Brian Murphy: Watkins rules the boards for Boise State

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comJanuary 19, 2014 

Utah St Boise St Basketball

Boise State's Ryan Watkins moves the ball around Utah State's Jarred Shaw during the second half of the Broncos' 78-74 victory Saturday night at Taco Bell Arena.


When the game is on the line, the Boise State men's basketball team turns to Derrick Marks. When it needs a 3-pointer, it can turn to a trio of outside bombers - Anthony Drmic, Jeff Elorriaga or emerging freshman Nick Duncan.

But when the ball is caroming off the rim, there is only one player the Broncos want chasing it.

It's not glamorous work - not usually - but senior Ryan Watkins attacks rebounds, particularly offensive rebounds, like each one is a precious gift.

And, for a basketball team that continues to play one-possession games, each one is precious. Each one could be the difference between a win and a loss - and, for a team with little margin for error in its NCAA Tournament quest, one extra win could mean everything.

"You've got to have the will to go get them," Watkins said after grabbing 10 offensive rebounds in Saturday night's nail-biting 78-74 victory against Utah State at Taco Bell Arena. "I want to win and I want to win for my team. So that fires me up to go get every rebound that I can."

The 6-foot-9 Watkins, the Mountain West's leader in offensive rebounds, finished with 16 total rebounds and 15 points in the game and one stand-up and cheer-worthy possession.

Watkins started it by grabbing a defensive rebound with 9 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the second half. He grabbed an offensive rebound on a miss by Marks. After a 3-point miss by Elorriaga, Watkins grabbed a second offensive board. Another miss by Marks led to a scramble - with Watkins in the middle - and another offensive rebound. Duncan missed a 3-pointer, and Marks tipped it out (though Watkins got credit in the box score, probably out of habit) to keep the ball with the Broncos.

Watkins ended the possession with an inside bucket against Utah State's 6-foot-10 center Jarred Shaw with 8:21 on the clock.

"If you don't score, it's just great effort. By scoring, it goes down as one of the best offensive possessions I've seen at Taco Bell Arena," coach Leon Rice said.

Utah State entered the game sixth in the country in rebounding margin. Behind Watkins, the Broncos won the battle on the boards (35-23). Boise State grabbed 12 offensive rebounds. Utah State had 19 defensive boards.

"I told him, 'You can be an all-league player just by rebounding.' I think he showed that," Rice said. "How many times do you see him fly in there, rebound it, kick it out to one of the shooters. It's just the most unselfish play in basketball and Ryan does it continuously."

It was Watkins' seventh double-double (double digits in points and rebounds) of the season and his third in five Mountain West games. He also tied a career high with three assists.

"I don't think he gets enough praise," Duncan said.

And all of that dirty work on the boards, the hustling and fighting, clawing and diving, may not have mattered much if not for Watkins' effort on the defensive end at the end of the game.

Leading 75-74, the Broncos opted not to double-team Shaw (a game-high 24 points) on the final possession, leaving Watkins to hold off the big center on his own.

Shaw got the ball on the right block and went to work. No help came, as Rice did not want to leave a Utah State shooter open. Shaw backed Watkins down and went for a short hook in the middle of the lane.

"It was exactly the shot we wanted," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said.

It fell off the rim.

"I guess I disturbed him enough," Watkins said.

It was one rebound Watkins did not grab. He'd done enough.

Let Marks and Drmic make the final free throws.

Watkins will just keep chasing rebounds, desperate for one more precious possession, one more shot for someone else, one more win for a team that needs each one desperately.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444

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