There’s no question that a Boise State win at No. 8 Nevada on Saturday would be considered a major upset — even with what happened last month.
The Broncos did just about everything they could in a 72-71 loss to the Wolf Pack (20-1, 7-1 MW) on Jan. 15 at Taco Bell Arena, and now they’ll get a second go at the Mountain West Conference’s first-place team at 4 p.m. MT Saturday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
“We’ve shown up and competed in some tough environments this year,” Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice said. “This probably will be the toughest one as far as the quality of the opponent and the situation that you’re in. We’re going to have to come out fighting.”
Nevada is unbeaten at home this season, its only loss coming at New Mexico on Jan. 5. The Wolf Pack are 42-2 in their past 44 home games.
Here’s what the Broncos (10-11, 5-3) must do to give themselves a chance in this nationally televised matchup on CBS Sports Network:
Get in the zone
In their first meeting a little more than two weeks ago, Boise State played man-to-man defense against Nevada for the majority of the first half. On some switches, that created mismatches in Nevada’s favor, especially at the guard position, where the Wolf Pack start 6-foot-7 twins Caleb and Cody Martin.
Boise State trailed Nevada 40-31 at halftime and chose to come out in a 2-3 zone in the second half. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but the Broncos did outscore the Wolf Pack 40-32 over the final 20 minutes. When asked Thursday which defensive approach he preferred against Nevada, Rice played it coy. “The one that worked,” he quipped.
Nevada ranks ninth out of 11 Mountain West teams with a 3-point shooting percentage of 33.7. The Broncos are better off letting the Wolf Pack launch it from deep than getting themselves into foul trouble trying to stop drives.
“Sometimes the in-game adjustments, those are as crucial,” Rice said. “It’s always a chess match.”
Redshirt senior posts David Wacker and Zach Haney combined for just seven points and four rebounds against Nevada. Haney went 1-for-6 from the floor, while Wacker didn’t attempt a single shot. Both men played about 20 minutes.
If the Broncos’ big men can get going inside, that will take some of the pressure off Boise State’s 3-point shooters, who converted just 23.8 percent (5-of-21) from beyond the arc in the first meeting.
“You watch (Nevada) on film and you’re like, ‘Holy cow, they’re hard to score on,’ ” Rice said. “They take a lot of pride in it and they’re really active with their hands. They do a good job of being super aggressive without fouling. It’s impressive.”
Who’s the man?
With eventual first-round NBA Draft pick Chandler Hutchison on the team, it was an easy decision to put the ball in Hutchison’s hands when the game was on the line last season. The Broncos haven’t established a go-to shooter in 2018-19, and the result is a 1-5 record in games decided by a single possession.
Junior guards Justinian Jessup and Alex Hobbs are the leading candidates to assume the clutch role, and both must be ready to seize the opportunity on Saturday should the game require heroics.
“To be a really good team, you have to find a way to win those (close games),” Rice said.