If Paris Austin’s move to the bench after a home loss to Nevada was intended to create a spark for the Boise State basketball team, consider the Broncos on fire.
The sophomore point guard, who had started all but three games this season, was replaced by redshirt senior James Reid in last Saturday’s game at Wyoming and responded with 15 points. Reid again got the start against Colorado State, and Austin produced a career-high 25 points, including a 10-for-10 night from the free-throw line.
The combined 40 points was nearly as many as Austin had in the previous four games (42) — and Boise State won both road games.
“When I was starting ... I was trying to think the game more. Probably do more of what the coaches were asking to do instead of just playing my game,’’ Austin said.
“Once they took me out of the starting lineup, I feel like I have to bring something more, and I have to play even better than when I started. And I’m just playing more aggressive.”
The move is paying off for Boise State (14-7, 7-3 Mountain West), which hosts Utah State (10-11, 4-6) on Saturday in Taco Bell Arena (6 p.m., ESPN3). If the Broncos win, they take sole possession of first place in the conference, a half-game ahead of Nevada (18-5, 7-3), which doesn’t play again until Wednesday.
Boise State coach Leon Rice hasn’t said who will start against the Aggies, but he seems to have a plan.
“We didn’t just pull one and insert the other without some thought and planning,” Rice said. “When starting at point guard, the No. 1 responsibility is to make everybody around you better. You can’t do that if you’re dribbling up (and) shooting.
“We wanted to give him that, maybe, hey, be that instant-offense guy off the bench, play a little bit more freer and easier, and it seemed to help him.”
Austin has always excelled at finishing around the rim. But over the last two games, he displayed confidence in his jump shot because defenders are playing off of him. Austin is willing to take shots from midrange and behind the 3-point line, making 2-of-3 over the last two games. Overall, Austin went 13-for-20 from the field during the Broncos’ road trip.
“It’s just picking my right spots to shoot and just the right timing. A lot of the time, they’re sagging off me right at the free-throw line,” Austin said. “And that’s somewhere I’m really comfortable.”
With eight games left before the Mountain West Tournament, the Broncos will count on Austin to keep creating offense and energy. And if Reid happens to start over him the rest of the way?
Austin is OK with it.
“As long as we win games, I’m good with it,” Austin said. “Coming off the bench, I have to play way better than I was playing when I was starting. And I think it’s another opportunity for me to be able show other people I can score the ball just by shooting the ball and making plays rather than just always driving to the basket. This is another opportunity for me.”
Boise State (14-7, 7-3 MW) vs. Utah State (10-11, 4-6)
- When: 6 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Taco Bell Arena (12,480), Boise
- Broadcast: ESPN3
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM (Bob Behler and Abe Jackson). Fans can also listen to the game at broncosports.com.
- Tickets: Prices start at $10 (adults), $9 (seniors) and $8 (juniors) and are available at the Taco Bell Arena box office and broncosports.com/tickets.
- Last meeting: Broncos won 83-80 in Logan, Dec. 28.
- Boise State women: The Broncos (15-6, 5-5 MW) play at Utah State (11-10, 4-6) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Logan (1350 AM, Mountain West Network).