Leon Rice set up a 3-point contest for his Boise State men’s basketball team last summer, but an odd number of players left one open spot in the bracket.
Riley Lupfer — a standout guard on the Broncos women’s team — tried to convince Rice to let her join the fun.
“Riley was begging me to let her in it, and I’m like: ‘No way! I’m not gonna let you in it because then you’ll win,’ ” Rice said. “She can really shoot it.”
Rice wasn’t just being nice.
Lupfer enters the 2019-20 season needing 16 3-pointers to break the career record for the women’s program, and she won’t be alone in her record chase. The men’s career 3-point record also is likely to fall this season as Justinian Jessup is 49 triples away from establishing history.
Fans can see both senior lefties in action Tuesday night at ExtraMile Arena in the season opener for both Boise State basketball squads. Lupfer and the women host Lewis-Clark State College at 5:30 p.m., followed by Jessup and the men’s team in an 8 p.m. matchup with Life Pacific.
“It’s no surprise when you walk through our gyms and you look at who’s out there shooting. Well, there’s Riley and there’s Justinian,” Rice said. “... What a treat for our fans to get to see two of the best shooters in the history of the school on any given night.”
Lupfer healed and ready
Last season, Lupfer suffered a painful back contusion against UNLV at the beginning of February, and the injury kept her out of the Broncos’ next four games.
Her back was bothering her more than she let on.
“That was tough. I’ve never been out like that before,” said Lupfer, who had started all 33 of the Broncos’ games the year before. “I kind of couldn’t walk for a couple of days and then couldn’t really walk straight. I couldn’t really lay down on my back and I couldn’t really lay on my side.”
Despite the discomfort, Lupfer finished with 67 3-pointers last season and averaged 11.1 points per game, which was second best on the team. She made 56 triples as a freshman and a single-season record 122 3-pointers as a sophomore.
She now has 245 made 3-pointers for her career. The Broncos’ record is 260, set by Abby Vaughan from 1999 to 2003.
“Honestly, I don’t really care. I’d rather leave here with four championships,” Lupfer said. “That will be talked about way more than (records). I feel like at the end of the day, winning as a team is so much more fun.”
“And that’s the truth. Some people say that because it’s politically correct,” said George Pfeifer, Lupfer’s coach at Lewis and Clark High in Spokane, Washington. “She’s saying that because it’s in her soul. And that’s why she’s so much fun to coach.”
The Broncos’ current senior class, which includes Lupfer, has captured the Mountain West double (regular season and tournament titles) each of the past two seasons, and taken home the past three conference tournament crowns. The Broncos have been to the NCAA Tournament four times in the last five seasons.
It’s the behind-the-scenes work, like Lupfer’s, that has gotten them there.
“She makes them for the right reasons. She’s not trying to break the 3-point record,” Pfeifer said. “She’s trying to get to the NCAA Tournament and do damage when she gets there.”
Jessup shows growth
When Jessup’s family moved from Alaska to Colorado and joined Rick Jimenez’s Colorado Titans club team, Jimenez wanted to know just how serious Jessup was about basketball.
“I told him the only time I could work out was at 6 in the morning,” Jimenez said. “And he was there.”
It takes a relentless work ethic to become a shooter of Jessup’s caliber. He has made 227 3-pointers in three seasons at Boise State, a figure that ranks fifth in program history. Anthony Drmic holds the Broncos’ career record with 275 from 2011 to 2016, and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette is the Mountain West’s career 3-point leader with 296.
Jessup made 90 3-pointers as a sophomore and 87 last season, performances that stand No. 2 and No. 3 in single-season Boise State history. He’s also one of just 28 players in program history to accumulate 1,000 or more career points. He sits at No. 22 with 1,071 points.
“He’s such a humble young man,” Jimenez said. “He’ll give credit where credit’s due. He never wants the limelight. I think he’s getting it, and he’s handled it really well.”
While Jessup originally may have caught the Broncos’ attention for his shooting ability, he was called upon last season to be a playmaker. He ended up becoming the first player in Boise State history — and the third in the Mountain West — to lead his team in points (463), rebounds (149), assists (88), steals (35) and blocked shots (17).
“It was tough. I was used to just kind of sitting out there, letting others make plays for me,” Jessup said. “But I had to adjust and definitely be more aggressive and start taking, I guess, tougher shots and forcing the issue a little more. It’s going to be that way again this year. I’ve just gotta keep adjusting to that and keep trying to be aggressive and get out of my comfort zone.”
The NCAA added a wrinkle to Jessup’s record quest this season. The 3-point line has been moved back from 20 feet, 9 inches to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches.
Rice doesn’t expect the change to affect Jessup.
“I think our staff did a great job of getting tons and tons of reps with it,” Rice said. “The guys are looking really comfortable with that line, and I think it helps us because we’ve got guys who can make it, and that’s going to spread defenses out even more.”