Dan Majerle earned the nickname “Thunder Dan” for his thunderous dunks throughout a 14-year NBA career with the Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Now in his fifth season as the coach of the Grand Canyon men’s basketball team, Majerle and the Antelopes bring a bit of that thunder to Taco Bell Arena at 7 p.m. Wednesday night.
“I know his guys play hard, and boy, remembering back the way he played, he got the name ‘Thunder Dan’ for a reason. He played hard,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “I used to love watching him play. I think I see that reflection in his team. They’re well-schooled, and they run good stuff. There’s a lot to see there, and it’s going to be a heck of a game.”
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It is the final home nonconference game of the season for the Broncos (9-1), who hope to close out a four-year run of perfection against nonconference opponents inside Taco Bell Arena. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the Broncos are 23-0 in nonconference home games, which is the longest streak in the Mountain West and tied for the 12th-longest in the nation.
Rice says the Antelopes (7-2) are an NCAA Tournament-caliber team, and they are coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons in just their fifth year as a Division I program. Grand Canyon, located in Phoenix, is the preseason favorite to win the Western Athletic Conference, and this is the first meeting between the two schools.
“We’ve got good momentum and mojo, and we want to keep that going,” Rice said. “It’s about playing great, and that’s what we’re going to have to do to compete in these games.”
Boise State’s 9-1 start — the best since 1988-89 — has led to increased recognition at the national level. The Broncos received two points in the most recent Associated Press poll and eight in the USA Today Coaches’ poll.
“(Players) come here to win games, and they come here to be a part of a winning program and experience that. Their hard work has led to this,” Rice said. “But we’ve got big goals ahead of us, so that’s the priority. That’s always our first focus.”
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Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice is doing his best to keep a lid on the hype.
His players aren’t doing him any favors.
The Broncos made 13 3-pointers and threw down six dunks in a 77-54 victory against Sacramento State on Saturday afternoon at Taco Bell Arena.
At 9-1, the Broncos have matched the program’s best start in nearly 30 years, and seven of those wins have come by double figures. Boise State also started 9-1 in 1988-89. Grand Canyon is up next at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Taco Bell Arena.
“We’re not worried about the next team, whether it be Sac State, whether it be Grand Canyon, whether it be SMU,” Boise State senior Chandler Hutchison said. “We’re working towards our ultimate goal, which is to be Mountain West champions. We know that if we’re focused every day and just getting a little bit better and a little bit better, ultimately it’s going to help us accomplish that goal, and guys are just locked in on doing really anything they can to get at that.”
Earlier this week, Boise State received a vote in the latest USA Today Coaches’ poll. The last and only time the Broncos have been ranked was March 9, 2015, when they reached No. 25 in The Associated Press poll.
The recognition is likely to continue for the Broncos if they keep winning, and it doesn’t hurt that Loyola (Chicago) — a team the Broncos beat by 34 points on Nov. 28 — upset No. 5 Florida 65-59 on Wednesday.
Rice wasn’t biting.
“I don’t think that’s an upset,” Rice said with a laugh. “Everyone thinks I’m always Lou Holtz-ing it when I say, ‘Hey, that’s a good team we’re playing’ when I talked about Loyola. … They’re 9-1 now. They’re a really good team. We played great that night, so I think people should believe me more.”
Boise State made 10 or more 3-pointers in a game seven times last season, and this year’s Broncos already have matched that number. Sophomore Justinian Jessup continues to lead the way from deep. He was 5-for-6 from 3-point range against Sacramento State, and six Broncos in all connected from beyond the arc.
“I love playing with this team, man. We play so well together,” said Boise State sophomore Marcus Dickinson, who sank three 3s in the second half. “It’s not about one guy or two guys, it’s about all of us.”
Hutchison recorded his third straight double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds, and his alley-oop, one-handed dunk from Alex Hobbs with 8:36 left was his third of the game.
“When you come to these games, they’re fun to watch, and we’ve got a lot of great ones ahead of us,” Rice said. “… This team needs Bronco Nation right now, and they’ll get their money’s worth when they come see them play.”