The Boise State mens basketball team cant seem to keep its players on the court.
The Broncos have dealt with suspensions, injuries and illness in conference play. Now they are contending with foul trouble.
The Broncos (14-6, 2-4 Mountain West) have committed more fouls than their opponents in five of six conference games. At least one player has fouled out in five league games. In each of the past two games, two players have been disqualified with five fouls.
Not surprisingly, the Broncos lost both games.
We talk about it every time, all the time, not just this week, said center Kenny Buckner, who has nine fouls in the past two games. We need the players on the floor that can make the plays.
Boise State will need them when it hosts UNLV (17-4, 4-2) at Taco Bell Arena. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. Saturday. The game will air on Time Warner Cable SportsNet (channel 691 on DirecTV; not on Dish Network or Cable One).
The Broncos, losers of two straight and four of five, are hoping to snap one streak against the Rebels they have not had all of their top seven players available for an entire league game. Guard Jeff Elorriaga (concussion) is expected back, but several other Broncos are battling flu-like symptoms.
Were hoping that we do (have everyone back), coach Leon Rice said. But with what weve been through lately, nothing surprises me.
The crippling foul trouble hasnt been all that surprising either. Not with the Broncos usually giving up size along the front line.
When youre outmanned and out-physicaled, youre trying to make up for it with hard play, Rice said. The game of basketball has just become so physical. Were maybe not as big and strong as everybody were playing. We want to rely on our skill.
UNLV will present similar problems. The Rebels have seven players 6-foot-8 or taller, including freshman star Anthony Bennett, who is averaging a Mountain West-best 18.1 points per game and 8.6 rebounds.
Bennett is considered a top NBA prospect and will test Boise States big men Buckner and Ryan Watkins, who has fouled out twice in the past five games.
Hes not just a big body thats going to push you aside and score. Hes got all the skill to go with it. He can shoot the 3, he can put it on the floor, hes got a great motor, said Rice, who compared him to former No. 1 pick Chris Webber. ... That kid has got a bright, bright future.
The Broncos will have to play much better defense than they have in league play to contend with a deep, talented UNLV team. Opponents are scoring at ease against the Broncos, who are allowing a league-worst 47.4 percent shooting percentage in six games. Improper defensive positioning isnt just leading to easy points its leading to more fouls.
If youre not in the right spots, then you try to hurry up and get there, you make sudden movements and contact with players and the refs blow their whistles, Buckner said. Coach Rice always says the aggressive team never gets plays called on them. So maybe weve just got to be more aggressive.
With limited options on his bench, Rice has had to keep players with foul trouble on the floor. Buckner, Watkins and guard Igor Hadziomerovic picked up three first-half fouls in Wednesdays loss at Colorado State.
Rice is banking on a return to health to give him more lineup flexibility and buoy the teams sagging confidence and shooting. Boise State has had its two worst shooting performances of the season in the past two games.
You cant lose sight of who you are and what youve been able to do, said Rice, referencing the Broncos 13-2 start and strong efforts against Michigan State, LSU and Creighton.
These guys can play at a high, high level. When youve got them all together, they are playing at a high level. Thats the mojo and thats the moxie I want them to play with.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph