Boise State coach Leon Rice is smart enough to know his players are focused on Wednesday night’s game at Nevada.
The Broncos (17-8, 10-4) and Wolf Pack (21-6, 10-4) are tied for second in the Mountain West, a half-game behind Colorado State (19-9, 11-4). With four games remaining in the regular season, the matchup in Reno (8 p.m., ESPN3) is of the utmost importance, and Rice isn’t hiding that from his players.
“It’s not any other game. They’re not dumb. They know that,” Rice said. “But they also know that they’ve put us in this position to play these games. There are very few teams around the country playing these games right now that have meaning in the conference championship.”
Nevada won the first matchup between the teams 76-57 at Taco Bell Arena on Jan. 25. The Wolf Pack, led by D.J. Fenner’s 21 points, outscored Boise State 16-2 late in the half and surged to a victory, taking over first place at the time.
Despite losing by 19, the Broncos went toe-to-toe with Nevada for a majority of the game. With another chance to knock off the Wolf Pack, Rice is making sure to smell the roses and bask in his team’s unlikely run to the top of the conference. The Broncos were picked to finish fifth in the Mountain West’s preseason poll.
“If you would have told me in August that we were going to be right here in late February, tied with two other teams and four games to go … I would have taken it,” Rice said. “The growth of this team has been amazing.”
But can the Broncos take down Nevada? If so, how?
Get Nevada into foul trouble
The Wolf Pack’s starting five of Marcus Marshall, Cameron Oliver, D.J. Fenner, Jordan Caroline and Lindsey Drew are as good as there is in the conference, averaging 69.5 points per game combined. Nevada’s bench, however, is another story, averaging less than 10 points per game.
If Oliver or Marshall, who scored a combined 35 in January’s win at Boise State, get early fouls, it could force coach Eric Musselman to use his bench early.
“Those are good theories that you can hopefully get to that. (But) you can’t worry about it, really,” Rice said. “You can’t go out of your way of what you do.”
Win the rebounding battle
Nevada outrebounded Boise State 40-37 in the first meeting, with Oliver accounting for 15. No Bronco had more than seven (Chandler Hutchison). The Wolf Pack are the second-best rebounding team in the league (38.7) behind Wyoming (39.5).
Boise State has four conference losses, getting outrebounded in three of them.
“We’re obviously going to have to play a little bit better. And you have to be able to rebound with them,” Rice said. “They’re a great rebounding team.”
Focus on team, not individual, defense
This seems obvious but still warrants mentioning. Against New Mexico or San Jose State, Boise State can focus its defensive efforts on Elijah Brown and Brandon Clarke, respectively. Nevada, however, offers a far different challenge.
Four of Nevada’s five starters average double-figures scoring, and a key for the Broncos is a balanced defense.
“They have a bunch of guys that make contested shots. All five guys at all times can score,” Rice said. “That’s what makes them so difficult. If you put all your attention to one guy, they have a bunch of other guys.”
Boise State at Nevada
- When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Lawlor Events Center (12,000), Reno
- Records: Boise State (17-8, 10-4 MW); Nevada (21-6, 10-4)
- Broadcast: ESPN3
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM (Bob Behler and Abe Jackson), also available at broncosports.com
- Vegas line: Nevada favored by 6 points
Boise State women host Nevada on Wednesday
Winners of three straight games, the Broncos (18-7, 8-6) are back in Taco Bell Arena to face the Wolf Pack (10-15, 4-10) at 7 p.m. Boise State, fifth in the Mountain West, won the first matchup 69-62 on Jan. 25 in Reno.
Senior guard Brooke Pahukoa leads the Broncos with 12.5 points per game, while sophomore center Marijke Vanderschaaf is averaging 16.3 points and 5.3 rebounds during the three-game winning streak.
Boise State is averaging 69.2 points per game (second in MW). The Wolf Pack average 66.9 points (ninth in MW) and are led by Stephanie Schmid’s 12.3 points per game.
Tickets start at $6 for adults and are available at the door and at BroncoSports.com/tickets. The game will be streamed on the Mountain West Network.