Boise State looks to buck history against Wildcats

The Broncos never beat a top 10 team, and Kentucky is tough host.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman,comDecember 9, 2013 

Kentucky is 500-62 (89 percent) at Rupp Arena since the building was completed in 1976. That is the fourth-best home winning percentage in college basketball. Boise State has played in three buildings also in the top 10 — Michigan State’s Breslin Center (2012), Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse (1978, 2000) and UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion (1978). “I’ve heard it’s one of the most unique environments there is,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said.

CHET WHITE — UK Athletics

The Boise State basketball team is aware of the odds — but the task isn’t impossible, either.

No. 3 Kentucky will welcome the Broncos into Rupp Arena for a 7 p.m. Tuesday game, the first ESPN game for Boise State since 1999. The Wildcats, with a roster full of high school All-Americans, are coming off a loss to No. 20 Baylor on Friday.

“We’re catching them at probably a bad time,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said.

Boise State is 8-0, while Kentucky is 7-2, with both losses to top-20 teams. It will be Boise State’s 43rd game against a ranked opponent, and the Broncos are 6-36 in such contests (2-19 on the road). The Broncos have never beat a top-10 team in 11 tries.

“Everyone knows about Kentucky, about Rupp Arena. We’re excited. We know it’s going to be a hell of a challenge, and we pretty much will need to play a perfect game to beat them,” Boise State senior Jeff Elorriaga said.

Rupp Arena, which seats 23,000, has been unkind to nonconference visitors.

Kentucky is 41-1 against nonconference teams at Rupp under coach John Calipari, the only loss coming Dec. 1, 2012, against Baylor, which snapped a 55-game home winning streak.

The Bears’ leading scorer in that game, Pierre Jackson, who had 17 points, is averaging 28.6 points a game for the Idaho Stampede of the NBA Development League this season.

“Oh man, I just remember how loud it gets in that place,” Jackson said. “They had a dunk on the first play and it erupted. You just can’t get rattled, and if you get them down, you have to keep firing.”

Last season, Boise State showed a knack for not getting rattled, beating then-No. 11 Creighton on the road and losing by four or less at Michigan State and San Diego State.

Rupp Arena will hardly be the biggest worry against a big, athletic lineup that Rice likens to the gigantic Monstars from the movie "Space Jam." However, his Broncos boast five starters who have made a combined 295 starts, against the Wildcats, who start four true freshmen.

“You’d hope that you can make that part of your advantage, but first you have to get past the physical part of it and be able to make that a factor in the game, and that’s one of those things that’s easier said than done,” Rice said. “He’s assembled maybe one of the most talented teams that’s ever been assembled in college basketball.”

Rice did note that after beating Carroll on Thursday night, he talked with his fellow former Gonzaga assistant, Billy Grier, now the coach at San Diego. Grier won at Rupp Arena on Dec. 29, 2007, with the Toreros. Rice made sure to mention “it’s such a different situation,” considering Calipari is now at the helm.

Even as recently as Tuesday’s 69-67 win over then-unbeaten Utah, the Broncos have handled adversity better and better through Rice’s tenure, which is a benefit in traveling to Lexington.

“Those experiences matter,” Elorriaga said. “Our focus is staying together, not letting things get out of hand if stuff hits the fan. We’d crumble a few years ago if it was close at the end, but we learned from that.”

There is no recipe for success at Rupp Arena, but one player who had a big hand in winning there thinks Boise State could have what it takes — Baylor started two seniors and two juniors in its win last year.

“We had a lot of guys who were underdogs coming up, and you’ll be underdogs there — you need a chip on your shoulder,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen Boise State play a few times, they’ve got some good players. I think they’ve got a chance to do the same thing we did.”


Kentucky, currently ranked No. 3, is coming off a loss Friday, but should still be ranked in the top 10 on Monday. Here is how Boise State has fared against top-10 teams.

Feb. 3, 1970 — No. 5 — at New Mexico State, L, 105-79

March 13, 1976 — No. 4 — UNLV*, L, 103-78

Nov. 24, 1978— No. 2 — at UCLA, L, 79-59

Dec. 4, 1978 — No. 4 — at Kansas, L, 82-68

Feb. 27, 1982 — No. 9 — Idaho, L, 83-77

Dec. 20, 1984 — No. 7 — at Washington, L, 79-53

Dec. 22, 1987 — No. 5 — Wyoming, L, 59-55

March 18, 1993 — No. 8 — Vanderbilt*, L, 92-72

Dec. 30, 1999 — No. 3 — Cincinnati, L, 78-46

Nov. 20, 2000 — No. 4 — at Kansas, L, 101-61

Nov. 13, 2007 — No. 9 — Washington State, L, 86-74

* - denotes NCAA Tournament game

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