Decked out in orange, Boise State left the Wooden Legacy feeling blue.
The Broncos knew they could not afford prolonged stretches of sub-par basketball, but on Sunday against the No. 11 Arizona Wildcats, uncharacteristically brutal minutes outweighed the good ones in a 68-59 loss at the Honda Center.
A strong start and a strong finish in the third-place game weren’t enough. In between, the lulls showed the Broncos at their worst.
“We just have these lapses where we play good for a while, then have these little mental lapses where we let teams kind of explode on us,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “And against good teams, you can’t do that.”
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In the final 7:01 of the first half and opening 9:01 of the second half, Boise State (3-4) was outscored a combined 33-12. The Broncos were 5-of-19 from the field in that 16-minute span, turning a 22-19 lead to a 52-34 deficit.
Arizona (6-1) blew it open immediately after senior guard/forward Anthony Drmic hit a layup to start the second half, forcing eight turnovers in the next 10 minutes and building a lead as large as 19.
“They’re Arizona; they capitalize on our mistakes,” said junior forward James Webb III, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Fouls again were an issue for Boise State, which had Drmic, Webb and junior forward Nick Duncan playing with four in the last 8:18. Duncan and sophomore guard Chandler Hutchison both sat the last 6:38 of the first half. Duncan had 21 points at Arizona on Nov. 19 and had 10 on Sunday, but fouled out with 5:14 remaining.
Rice said afterward he’s not overly concerned with the fouls, but the reliance on the starting five with a young bench magnifies the issue.
“We’ve been playing with five, six, seven guys,” Duncan said. “It’s tough. You see faces drop a bit when a guy like Webbie has four fouls, but we have to get over it, keep getting everyone better so we don’t go down when it happens.”
Playing their fourth game in seven days, and third in a little more than 72 hours, the Broncos were a fatigued team. Webb said it was noticeable late, but “it can’t be an excuse for letups.” Arizona’s quick guards also were a factor, wearing down the defense.
Drmic, who did not play Monday with a knee injury and has been limited in practice most of his career with injuries, was 1-of-12 from the field Sunday with eight points, but had six turnovers. Senior guard Lonnie Jackson had nine points in 25 minutes off the bench, but the other five off the bench had six points in 31 minutes.
“It felt like we were running uphill there a little bit, and each ball that went in the hole was another foot on top of us,” Duncan said.
Yet somehow, the Broncos found a little bit of remaining strength, going on a 9-0 run after they fell behind 57-38 with 8:18 remaining. Three times in the final 2:25, they cut it to a six-point lead, the last with 1:23 remaining. But Arizona sank a 3-pointer with one second left on the shot clock with 45 seconds remaining for the game’s final points. It was too little too late, and it left the team wondering if it had a semblance of consistency earlier how the result may be different.
“If we’re down 10 and make a run like that, obviously we have a chance to win it, but we shot ourselves in the foot, dug ourselves way too deep of a hole,” Rice said.
Arizona played without 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski (ankle) and made 2-of-8 3-pointers after hitting 10-of-21 in the prior meeting with the Broncos. But five Wildcats had between 10 and 13 points, including three guards, and had a 40-24 edge in points in the paint.
Back at Taco Bell Arena on Wednesday, the Broncos host Willamette, a chance to perhaps continue to rest some regulars while further developing the bench, which will be a focus all week.
“We’re back to the drawing board a little bit,” Rice said. “Basically, these guys have to try out and figure out who can get in the rotation and give us what we need.”