True freshman brings smarts, heart to Boise State men's basketball team

Aussie newcomer Nick Duncan is a 4.0 student and steady contributor.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comJanuary 18, 2014 

“He’s taken a huge step,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said of true freshman Nick Duncan. “He’s starting to understand how physical he can be. He’s a strong kid.”

JOE JASZEWSKI — Idaho Statesman file

  • UTAH STATE AT BOISE STATE

    Time: 7 p.m.

    Radio: 670 AM

    Video: ESPN3.com

    Vegas line: Boise State by 7 1⁄2

    Series: Utah State leads 28-8 (Aggies won last meeting 77-69 in 2011 WAC championship at Las Vegas)

    Notable: The Aggies are atop the Mountain West in rebounding (plus-10.3 per game) and 3-point shooting (42.0 percent). … The first 8,000 fans at the game will be given a rally towel.

— There is no doubt Nick Duncan adapts quickly — look no further than the numbers he posted this week off the basketball floor, and on it.

On Thursday, Boise State announced Duncan had a 4.0 GPA in his first college semester after coming to Boise from Australia.

Two days prior, the freshman had 10 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench in a 74-65 win at Nevada. It was his first game in double figures since Nov. 15, and tied his best rebounding total.

“I’m feeling more confident every game, every time I play,” Duncan said.

Duncan has played in all 16 of Boise State’s games heading into Saturday night’s home game against Utah State, averaging 4.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Duncan showed off his shooting ability right away; his 16 3-pointers are third on the team. But his growth as a rebounder has been notable.

In Duncan’s past five games, he has 23 of his 41 rebounds this season. He came into the Nevada game with 19 defensive rebounds, and all five he pulled down Tuesday were on the defensive end.

Dealing with the stronger, bigger players has been perhaps the biggest adjustment Duncan has needed to make after being accustomed to European-style basketball.

It was evident during the second half of his first regular-season game, Nov. 8 against UT Arlington, when the Mavericks pulled off an alley-oop — right on top of Duncan.

“I got dunked on, everyone was kind of looking at me, laughing at me, and I think that’s when it hit me everyone was a bit more athletic,” Duncan said.

Duncan said through the first 10 games, he would box out on rebounds, but realized that isn’t enough against Division I players. He had to put in that extra effort, go after the ball and not let it come down to him.

That willingness to push himself is evident in his grades, but also in his contribution on a veteran team.

“It’s been huge for us,” senior Ryan Watkins said. “He’s a great listener, he learns, he brings great energy every day, his attitude’s what is going to get him over the top. I’m telling you, he’s going to be a great player here.

“As he develops, he’s going to be a monster.”

Though Duncan is eighth on the team in scoring, the combination of an outside shooter who can also rebound is tantalizing for Boise State as Duncan continues to improve.

“It’s really valuable for us for the future, because it’s a guy we can build around with his skill package,” Rice said.

Duncan is quick to point out one improvement since that first game.

“I haven’t been dunked on since,” he said with a smile.

The quest to become a more physical player will continue on offense, too. Duncan noted he has made seven more 3-pointers than 2-pointers, so getting to the basket is a focus.

“I’ve got to make sure my game’s more well-rounded,” Duncan said.

Smart kid.

Women seek first road win

The Boise State women’s basketball team will hope to get its first road victory of the season Saturday at Utah State.

Winners of three of their past five overall, the Broncos (7-8, 2-2) are coming off a 67-64 win at home Wednesday over Nevada. Junior Deanna Weaver is averaging 16.0 ppg in her five games with the Broncos. Utah State (8-7, 2-2) is the top scoring team in the Mountain West, averaging 81.3 ppg.

The Aggies have a few Idaho ties — freshmen guards Shelby Cloninger and Liz Landreth hail from Kamiah and Capital High, respectively. Coach Jerry Finkbeiner coached at Northwest Nazarene and Nampa High from 1984-88, while assistant Stu Sells was Vallivue High’s coach from 2005-09.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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