If basketball doesn’t work out long term, perhaps Boise State senior Brooke Pahukoa can go into fortune telling.
The Boise State women’s basketball team lost its first game at the Mountain West Tournament her freshman year in 2014. The Broncos won the tournament the following season.
Boise State also lost its first tournament game in 2016. Pahukoa sat at the losers’ podium at the postgame press conference and told reporters history would repeat itself: The Broncos would be the 2017 Mountain West champions.
Pahukoa’s crystal ball proved accurate Friday.
Behind 17 points from Pahukoa, fourth-seeded Boise State defeated No. 7 Fresno State 66-53 at Thomas & Mack Center to earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.
The Broncos have won 10 in a row and a program-record 25 games. Pahukoa was named the tournament MVP while fellow senior Yaiza Rodriguez was an all-tournament selection.
“She is someone that I’ve talked about a lot that has competitive greatness,” Boise State head coach Gordy Presnell said. “She has the ability to be great when you have to be great. And that’s Brooke Pahukoa.”
It is Boise State’s fourth NCAA Tournament appearance (1994, 2007, 2015) and third under Presnell. The Broncos have never won an NCAA game and lost to Tennessee 72-61 in their last appearance. Boise State lost to Washington in 1994 (89-61) and to George Washington in 2007 (76-67).
The NCAA Women’s Tournament selection show airs 5 p.m. Monday on ESPN; the tournament starts next Friday.
After losing 6-of-9 games in January, it began to look doubtful that the Broncos (25-7) would follow through on Pahukoa’s bold prediction.
“Even when we had that stretch when we were losing, I don’t think that we ever thought we were going to come here and not win it,” Pahukoa said. “Every season’s a little bit of a roller coaster, and you peak at the end. That’s what you want to do, is peak at the end. And we knew that we had that as our future.”
The Broncos led 30-28 at halftime despite shooting 34.4 percent from the field. Boise State warmed up in the second half behind Pahukoa, who scored 15 after halftime. The Broncos led for nearly 34 minutes despite shooting 34 percent from the field.
The championship game produced by far the Broncos’ largest margin of victory at this year’s tournament. Pahukoa hit a game-winner jumper with a second left to down New Mexico 64-62 in the quarterfinals, and BSU upset No. 1 Colorado State 65-61 in the semifinals behind 15 points fourth-quarter points from freshman Riley Lupfer.
The Broncos have won 11 games decided by six points or less this season. Regardless of circumstance or opponent, they always feel like they have a shot.
“We have some great wins in the schedule that prepared us for (the MW Tournament),” Presnell said. “It’s probably a pretty soft group off the floor, but on the floor, we’re pretty competitive. And someone’s going to step up. There’s that trust level.”
Rodriguez (five assists) and junior Shalen Shaw (nine rebounds) each chipped in 12 points.
Following the semifinal victory over Colorado State on Wednesday, Pahukoa credited the Broncos’ successes to an unrivaled team chemistry. After cutting down the nets Friday, the theme of camaraderie was again at the forefront.
“We are not like a team. We are more like a family. We love each other,” sophomore guard Marta Hermida said. “You know they are going to be there in the good times and the bad times. I’ve never had something like this.”
Along with twin sister Brittney, Brooke Pahukoa and Rodriguez are Boise State’s lone seniors, serving as the heart and soul of the team. Their selflessness and genuine regard for one another moved Shaw to tears at the winners’ podium.
“You’re going to make me cry. They mean everything. I’m going to miss them,” Shaw said. “Everyone loves them, and I’m happy we’re just sending them off on a good note. But we still have to keep going. We have more games to play.”
NCAA Tournament selection show
Boise State will learn its opponent and destination at 5 p.m. Monday on ESPN. The women’s 64-team NCAA Tournament starts March 17-18 on 16 campus sites (top 16 overall seeds host first- and second-round games).