By Stephen Trembley
By Stephen Trembley
FRESNO, Calif. - It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness one of the best individual performances in school history as Bulldogs' guard Kevin Olekaibe torched the nets for a school-record 43 points and helped lift Fresno State past Seattle University 78-72 on Thursday night at the Save Mart Center in non-conference action.
"I credit my teammates," Olekaibe said after his career night. "They were looking for me even when I wasn't open. The coaches, it is their scheme - they draw up all the plays, I couldn't do it without them. I was just trying to play my game and play loose. Coach [Terry] is always telling me if I miss a shot, just keep shooting and I couldn't do it without my team. They looked for me and found me, and I was just stepping in and shooting the ball."
And did he ever shoot the ball and find ways to score.
Olekaibe's spark helped defuse the Redhawks' press and aggressive defense. He went 12 of 25 from the field and made all 14 of his free throws to become the first Fresno State (13-16) player to score 40 points in a game since Courtney Alexander on March 1, 2000 and tally the most points in a 40-minute game in the Bulldogs' 90-year history.
"Obviously KO shot the ball really well tonight," Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry said. "That is what he works on and that is what he does. He is a guy that can make open shots. He was very decisive in terms of taking his shots, didn't hesitate and stepped in and knocked them down."
The 43 points off the hand of Olekaibe tied for the third-most by any Division I player this year in a single game and marked the most by anyone in the Western Athletic Conference since Utah State's Jaycee Carroll scored 44 against New Mexico State back on Feb. 5, 2007. Olekaibe also shattered his own career best of 32 points earlier this year in the Bulldogs' 82-73 win over San Jose State on Jan. 14.
Aaron Broussard scored 19 points and Clarence Trent added 14 for Seattle (10-15), which saw its four-game winning streak snapped.
Olekaibe opened the second half with consecutive 3-pointers and made two free throws with 59 seconds remaining to ice the game for the Bulldogs, who won their fifth consecutive home game and improved to 9-2 at the Save Mart Center this season.
Tyler Johnson added 12 points for Fresno State and Jerry Brown had seven points and 11 rebounds. Kevin Foster grabbed eight rebounds to go with six points and walk-on Brad Ely played six solid minutes and grabbed his third career rebound.
"I'm really pleased with our effort," Terry said. "We knew we had to play this game for forty minutes. We did a great job attacking when we broke the press and got to the free throw line 39 times, the best we have done all year long."
Fresno State found ways to keep attacking even though Seattle U had a better overall field goal clip and led by as many as 10 points midway through the first half.
After SU went up 19-9, Fresno State scored the next seven points and later tied the game at 23-23 with 5:26 left before halftime.
Even though the 'Dogs trailed 33-32 at the break, their energy and tenacious effort put them in position to take control in the second half.
"They really sort of punched us in the mouth the first half," Seattle U head coach Cameron Dollar said of the Bulldogs. "They outscored us in the first half even though we were up by one because they had more energy and more life and they out competed us. I'm disappointed in my team because they played soft but you have to give Fresno State credit. I think they played really hard so hats off to him for getting his guys to play that way."
Olekaibe, who had scored a season-best 18 first-half points, drained two quick 3-pointers to give Fresno State the lead and momentum for the rest of the contest. The shooting sensation cruised to 25 more points in the second half, which was the highest-scoring half of his career.
Fresno State overcame Seattle U's efficient shooting night from the floor by going 31-for-39 (79.5 percent) at the free throw line while the Redhawks shot just 8-for-16 (50 percent) at the charity stripe.
The 'Dogs also outrebounded SU 37-35 on the glass and Fresno State forced Seattle U to commit 17 turnovers.
Fresno State returns to WAC play on Saturday when first-place Nevada visits the San Joaquin Valley with a chance for the Pack to clinch the conference title.
"We Are Your Team!" --- The `Dogs close the regular season by hosting Nevada (Feb. 25), Louisiana Tech (March 1) and New Mexico State (March 3). The games against Nevada and New Mexico State will feature a special $21 single-game ticket package that also includes a hot dog and medium soda. You can listen to the 'Dogs all season on the radio dial at KMJ 580 AM and make sure to follow @RodneyTerry on Twitter for updates direct from the head coach.
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