The opportunity ahead of the Boise State women’s basketball team doesn’t come along very often.
In fact, the Broncos never have had a chance to clinch an outright conference regular-season title on their home court, but that’s what they can do Monday.
Boise State (23-4 overall, 14-2 MW) can wrap up its second consecutive Mountain West regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament with a victory over New Mexico (23-4, 13-3) on Monday at Taco Bell Arena. The 7 p.m. contest is the only meeting of the season between the two teams and comes on the Broncos’ senior night.
“This is why we play, big games like this,” Boise State junior Riley Lupfer said. “It will be fun. I bet we’ll have a good crowd. There’s no better way to send (seniors) Joyce (Harrell) and Marta (Hermida) off than winning another ring.”
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Boise State has five regular-season championships in program history, winning in 1992, 1994, 2007, 2008 and 2018. Only the 1992 squad won the title outright, rallying to win its final nine games of Big Sky play, culminating with an 82-69 win at Eastern Washington on March 4, 1992.
Boise State set up Monday’s first-place showdown with a 53-38 victory over UNLV (11-17, 9-8) on Saturday afternoon. The Rebels’ 38 points is tied for the third-lowest total by a Boise State opponent in conference play in program history.
The stingy defensive effort helped make up for the Broncos’ season-low shooting percentage of 26.3 (15-for-57), and UNLV shot even worse, making just 12-of-46 from the floor (26.1 percent).
“Fifteen field goals. That’s not good. We want to score at least 25, especially at home,” Boise State coach Gordy Presnell said. “Oh, they’re good. They’re long and athletic and they kind of took away our pick and roll a little bit. I thought we executed our offense, we just couldn’t make a basket.
“... They only made 12 field goals. We set women’s basketball back about five years,” Presnell joked, “but with that being said, it’s a win. And now we get to play for the real thing.”
True freshman Rachel Bowers paced the Broncos in scoring (13) and rebounding (nine) against the Rebels, and Lupfer logged 25 minutes off the bench in her second game back after missing four games with an undisclosed injury. Lupfer sank a pair of 3-pointers and totaled 10 points. Twelve Broncos saw playing time, with eight of those players scoring two points or more.
“It feels really good. It felt like the longest time of my life I was sitting there watching,” Lupfer said. “But it’s finally good to be out there without limited minutes.”
Lupfer even took a charge against UNLV on Saturday, another sign the 2019 Mountain West Tournament MVP is on the mend just in time for a postseason push.
“I felt like today she had a little more swagger than she had the last game,” Presnell said. “Last game (against Colorado State) she just kind of felt her way through the whole thing and didn’t defend as well. Tonight I thought she kind of got back to it and had a little confidence.
“She needs to hit some shots, that’s for sure, for us to be successful. But I was proud of her. She’s still in a lot of discomfort.”
Boise State and New Mexico split their meetings last season, with each team winning on its home court.
“Every game is different, and they’re a very, very formidable opponent,” Presnell said. “But this group went to Wyoming and won last year a league championship, so I think we’d rather play here at home. ... I know they’re very, very well coached, and they’re going to walk in here like a WNBA team. They’re really, really long, and then (New Mexico senior) Jaisa Nunn is one of the best post players in the whole nation.”