Boise State senior forward Ryan Watkins has performed at an all-conference level during Mountain West play.
When hes been off the floor, opponents have not-so-secretly tried to take advantage.
As the Broncos primary inside presence, with 12.5 points and 13.0 rebounds per game in 11 Mountain West contests, Watkins has only played fewer than 29 minutes three times. He has done well avoiding fouls despite racking up plenty of minutes, but in those three games, the Broncos are 0-3.
Its tough, you feel like youre almost letting your team down, but you have to fight through it, Watkins said.
Staying out of foul trouble will be no easy task Wednesday when the Broncos (15-9, 5-6) host New Mexico (7:15 p.m., CBS Sports Network). The Lobos (18-4, 9-1) feature a 7-foot, 245-pound center in Alex Kirk and a 6-9 forward in Cameron Bairstow, who combine for 34.2 points and 15.8 rebounds per game.
Boise State coach Leon Rice calls the combination one of the best front lines in the country.
Watkins, at 6-9, is the tallest Bronco regular. Six-foot-8 freshman Nick Duncan has been involved more and more inside, though the newcomer has felt a few growing pains dealing with taller, more veteran players.
Length up front is always a problem we dont have any rim protectors right now, thats maybe been the difference in some of these games, said Rice, whose team has six losses by six points or less. The guys are giving everything they have, but the lack of size can be a problem.
Depth has been an issue behind Watkins this season after Kenny Buckner finished his eligibility last March. On Saturday at Utah State, with Watkins ill and in foul trouble, he sat on the bench while Aggie center Jarred Shaw scored six points in five minutes. Twice within 30 seconds of Watkins getting off the floor, Shaw scored on short baskets.
Weve got to do some more things to create a little more havoc, Rice said.
When Watkins thought of what it means to create havoc, he had a few ideas. First, he stressed doing work early, keeping big guys as far away from the basket as possible when they get the ball. And he gladly will accept any help inside, even if its another set of hands swiping at the ball once a pass is entered to the forward or center.
Weve got to fly around, Watkins said. Theres been times when we get a little stagnant when the ball gets into the post. Getting another guy in there makes a big difference.
For those times when he is off the floor, Watkins teammates know drops in production must be minimal. Six-foot-8 junior walk-on Jake Ness logged five minutes Saturday, tied for his season-high. He saw time Jan. 21 at New Mexico and played seven minutes against the Lobos in a 79-74 overtime loss on Jan. 16, 2013 in Boise.
You cant go throw up your hands and go oh crap, Ryans out, Ness said. Its next man up. It was tough (Saturday), but you learn from it. You have to see how Ryan handled his guy, go out there and do your best to do the same.
As he tries to prevent getting into foul trouble, Watkins also has to balance that with a mentality that calls for tenacity, especially against a team like New Mexico.
Weve got to fight for every ball, every rebound, because we know were undersized, Watkins said. Against bigger guys, its important to be smart, use your feet to get good position and not your hands, theyll call that. It wont be easy, but if we have that mindset, well be all right.