What do sewer rats have to do with basketball? Leon Rice explains.
With Mountain West Conference games just days apart, the Boise State men’s basketball team doesn’t spend much time lamenting or celebrating the past.
But there is one particular league loss from last season that has stayed with the Broncos as both a motivator and a benchmark. The Broncos were in contention for the Mountain West title when they blew an eight-point halftime lead and lost 85-77 at Nevada late in the season. They also lost to the Wolf Pack 76-57 in Boise in 2017.
“I think last year we all had the sour taste in our mouth knowing that we wanted more, and we just didn’t get it. I think that was a part of the reason why we worked so hard this summer,” Boise State sophomore Alex Hobbs said.
“I think guys constantly had that in their minds, just wanting not only as a team to get better but individually making jumps. Me making jumps, (sophomore Justinian Jessup) making jumps, everybody making jumps in order to close that gap. I think the biggest thing is now we have to trust the work that we’ve put in and make sure we’re doing the right things going into that game.”
The Broncos (16-3 overall, 6-1 MW) get their first shot at the defending regular season and conference tournament champions at 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) at Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.
The Wolf Pack (17-3, 6-0) sit alone in first place and have won their past eight Mountain West home games and past 14 overall at home, the third-longest streak in school history.
“I came here to win a Mountain West championship, and this is another game to take a step towards that,” Boise State senior graduate transfer Lexus Williams said. “(Nevada) won it last year, so they’re the champs until somebody beats them, and hopefully it’s us.”
Boise State coach Leon Rice thought Nevada was “really, really good” last year, and he believes this year’s team is even better.
But so are the Broncos.
Boise State’s 16-3 record ties for the best 19-game start to a season in program history, matching the 1987-88 and 1988-89 teams.
“This is personal for me, the opportunity we have in front of us,” Boise State senior Chandler Hutchison said. “Just from looking at last year, we all felt as a unit we kind of came up short in some moments.”
The Wolf Pack returned just two starters from last year — junior point guard Lindsey Drew and junior forward Jordan Caroline — but transfers Kendall Stephens (Purdue), Hallice Cooke (Iowa State), and Cody and Caleb Martin (N.C. State) became eligible this year after sitting out last season. A fifth transfer, Darien Williams from St. John’s, was dismissed from the team last week for failing to meet Wolf Pack standards, according to Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette Journal.
With the 6-foot-8 center Williams’ dismissal, Nevada doesn’t have a player taller than 6-7.
The Martin twins, Drew, Stephens and Caroline have started the majority of games for the Wolf Pack this season, but Cody Martin — who is averaging 13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists — sat out Wednesday’s 71-54 win at San Jose State with an Achilles strain. His status for Saturday’s game is listed as doubtful.
“Obviously (Wednesday), we felt when he warmed up he was going to be able to start,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman told the Reno Gazette Journal. “We were going to pull him out the first media timeout and see how he felt and play him another five or six minutes that half and keep him around 20 minutes.
“But it felt bad, so (we) didn’t play him at all, and I’d say he’s doubtful to probably not going to play against Boise.”
Cody Martin is widely considered the Wolf Pack’s best defender and likely would have matched up against Hutchison, who is averaging a conference-leading 19.6 points per game.
“That’s why you have twins. You’ve got an extra one, right?” Rice joked. “They’re a great team. They’re not just a one-man team, and they’re not a two-man team. They’ve got a lot of guys.”
As of Friday afternoon, there were fewer than 1,000 tickets left for Saturday’s game. Capacity at Lawlor is 11,536.
“That’s one of the funnest things to do in college basketball, when you go in somebody else’s home and you get that win, especially when the crowd’s so big. ... We talk about that all the time,” Hobbs said. “We know we’re definitely going to have to weather storms. That crowd is going to get loud at times. They might make a run at times, so we just have to buckle down when that stuff happens and know that we have a mission to complete.”
BSU women host Nevada
In exchange for their first-place ranking in the national polls, Gordy Presnell once let his Seattle Pacific players shave his head.
Now in his 13th season at Boise State, Presnell has no intention of matching the wild antics of his colleague, Rice.
“I’m not swimming in the river,” Presnell said, discussing what Rice did after he made a promise if BSU sold out its home game against San Diego State last weekend.
Presnell hopes the Broncos’ recent hot streak will be enough to draw a big crowd for their home game Saturday against Nevada (10-7, 3-3), which starts at 2 p.m. at Taco Bell Arena.
“It’s just a grind right now, but (the team) has really bought in and done a nice job,” Presnell said. “There will be some real challenges this next week.”
Boise State (11-7, 5-2), the defending Mountain West Tournament champion, sits alone in third place in the conference standings and has won its past three games.
Sophomore guard Riley Lupfer has led the way. She has made 65 3-pointers, which already ranks 10th all-time in BSU single-season history, and is averaging 15.6 points per game.
“She is a gifted shooter, but also she puts in the time,” Presnell said. “She has an amazing work ethic.”