Boise State’s three seniors playing some of their best basketball in final season

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comMarch 5, 2014 

  • NEVADA AT BOISE STATE

    7 p.m. Wednesday at Taco Bell Arena

    Radio/TV: KBOI 670 AM; Mountain West Network

    Vegas line: Boise State by 12

    Tickets: $14-$20 plus fees (alumni can save $6 on adult tickets at alumni.boisestate.edu); Taco Bell Arena box office or via phone at (208) 426-4737.

    Records: Nevada is 13-16, 8-8 (lost 72-58 against New Mexico on Sunday); Boise State is 19-10, 9-7

    Series: Nevada leads 39-23 (Boise State won 74-65 in Reno on Jan. 14 in last meeting)

    Notable: Boise State junior Anthony Drmic, the team’s leading scorer (16.9 ppg) will play, coach Leon Rice said. Drmic missed Saturday’s win at Wyoming with an ankle injury. … A win Wednesday will earn Rice a one-year contract extension through 2018-19 for reaching 20 victories.

    GET LIVE UPDATES DURING THE GAME AT IDAHOSTATESMAN.COM

Before this season, Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice said he hoped his three seniors would go out on top.

How the Broncos’ season ends remains to be seen, but Ryan Watkins, Thomas Bropleh and Jeff Elorriaga are doing their best work as their college careers wind down.

The trio will be honored on Senior Night prior the Broncos’ matchup against Nevada at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Taco Bell Arena.

“You probably couldn’t script it better. I know how I want to script the end for them, but what they’ve done to this point is so impressive, and as a coach, you’re really proud of what they’ve accomplished,” Rice said.

All three were part of Rice’s first recruiting class, pulled together in the spring and summer before the 2010-11 season. They have 75 wins, tied for sixth-most of any senior class in school history, but it’s their final season that has been the best.

Watkins is having an all-Mountain West caliber season, setting the league record for rebounds in conference play (199) Saturday at Wyoming. Averaging 11.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, he’s in line to be the first Bronco to average a double-double in a season since 1971-72.

Bropleh has 114 points in the past nine games after scoring 101 in the 20 games prior. Seven of his 23 career double-digit scoring games have come in the nine-game span.

Elorriaga, the team’s “glue guy,” has inspired the Broncos simply by playing, averaging 18.5 minutes per game the past four games with a broken bone in his back.

“It’s been great, because I think we’ve stepped up when the team needed us,” Watkins said. “We wanted to have big years and help the team, which I think we’ve done. Tom’s left it all out there, and that’s all you can do your senior year. Jeff, he brings it every day. He’s pushed through some injuries, and that energy, we’re different without him.”

After the Broncos’ 73-62 win at Wyoming, Rice said his seniors were “the cornerstone” of the program he is hoping to build at Boise State. Naturally, a cornerstone is the first stone set at the beginning of a laborious, sometimes stressful, but ultimately rewarding project — fitting for this trio.

“We’ve all worked really hard to get here. Hopefully we’re remembered as a blue-collar group,” said Elorriaga, who initially joined the program as a walk-on.

“Ryan’s a rebounding machine, Thomas has fought through a lot to have a great finish, and I just want to be known as someone who played hard.”

Watkins and Bropleh (7.4 ppg) are on pace for their career-best scoring averages. Elorriaga, hampered by his injury, is averaging 7.2 ppg, 3.0 less than last season, but his 45.7 percent shooting from 3-point range is on pace for his best.

“Definitely all the hard work you’ve put in, to see it come to fruition, it’s great,” Bropleh said. “It shows you that there’s hope in anything you do.”

On the verge of back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 1988-89, all three earned their stripes. Watkins has lost more than 30 pounds since his arrival, Bropleh fought through a wrist injury last season and confidence issues as a bench player, and Elorriaga’s battles with back, head and ankle injuries.

“I think I can use all three of those guys as learning examples for our younger guys now and in the future for all the resilience they have,” Rice said.

As much as Wednesday’s game means, the seniors hope its their last at home. Winning the Mountain West Tournament would mean an automatic NCAA Tournament berth. If not, they may return to Taco Bell Arena for another postseason tournament game. But the only certainty is taking on Nevada, a win that would clinch a bye in next week’s conference tournament.

“It’s been a long ride, but also a fun one,” Bropleh said. “We’ve had a good, solid year this year. The last home game, I’d like to go out on a good note.”

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