As Boise State basketball player Brooke Pahukoa sat at the winners’ podium Wednesday night following an intense 65-61 upset over top-seeded Colorado State in the Mountain West Tournament semifinals, she could only smile when running down a list of teammates.
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There was talk of dazzling freshman Riley Lupfer, who scored 15 points in the fourth quarter of the comeback win. Pahukoa gushed over fellow senior Yaiza Rodriguez, who hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with about a minute remaining and nailed clutch shots throughout the second half. She spoke glowingly of junior Shalen Shaw, who grabbed 11 rebounds despite coming off the bench.
Every player on Boise State’s roster means something to Pahukoa.
On a few occasions, Pahukoa was nearly moved to tears. She is clearly thrilled at the opportunity for the fourth-seeded Broncos (24-7) to play No. 7 Fresno State (18-14) for the Mountain West championship Friday (1 p.m., streamed online at Mountain West Network) at Thomas & Mack Center.
A win, and Boise State returns to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in program history (1994, 2007, 2015).
But that wasn’t what got Pahukoa’s waterworks going. It was stories from her coaches and teammates and the fact she ensured herself of one more game with her sisters that almost made her cry.
“(I get) one more possession,” said Pahukoa, a two-time All-Mountain West selection. “(It’s) one more game I want to be a part of.”
In a season that has seen Boise State win 11 games by six points or less, including both of its MW Tournament games, it’s that special bond between players and coaches that has allowed the Broncos to win nail-biters. When games are close, there is an unspoken confidence that the job will get done.
“We’re a team that believes in each other,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody is involved in the game, no matter if you play 40 minutes or you play one minute. You enjoy being a part of this team. And I think that’s what happens when the game gets close. We all know we’re going to be there for each other.”
Boise State has talented players across the board, including Pahukoa and Lupfer, who was named to the Mountain West’s All-Freshman team this week. No one averages more than 13.1 points per game, though, and when compared to a star-studded team like Colorado State, the Broncos look overmatched.
Beyond points, stats and measurables, however, is a Boise State that wants to stay together as long as possible. For the three seniors, Rodriguez and twins Brittney and Brooke Pahukoa, each victory ensures another 40 minutes of game time.
“The more games I can play here, the better for me,” Rodriguez said. “I just don’t want to stop (playing) here. I guess I’m just going to have to keep winning.”
The camaraderie starts at the top with Brooke Pahukoa and Rodriguez; what separates Boise State is that the love has trickled down. Lupfer sat at the podium with Pahukoa on Wednesday and, when asked about her clutch performance against Colorado State, deferred to her right.
“You are who you surround yourself with,” Lupfer said. “And Brooke Pahukoa over here, she steps up every night and it’s greatness.”
When the Broncos take on Fresno State on Friday, the chance to go to the NCAA Tournament obviously means something to each of head coach Gordy Presnell’s players. But the Mountain West championship game represents much more for this year’s group.
“I’m real excited for them. They live their lives right, they’re high-value kids. To see them rewarded with a chance to play for a championship is awesome,” Presnell said. “It’s great to be a part of their lives for a little bit longer.”
Mountain West Tournament women’s final
AT THOMAS & MACK CENTER, LAS VEGAS
▪ No. 4 Boise State (24-7) vs. No. 7 Fresno State (18-14), 1 p.m. Friday (streamed online at Mountain West Network, broadcast on KTIK 1350 AM)
Boise St. 65, Colorado St. 61
Fresno St. 53, UNLV 51
Colorado St. 65, San Jose St. 60
Boise St. 64, New Mexico 62
Fresno St. 58, Wyoming 48
UNLV 68, Utah St. 43
MONDAY’S FIRST ROUND
San Jose St. 76, San Diego St. 58
Fresno St. 62, Nevada 57
Utah St. 46, Air Force 40