If there was a magic bullet for Boise State’s struggles in the final minutes of basketball games, it would have been used by now.
There is no easy answer for why the Broncos have had a tough time finishing games the past four weeks.
Coming off their first one-game week since Christmas, the Broncos haven’t played since Wednesday’s 80-78 loss at New Mexico, in which they were outscored 19-2 in the final 6 minutes.
“Move on and get better, try to close out games. We haven’t been doing well with that; we’re trying to figure out ways we can close games and put teams away,” junior forward James Webb III said.
With five losses in the past seven games, Boise State has a tough test Tuesday against UNLV, which erased an eight-point halftime deficit in an 87-77 win in Las Vegas on Jan. 27. Starting with that game, the Broncos led with fewer than 14 minutes to play in all five losses.
Looking back at the New Mexico loss, coach Leon Rice fell on the sword a bit, saying he didn’t sub enough as the minutes got long for some of his regulars.
“In this last one, one of the things I’m kicking myself for is that we were playing so good, I stayed with the horses a little too long,” Rice said. “We lost pace offensively and were probably worn out defensively, might have caused us to miss some free throws. I’ve got to do a better job of keeping guys fresh.”
In the second halves of the five losses since Jan. 27, opponents have shot 56.5 percent or better three times. In the others, foes shot 56 percent in the final 6 minutes of regulation, plus overtimes. In Boise State’s six Mountain West losses, teams are 11-of-13 on 3-pointers in the final 5 minutes.
Rice said mistakes can be overcome by making free throws, but Boise State made just one of its last seven free throws at New Mexico.
“This team has to find a way to enjoy the free-throw line, kind of embrace that,” Rice said. “We had a kid last year that loved that.”
Rice was referring to Mountain West Player of the Year Derrick Marks, renowned for his big second-half performances and his ability to get to the line.
“It’s nice to have a closer,” Rice said. “We’re good because we have balance, that’s a really good thing at times, but as a coach, to have a closer is really valuable. We’ve got to have some guys that will step up and decide, ‘I want to be that closer.’ ”
Webb is one player hoping to rise to the challenge. He leads the team with 16.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, putting together some strong second halves, but rarely so in those tight defeats.
“If I get to my spots, I feel like I can’t be stopped down there,” Webb said. “If I start scoring down there, it’s going to open the floor for everybody else. ... Me being more aggressive will help the team.”
As regular Mountain West officials, it was inevitable members of the crew that waved off Webb’s game-winner at Colorado State would have to do another Boise State game.
Two of the three officials in the Feb. 10 game, Verne Harris and David Hall, will referee Tuesday’s game. Rice said he has spoken to Hall and hopes fans don’t rain down boos, saying they made their decision based on the information at hand, which turned out to be faulty.
“It’s not on Verne Harris and David Hall. ... That needs to be cleared up, that needs to be understood,” Rice said. “If I would’ve been standing at the monitor, if I’d gone through the protocol the Mountain West requires you to go through on that, I would’ve had to call it no good, given the technology errors in front of me.”
Three UNLV players who played against Boise State on Jan. 27 likely will not be available Tuesday.
Sophomore forward Dwayne Morgan will not play (shoulder), the school said Monday. He had two points in the previous meeting, but 44 points in his last four games.
Freshman center Stephen Zimmerman (knee) hasn’t played since Feb. 6 and only recently was cleared to practice. His status is uncertain. He had 18 points in the first game against the Broncos.
Junior forward Ben Carter (10 points, 11 rebounds in first matchup) is out for the year (ACL).
UNLV (16-12, 7-8 Mountain West) at Boise State (17-10, 8-6)
- When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
- Where: Taco Bell Arena
- TV: ESPNU
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM
- Tickets: $7-$18 juniors, $8-$19 seniors, $9-$20 adults at the arena box office or BroncoSports.com/tickets