A few hours before Boise State’s home opener Monday, coach Leon Rice pulled sophomore guard Chandler Hutchison aside.
Hutchison’s task was to slow down Northern Arizona guard Kris Yanku, who attempted the most free throws in the nation last season (289).
“I told him, ‘This will be a good matchup for you, to test you. He’s crafty,’ ” Rice said.
“Everybody’s a good matchup for me,” Hutchison said with confidence.
Yanku finished 3-of-13 from the field with 10 points in Boise State’s 101-81 win and made it to the free throw line four times. He had fewer free throw attempts in only three games last season.
Boise State will need that sort of attitude, that sort of effort, across the board Thursday when it takes on No. 12 Arizona at the McKale Center in Tucson.
“Offensively, we have so many weapons this season I feel like defensively we need to step it up, especially with the game we have coming up on Thursday,” senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic said. “We’re going to have to bring it defensively if we’re going to stand a chance.”
As usual, the Wildcats’ roster is dotted with top-notch talent after signing top-five recruiting classes the past four seasons, per Rivals.com. Thursday’s game won’t be a shock to the Broncos’ system, having played at Michigan State, Creighton, Kentucky and Wisconsin the last three seasons.
“We’re seasoned, but it doesn’t make it easier,” Rice said.
The 2015-16 version of the Broncos could be the most capable of competing with a team like Arizona, with athletes such as Hutchison, double-double machine James Webb III, springy guard Montigo Alford and shooters like Drmic and Nick Duncan.
Naturally, we are only two games into the season, so there are more unknowns than knowns. But Rice said his team will have more than a fighting chance if it sticks to one main tenet.
“If we’re gritty,” Rice said. “It’s all about how gritty we’ll be. ... You’ve gotta rebound. What this team does sometimes is they’ll stand and watch James rebound, because he’ll go get it.
“You’ve gotta go get the balls in games like this, because they’re coming.”
Arizona has outrebounded two opponents 94-55 and is shooting 45.8 percent from the field. In the Broncos’ loss at Montana last week, they were outrebounded 30-26, but held a 41-27 edge against Northern Arizona.
Dating back to the 2010-11 season, the Wildcats are 82-6 in Tucson and their 40-win home streak is the nation’s longest. The task is as tough as any Boise State has faced in Rice’s tenure.
“Not many people get out of there alive. ... There’s a reason they’re top 10 (in the coaches’ poll), they’re so well coached. It’s a great environment,” Rice said. “That’s a lot of things stacked up against you.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller said it won’t be a cakewalk for his team, either. His brother, Archie, saw it up close as Dayton’s head coach in its 56-55 win at home over the Broncos in the opening game of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Sean Miller heaped praise on Rice, Boise State’s system and pointed at Duncan as someone who will stretch his defense.
“It’s going to be a really, really strong challenge,” Miller said. “I think, on Thursday, it’ll be one of the toughest teams we play all season.”
There is little to lose and a lot to gain for the Broncos, and they’re attacking it as such, taking aim at slowing down the Wildcats with old-fashioned defensive tenacity.
Said Drmic: “Great team, going to a great venue, you’ve just got to let it rip. You never know what can happen. If we can play good defense, then the offense will come. You never know.”
SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
Four players are averaging 10 or more points in Arizona’s 2-0 start, led by Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson, who leads the team with 33 points and is tied for tops with 16 rebounds. ... Freshman guard Allonzo Trier had 22 points Monday in a 90-60 win over Bradley, making 14-of-14 free throws. ... The Wildcats have attempted 84 free throws in two games. ... The Wildcats have turned it over more times than they’ve taken it away (25-22), but have a 94-55 rebounding edge. ... Arizona boasts a 7-foot starting center in Kaleb Tarczewski, though the Broncos may match up decently well against the backcourt. The Wildcats have two 6-3 starters at guard and two forwards at 6-9. In the first two games, Boise State has gone with a 5-9, 6-6, 6-7, 6-8 and 6-9 lineup. ... Miller is 165-52 in his seventh season with Arizona, and has taken the team to the Elite Eight the last two seasons.
Boise State (1-1) at No. 12 Arizona (2-0)
▪ When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, McKale Center (14,545), Tucson, Ariz.
▪ TV: Pac-12 Network (DISH channel 409)
▪ Radio: KBOI 670 AM
A few bars and restaurants carry Pac-12 Network, such as The Crescent, Parrilla Grill, and Hyde Park Pub in Boise; Pinnacle Sports Grill, Big Al’s and Buffalo Wild Wings in Meridian. Make sure to call ahead to check.