Once again, Boise State proved three points are indeed better than two.
Armed with a bevy of shooters, the Broncos drew a challenging, unique matchup against UC Irvine and its 7-foot-6 center, Mamadou Ndiaye.
Behind 11 baskets from 3-point range, Boise State opened the Wooden Legacy on Thursday with a 71-64 win over the Anteaters at Titan Gym, combating a zone defense with crisp passing and sharp shooting.
“Their style of play won out over ours,” UC Irvine coach Russell Turner said. “We allowed them to make 11 3s, which we knew could beat us.”
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Boise State (3-2) moves on to Friday’s semifinals, where it will face No. 3 Michigan State (5-0), which crushed Boston College 99-68 after the Broncos’ win.
Strength met strength Thursday, but the Broncos handled their disadvantage more successfully.
Ndiaye had just four points on 2-of-3 shooting in 19 minutes, turning it over four times as the Anteaters (4-1) suffered their first loss. His backup, 7-2 Ioannis Dimakopoulos, had 10 points, but UC Irvine made just 5-of-21 3-pointers.
“It was crazy going against guys that big,” Boise State junior forward Nick Duncan said. “We knew if we kept them out of the paint, get between them and the basket, they probably wouldn’t pass it out and we could stop them from having a big impact.”
At times, the Anteaters’ defense cut off passing lanes, creating 16 turnovers. But the Broncos were able to drive and kick or rotate the ball most of the night. The Broncos had 21 assists (led by senior guard Mikey Thompson’s career-best eight) on their 25 field goals and improved to 36-1 since the 2011-12 season when notching 15 or more assists.
“When you have guys with good vision, good passing and good shooters, it’s a great recipe for success against a zone,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said.
Boise State never trailed in the second half after a 3-pointer by senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic at the halftime buzzer gave the Broncos a 30-27 lead. The lead changed hands seven times and was tied five times in the first 20 minutes. The Anteaters cut the edge to 48-47 with 9:56 to play, but sophomore center David Wacker’s dunk and another Drmic 3 stretched the lead to six. UC Irvine was never within four again.
“You felt like (Drmic’s shot) was a momentum shifter,” Rice said. “We couldn’t quite get them at arm’s length, but we found a way to stay on top, get a win down the stretch.”
Rice said he wasn’t concerned with the fact the Broncos didn’t score in the first 5:40, as he equated it to a baseball team facing an unorthodox pitcher, having to get acclimated to the different style. Drmic had four points before his buzzer-beating 3, then added 14 in the second half for a game-high 21. He didn’t play Monday against Concordia (Ore.) with a hyperextended knee.
“The rest was nice. It was good for my knee to get those couple days off,” Drmic said. “It was good to be back out there with the guys and get the win.”
Drmic’s Aussie mate Duncan had 14 points, hitting four 3-pointers. Boise State made 11-of-28, with five players making at least one. Sophomore guard Chandler Hutchison didn’t have one, but he had 13 points and 10 rebounds, seven offensive, consistently keeping possessions alive.
After the game, Hutchison and his family hosted the team for Thanksgiving dinner. Hutchison graduated from nearby Mission Viejo High.
“We have Mamadou and Ioannis in the paint, so it’s basically four guys on defense trying to guard five players,” said UC Irvine guard Alex Young, who led the team with 15 points.
Getting a win Thursday was huge for the Broncos, especially with teams like No. 11 Arizona, Providence and Friday’s foe, the Spartans, in the field.
“You never know in a tournament, but you see teams like Michigan State out there, you know if you want to play them, you’ll have to win, so to get it and get a win away from home was a big boost,” Duncan said.
Friday at Titan Gym (Fullerton, Calif.); Sunday at the Honda Center (Anaheim, Calif.)
▪ Friday, 3:30 p.m. MT (ESPN2): Boise State vs. Michigan State
▪ Sunday’s games are played at 12:30 p.m. (fifth place), 2:30 p.m. (third place), 5:30 p.m. (seventh place) and 8 p.m. (championship). The third-place and championship games will be televised on ESPN2, the other two on ESPNU.
▪ Boise State will play No. 11 Arizona, Santa Clara or Providence on Sunday.