FRESNO, Calif. - In Fresno State's first game against Washington State in nearly seven years, the Bulldogs mustered a scrappy effort and held the Cougars to a season-low 66 points, yet Faisal Aden and Klay Thompson's sharp-shooting sparked WSU to a 66-55 victory on Friday night at the Save Mart Center.
"We need to shoot the ball better and compete for 40 minutes," head coach Steve Cleveland said following the game. "I liked our effort at times and we had an opportunity to get a win. WSU hit a lot of contested shots. We now have to get ready to compete against a very good Utah team on Tuesday."
Those contested shots resulted from an aggressive defensive game plan that forced Aden and Thompson to use limited space amid constant pressure. On the night, the dynamic duo netted a combined 50 of the Cougars' 66 points with Aden scoring a game-high 28 and Thompson chipping in 22 to help Washington State (4-0) stay undefeated in their non-conference action.
The Dogs were led by sophomore wing Garrett Johnson, who recorded a career-high 15 points on a career-best trio of 3-pointers. Freshman point guard Kevin Olekaibe (Las Vegas, Nev.) added 10 points with a pair of 3-pointers of his own. The Bulldogs' bench outscored the Cougars' reserves, 21-1.
Greg Smith, the Bulldogs' sophomore center and preseason first-team All-WAC honoree, pounded the low post for eight of Fresno State's first 11 points and pushed the Dogs ahead 11-10 almost six minutes into the game. WSU then used a 14-5 run for a 24-16 advantage, punctuated by one of Aden's six 3-pointers on the evening.
The Dogs retook the lead at 28-26 with a 9-0 run and then used Olekaibe's defensive play of the night to grab the halftime lead.
Up 31-30, the Cougars had tried to drain the clock before Olekaibe's stifling on-ball defense deep in WSU's backcourt swatted the ball away from Thompson with four seconds left in the first half. The 6-1 Olekaibe then sprinted to the basket, elevated and slammed down an emphatic dunk for a 32-31 lead at the break.
After halftime, Fresno State charged out to a seven-point lead, its largest of the game, by blitzing the Cougars on a 12-6 edge over the first five minutes of the second half.
But that's when the Bulldogs, who shot 33.9 percent from the field compared to the Cougars' 46.4 percent performance, dried up for a nine minute and ten second drought when Washington State scored 14 unanswered points and later pulled away for the 11-point victory.
The Dogs' tenacity never disappeared and constantly attacked the boards for a 41-34 edge over WSU in the contest.
Fresno State (1-3) will now face a three-game road span with games at Utah (Nov. 30), Colorado State (Dec. 4) and San Diego (Dec. 7) before returning home for a five-game homestand that starts Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. against the Pepperdine Waves.
"We Are Your Team!" --- Follow the Bulldogs on the road by listening to KMJ 580 AM when Fresno State visits a pair of Mountain West foes (Utah and Colorado State) and San Diego. The Dogs will then be back in the Save Mart Center for the holiday season with five straight home games. Get your tickets today at www.ticketmaster.com.
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