The Boise State mens basketball team relishes its status as undersized scrappers. The Broncos embrace that fighting spirit.
We learned we have to be a scrappier team and fight because were smaller and sometimes were not the most gifted team, said Jeff Elorriaga, who walked on at Boise State when no other school offered him a scholarship. Its good for us to keep fighting. ... Were going to have to play scrappy. Who is going to get the most loose balls? Those are going to decide the game.
That mentality particularly when it comes to rebounding has served the Broncos (13-2, 1-0 Mountain West) well this season. The guard-heavy Broncos will need it again Wednesday night when they host No. 19 New Mexico (15-2, 2-0 MW) at Taco Bell Arena.
Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
The Lobos combination of 7-foot sophomore center Alex Kirk and 6-9 junior forward Cameron Bairstow gives them a distinct size edge on Boise State, which starts 6-9 junior forward Ryan Watkins and 6-6 sophomore wing Anthony Drmic as its big men.
In two Mountain West games, Kirk is averaging 21.0 points and 11.5 rebounds, way up from his season averages of 12.5 points and 7.9 rebounds. Bairstow, who like Drmic played at the Australian Institute of Sport, is averaging 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in league play.
Their development has been essential and a big part of the reason were 15-2, New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. I think were a little bit ahead of schedule ... so to be sitting here at 15-2, were extremely pleased. A lot of that falls on the shoulders of our two big guys because I think they have developed very nicely. They continue to improve and continue to get better at both ends.
Guard Tony Snell, at 6-7, gives the Lobos exceptional size in a league that has more and more teams playing four guards like Boise State. In two league games, New Mexico has outrebounded opponents 84-62.
Despite their small lineup, the Broncos have outrebounded their Division I opponents 32.4 to 29.2.
If we dont rebound like our hairs on fire, were in trouble, Boise State coach Leon Rice said. Our guys understand that. Thats whats kept us in games against teams that are a lot more talented rebounding wise.
Much of the burden will fall on Watkins, who grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds in the Broncos victory against LSU, to stay out of foul trouble and remain effective. He is averaging 7.1 rebounds per game. Watkins picked up his fourth foul early in the second half at Wyoming.
Its definitely going to be a test. Im going to try to go out there and prove myself and prove what I can do, Watkins said.
Said Rice: Ryan has to do a great job. Im sure theyre going to try to get Ryan in foul trouble. He has to be smart, but aggressive. There is a fine line here.
Backup center Kenny Buckner, who was suspended for the Wyoming game, will sit out the New Mexico game and Saturdays game at Air Force for violating team rules. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor petit theft charges in April and paid a fine of $304.90. He had not been previously suspended for the incident.
Walk-on sophomore Jake Ness, who played 17 effective minutes in the Broncos victory at Wyoming, will be the top reserve in the middle.
He plays hard. He gives his best effort all the time, Watkins said.
But it will take a complete team effort agaisnt the taller Lobos, Rice said. Drmic, who often battles players several inches taller with toughness and tenacity, is averaging 4.7 rebounds per game. Elorriaga grabbed 10 boards against Louisiana and nine at UT Arlington.
Our guys do a great job boxing out, Elorriaga said. We really emphasize that guards rebound because the bigs are going to be in a dogfight most of the night.
Æ The Broncos have sold 9,060 tickets for the game, as of the close of business Tuesday. Boise State is encouraging fans to wear orange and arrive early to avoid long lines.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444,Twitter: @MurphsTurph