Boise State Basketball

Boise State women were best in Mountain West last season. These Broncos could be even better.

Boise State celebrates with the trophy after its 62-60 win over Nevada in the Mountain West Tournament championship game on March 9, 2018, in Las Vegas.
Boise State celebrates with the trophy after its 62-60 win over Nevada in the Mountain West Tournament championship game on March 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. AP

The Boise State women’s basketball team is coming off one of the most decorated seasons in program history after winning both the Mountain West Conference’s regular season and tournament championships.

The Broncos advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons and finished with an overall record of 23-10.

There’s no reason to think the Broncos can’t outdo themselves in 2018-19.

“I will say we’re deeper and more athletic than we’ve ever been,” Boise State coach Gordy Presnell said. “What that says about us at the end of the year, I don’t know.”

Last week, the Broncos were chosen as the Mountain West’s preseason favorite for the second year in a row. They officially open the season at 7 p.m. Thursday in Taco Bell Arena against Cal State Northridge.

Here are five reasons why the Broncos could be even better this season:

1. Depth

The Broncos return four starters and nine letterwinners from last year’s team. Eight of those returners started six games or more.

Guards Riley Lupfer and Marta Hermida started all 33 games for the Broncos last season. Lupfer was chosen as the Mountain West’s preseason player of the year, and Hermida was named to the five-player preseason all-conference team.

There’s no guarantee how many minutes either will see this season.

“It’s going to be hard for anyone to get minutes. We have so many guards who can go out there and play,” Lupfer said. “... If someone’s not having a good night, then someone else can step up and you have to guard them, too. We have so many threats out there on the floor at a time. There’s going to be five people who can score, five people who can make something happen.”

2. Talented new additions

Kansas transfer Jayde Christopher will be eligible to play for the Broncos after sitting out last season.

The redshirt junior point guard started 21 games for the Jayhawks and brings a level of quickness and court vision the Broncos have never had before.

“She’s incredible. She’s so quick off the bounce,” Lupfer said. “... She’s just so strong and she’s hard to guard. She can easily get past one defender and draw another. She’s very selfless. She doesn’t care to score, she just wants to make people around her better.”

Christopher’s ability to facilitate should create more open looks for shooters like Lupfer, who led the Broncos with 16.2 points per game last season.

In the Broncos’ 99-68 exhibition win last Friday over Concordia, Christopher dished out nine of the team’s 30 assists on 36 made field goals.

Boise State also adds four freshmen in forwards Sofia Galeron and Rachel Bowers and guards Jade Loville and Maggie Freeman. Loville was named the Mountain West’s preseason freshman of the year, and she had 13 points, four rebounds and three assists in the exhibition.

“I just wanted to go out there and try to back up that recognition as best I could,” Loville said. “... It’s chilling. This is something that I’ve dreamed of ever since I was little, to go out and play Division I basketball and play for a great team.”

3. Top 25 potential

It’s no easy task for a Mountain West team to break into the women’s top 25 polls, but these Broncos could be the ones to do it.

Boise State received four points in the preseason Associated Press poll and two points in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

A strong performance in nonconference play, including against 2018 Final Four participant Louisville, could do the trick.

“You never know. If we can compete with Louisville, I know all the voters will see that game if we compete with them,” Presnell said. “And then you just can’t trip up. You have to be consistent.”

Colorado State was the last Mountain West team to appear in the top 25. The Rams were ranked No. 22 in the AP poll near the end of the 2015-16 season. At the time, they had just won the Mountain West Tournament and were 31-1 going into the NCAA Tournament.

4. RPI-boosting nonconference schedule

Boise State’s inconsistent record throughout its nonconference schedule last season ended up hurting the Broncos once they qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

The result was a No. 16 seed and a first-round matchup against No. 1 seed Louisville.

The Broncos feel confident they’ve learned from last year’s mistakes, and they have a challenging nonconference schedule that could pay off in the long run.

Boise State hosts Big West champion and 2018 NCAA Tournament qualifier Cal State Northridge on Thursday. The Broncos also play Louisville, which opened the season ranked No. 5 overall, on Nov. 19 at Taco Bell Arena.

At the Long Beach Classic later this month, Boise State will face two WNIT qualifiers in Idaho — the preseason Big Sky favorite — and Northern Iowa. The Broncos then get a taste of the Pac-12 against Washington State in Pullman, Washington, on Dec. 12.

“I think our league has gotten better, so hopefully that helps, too,” Presnell said.

5. The Mountain West’s best shooter gets better

As a sophomore, Lupfer set the Mountain West and Boise State single-season records with 122 3-pointers in 33 games.

She was named the Mountain West player of the week three times and had four games in which she knocked down seven or more triples.

Lupfer was honored as the MVP of the Mountain West Tournament and is now the conference’s preseason player of the year.

In 20 minutes of exhibition action against Concordia, Lupfer picked up where she left off last season, going 4-for-6 from deep.

“We just need to get her more free-ups and create more shots for her,” Presnell said. “Last year we had to manufacture shots for her a lot, and I’m hoping that Jayde Christopher can create shots for her.”