Words from the Enemy: Fresno State’s Anthony De Leon weighs in on the matchup

Luke Zahlmann

Before one of the Rams’ biggest matchups of the year, Rocky Mountain Collegian Sports Director Luke Zahlmann spoke to reporter Anthony De Leon of Fresno State’s The Collegian to get an inside look.

Q: So far, Fresno State has outperformed their preseason expectations of a fifth-place finish. What has been the key? 

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A: I believe that the preseason prediction of the Bulldogs finishing fifth in the Mountain West was, by all accounts, made because of the uncertainty of the how the program would perform under Coach Hutson in his first year as a head coach after Rodney Terry decided to leave for the University of Texas, El Paso. The return of Deshon Taylor and Nate Grimes and the addition of Braxton Huggins and Noah Blackwell shows that there was a lot of talent on this squad coming into the season the questions were whether or not the new coaching staff could lead them to success.

Q: The Bulldogs played a hard out-of-conference slate that included a ranked Texas Christian University squad, how has that experience impacted the team thus far? 
 

A: The three-game stretch of playing TCU, Northwestern and Miami early on in the season tested this Bulldog team to find out if the season was going to be a success or a disaster. The TCU game was a good measuring stick on where the talent level of the roster was at the time. Despite the loss, they were able to keep the game under 10 points, helping this team realize they could compete at a high level. I believe the Bulldogs rode that confidence into the Wooden Legacy tournament, allowing them to dominate Northwestern and only narrowly lose to Miami in the finals.

Q: Coming into the year, Deshon Taylor was picked as a Preseason All-MW player but has been the team’s second-leading scorer. Has it been a slight disappointment for Taylor or has he embraced Braxton Huggins’ success? 

A: I wouldn’t necessarily call Taylor’s rank as the team’s second leading scorer a disappointment. Taylor is currently averaging 16.1 point per game, which is good enough for sixth in the Mountain West despite missing the whole month of December due to an elbow injury. The offense runs through Taylor, and when he was out with an injury the Bulldogs had trouble finding a player to run the offense through, which led to the emergence of Braxton Huggins in his absence, averaging 18.5 points per game. Huggins is a pure shooter who has the ability to create his shot. With the return of Taylor, the offense now has a duo that forces teams to pick their poison.

Q: CSU possesses the top rebounder in the nation in Nico Carvacho, how do the Bulldogs match up with Carvacho and how will they lead the way in limiting the big man? 
 

A: Nico Carvacho is an outstanding rebounder and has the build to be successful in that area. But despite Carvacho leading the nation in rebounding, the last time Colorado State matched up against the Bulldogs he finished around his season average, with 13 rebounds in that game. Carvacho had a formidable opponent in Nate Grimes, who is no slouch himself, and in the last matchup had 10 boards. So I look forward to seeing that matchup again, but I don’t believe Carvacho’s rebounding is something to be feared when looking at team rebounding as a whole. In the last matchup, both Fresno State and Colorado State accumulated 33 rebounds. Currently, the Bulldogs are ranked sixth, with 36.2 rebounds per game compared to Colorado State’s 34.1.

Q: Fresno State has been the third-best defense in points allowed this year, what has driven their success on that end? 

A: When you play well on offense, it gives the team confidence when transitioning back to defense. This Bulldogs team plays with a lot of passion on both sides of the ball, while also wearing their emotions on their sleeves. When they are struggling, it is easy to see the frustration throughout the team. But as the season has gone on, they have gotten better at keeping that composure. With that being said, all it takes is for the Bulldogs to get in a rhythm on offense early for them to gain confidence that translates to the defensive side of the ball.

Q: What’s your prediction? 

A: Fresno State, 76. Colorado State, 69.

Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.

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