Another day, another clutch performance.
A day after senior Brooke Pahukoa hit a game-winning jumper for a first-round win over New Mexico, freshman guard Riley Lupfer scored 15 fourth-quarter points as the No. 4 seeded Broncos rallied to upset Colorado State 65-61 in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament on Wednesday night.
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“I knew from the first moment I saw (Lupfer) at practice, the very first day, that she was something special,” Pahukoa said. “And it’s amazing that she’s going to have four years here.”
Boise State (24-7) has won nine straight games and will play No. 7 Fresno State (18-14) in the championship game at 1 p.m. Friday (Mountain West Network) at Thomas & Mack Center.
Fresno State beat UNLV 53-51 in a late semifinal Wednesday night. The Broncos swept the Bulldogs this season, winning 67-66 in Boise and 66-48 in Fresno.
The winner of Friday’s game advances to the NCAA Tournament.
Tied at 60-60 with about a minute to play, senior Yaiza Rodriguez hit a 3-pointer to put the Broncos ahead. Pahukoa hit a pair of shots in the final minute to ice the game for the Broncos, who have tied a program record with 24 wins.
The Broncos outscored the Rams 13-4 to end the game.
“Some of it is leadership, and some of it is they’ve been there before,” coach Gordy Presnell said. “That’s strong leadership and believing.”
After enduring a 3-6 stretch midway through the season, Boise State has recaptured some of the magic that helped it win the tournament in 2014-15. Presnell said the momentum from winning a roller-coaster game against New Mexico a night earlier helped against Colorado State.
“We easily could have turned it in, but we didn’t,” Presnell said. “It’s a group that is pretty resilient, and they feed off each other and they enjoy being together.”
Lupfer led Boise State with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
Lupfer took charge early and often in the fourth quarter after scoring two points in the first 30 minutes. She hit a 3-pointer less than 30 seconds into the period to tie the game at 40-40 and proceeded to hit her next jumper. And her next one. And her next one.
“I was screaming at (Rodriguez), give me the ball. I really don’t even remember it,” Lupfer said. “When I’m screaming at Yaiza, you know I want the ball.’’
Rodriguez and Pahukoa scored 14 points and 11 points, respectively.
Wednesday night was especially meaningful for Rodriguez, whose family flew in from Barcelona, Spain. Her family was unable to attend when the Broncos won the Mountain West two seasons ago in Las Vegas; the opportunity to win it in front of her family this season is monumental.
“It means everything to me,” Rodriguez said. “(My dad and I) kind of joked that if we don’t get to the final, I’m paying for his trip to Vegas. It means a lot to me.”
Boise State’s senior trio of Rodriguez and twins Brooke and Brittney Pahukoa has waited for a chance to win the Mountain West again and return to the NCAA Tournament. Friday’s championship game is another opportunity for a close-knit team to continue a memorable journey.
“I love Boise State. I love being a part of this team. I love my teammates. I love my coaches,” Pahukoa said. “This isn’t about going and winning a championship. It’s about playing one more game with the girls I love.”
Women’s Mountain West Tournament
At Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
All games on MW Network
San Jose St. 76, San Diego St. 58
Fresno St. 62, Nevada 57
Utah St. 46, Air Force 40
Colorado St. 65, San Jose St. 60
Boise St. 64, New Mexico 62
Fresno St. 58, Wyoming 48
UNLV 68, Utah St. 43
Boise State 65, Colorado State 61
Fresno St. 53, UNLV 51
No. 4 Boise St. (24-7) vs. No. 7 Fresno St. (18-14), 1 p.m.