It is, no doubt, too simplistic to give all the credit for Boise States 77-72 mens basketball victory against UNLV on Saturday night to the return of guard Jeff Elorriaga.
But there is now ample evidence of the impact that the 6-foot-2 junior has on the Broncos chances of winning and losing.
In short, huge.
Its amazing how one guy can make a big, big difference. Hes just such a great leader, Boise State coach Leon Rice said. I saw it in practice (Friday). It was amazing. You put him back in the lineup and it gave them a big bounce in their step.
Elorriaga missed three and a half of the Broncos past four games because of concussions. The Broncos lost the three games Elorriaga did not play in. The Broncos (15-6, 3-4 in the Mountain West) are 15-3 when he plays and 0-3 when he doesnt this season.
Elorriagas pedestrian numbers 11 points, five assists and three steals dont tell the story. He stripped UNLV star Anthony Bennett with 1 minute, 43 seconds remaining and the Broncos leading 73-72. He threw a perfect pass to Derrick Marks on an inbounds play with one second remaining on the shot clock. Marks tipped the ball in.
The plays that he can make, all these ones that nobody notices that just make a difference in the outcome of the game, thats what Jeff is, Rice said.
Team doctors and trainers cleared Elorriaga to play against Colorado State on Wednesday, but Rice opted to keep him out against the physical Rams.
With Elorriaga back in the starting lineup, the Broncos returned to their preferred four-guard alignment. Boise State had scoring droughts to start losses at Nevada and Colorado State with a more traditional three-guard, two-big man lineup.
Against UNLV (17-5, 4-3 MW), Boise State jumped out to an 11-2 lead in front of a loud crowd of 9,356 at Taco Bell Arena.
Theyre hard to guard when they go small, UNLV coach Dave Rice said. Theyre confident anytime that theyve got four guys on the floor who can all stretch the defense and spread you out.
The lead reached nine again late in the first half when UNLV forward Mike Moser fouled Drmic on a fast-break lay-up. Moser was assessed a flagrant foul and ejected from the game. Drmic made two free throws and then knocked down two more 7 seconds later on another foul to extend the Broncos edge to 40-31.
Officials told UNLVs Rice that Moser did not make a play on the ball.
In the second half, UNLV turned to Bennett, a top NBA prospect. The 6-foot-8 freshman scored 19 of his game-high 25 after halftime, including nine of the Rebels last 14 points.
The Broncos had several chances to secure the victory, but missed the front end of three consecutive one-and-one opportunities down the stretch. UNLV point guard Anthony Marshall drained a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 73-72 with 33 seconds remaining.
Marks, an 87 percent free-throw shooter, missed the third front end, giving the Runnin Rebels a chance to win the game. Bennett missed a 3-pointer with about 14 seconds remaining. Boise State closed it out with free throws.
UNLV went 1-for-6 from the field and 0-for-2 from the line in the final two minutes.
Last year we had the lead on them and we blew it and they came down and won in overtime. It means a lot to us. Last year we kept blowing all those leads, this year were finishing games, Elorriaga said. We got the stops we needed, and thats key.
NOTE: Guard Igor Hadziomerovic did not play because of a foot injury.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444