining after he sits out in 2011-12.
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