Boise State men's basketball has precious little time to find answers

The Broncos hope to snap their two-game losing streak in the midst of a quick trip to Nevada.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comJanuary 13, 2014 

AS HE GOES … Jeff Elorriaga is critical to the Boise State offense, and when he struggles, the team follows suit. The senior guard hasn’t scored in the past five halves, a 75-minute stretch of playing time, and the Broncos have been outscored by 19 points in that span. Elorriaga shot 0-for-4, all 3-pointers before halftime, during the Broncos’ loss to Wyoming on Saturday. “I thought he had great looks in the first half,” coach Leon Rice said. “He’ll knock those down (next time).”

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

— Just about the only sure thing in the Mountain West is to expect the unexpected.

Boise State, picked second in the conference’s preseason men’s basketball poll, is 1-2 in league play, coming off a 52-50 home loss to Wyoming on Saturday.

The Broncos will have to find an end to their two-game losing streak on the road Tuesday at Nevada. Easier said than done — the Wolf Pack, who went 3-13 in league play last year, are 4-0 this year after going 5-8 in nonconference play.

“We’ve got a day shorter, and we’re playing the hottest team in the conference,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “It’s crazy, but that’s the tough part of the Mountain West.”

After opening league play Jan. 4 with an 86-79 win over Fresno State, the Broncos fell at then-No. 13 San Diego State 69-66 on Wednesday before the loss to Wyoming.

Only twice since 2006-07 has Boise State started 1-3 or worse in conference play — 2009-10 in the WAC in Greg Graham’s last season, and 2011-12 in the Broncos’ first Mountain West campaign.

“It’s a fine line, and we can flip it,” Rice said.

On its path to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team last season, Boise State began Mountain West play 1-2, then won one of its next three before closing the regular season with a 7-3 streak.

“Each year, we’ve had to go through tough stretches like this. Most teams do. But it’s the ones that get better who are around later in March,” Rice said.

The Broncos feel their improvement is a little less tangible than something like shooting better, though their 20.6 percent shooting from 3-point range during their back-to-back losses will need to improve. Senior Ryan Watkins said Saturday the close losses were something the team can’t prepare for, but needs to go through.

“We’ve got great leadership,” Rice said. “They’ll get us in the right mindset, do a few things a bit differently, maybe finish a little better.”

On the other side Tuesday, one of the best senior leaders in the conference awaits. Guard Deonte Burton, named Mountain West player of the week Monday, leads the league with 21.8 points per game. The Wolf Pack have shown marked improvement in January, giving up 58.3 points per game in Mountain West games after yielding 80.1 ppg in nonconference.

Junior A.J. West, a 6-foot-9 transfer, has made an immediate difference inside since becoming eligible in late December. He has 14 blocks in six games, and averages 9.8 ppg and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game.

“The new guy, he’s certainly helped them,” Rice said. “It starts with Burton, who might be the best guard in the league right now. They’ve continued to get better, and are hot at the right time.”

Thompson a game-time decision

Rice said sophomore Mikey Thompson, who has averaged 9.3 points a game off the bench this season, will be a game-time decision Tuesday with a right knee bruise. The Las Vegas native did not play Saturday against Wyoming.

“It threw us for a loop,” Rice said. “He’s such a big part of what we do, we didn’t have much time to adjust without him.”

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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