RENO, Nev. – A season that started with ‘NCAA Tournament or bust’ expectations is starting to go in the wrong direction for the Boise State men’s basketball team.
This weekend in Reno, the Broncos can establish themselves as the top team in Mountain West and take a big step towards the Mountain West championship and a place in Big Dance.
It couldn’t be worse.
The Broncos lost two games to Nevada at the Lawlor Events Center – the score on Sunday was 73-62 – to lose a full game behind Utah State in the league standings. Perhaps more importantly, the NCAA Broncos Tournament resume took a big hit too.
Boise State has six games remaining, including four at home, and will need to win all six to ensure themselves finish at least tied for the league title.
“Expectations are still high,” Boise State coach Leon Rice told Idaho Press. “We have a lot of big games left. When the dust settles, the league champions will probably have three or four defeats. We are in it, but we have to improve. We are in it, but now the margin of error is gone. I think there are a lot of good teams. and this team (Nevada) is certainly one of them. “
Grant Sherfield cemented his case for West Mountain Player of the Year, scoring 29 points, grabbing eight rebounds and providing six assists on Sunday to lead the Wolf Pack to two impressive games from the Broncos.
Boise State did not play poorly in their two games – they were in the lead for most of Friday night and fired the game-winning shot at the bell – but to no avail.
“We’re just watching us wearily,” said Rice. “I don’t know if it’s on the way for two weeks or what, but we’re not as excited about our pace as usual.”
Derrick Alston contributed 17 points to lead the Broncos, while Emmanuel Akot contributed 13 and Mladen Armus 12.
Boise State trailed 39-33 early in the second half before 6-0 tied the game at 39 with a pass from Alston with 16:10 remaining. But Nevada responded with a 6-0 run to move up 45-39 and the Broncos never scored again.
One key? The Broncos scored 19 of 27 from the foul line. Many of the eight failed free throws took place at the one-and-one front end, potentially missing two points.
“It’s a game that slipped us off the free throw line, I think,” said Rice. “I think we missed the four front ends. Those were the 13 free throws we left the board. Make your free throws, you stay close.”
Nevada led 32-31 in the first half thanks to Sherfield’s 3-pointer on the bell. Both teams were whistled for 25 fouls in the first half, with 10 different players on both teams being called up for at least two fouls.
Boise State shot to its lowest level this season, 34.6 percent from the field for the game. They also battled for their second straight game in defense, allowing Nevada to shoot 47 percent for the game – and 52 percent in the second half.
“We look a little sluggish,” said Rice. “There was one game where they cleared the side for Sherfield and we had people standing there completely unconscious and they let him drive right in the stomach. It was unforgivable. We didn’t do our job tonight. We didn’t do our job. our job. job pretty well.
“We haven’t had this many games, even the last game we fought and we fought and both teams shot, but tonight … we were slow. The point is we didn’t do our job well enough.”
Boise State is a game full behind Utah State in the league standings, but the Broncos still have two games against Aggies in Boise. Boise State is hosting UNLV this Thursday and Saturday before the Aggies come to town next week. The Broncos finished the regular season with two games in San Diego, and one makeup match in Boise against Fresno State.
As bad as the last two weeks – the Broncos have lost three of the last four games after starting conference play 10-0 – they are still in control of their own destiny. Won the last seven games and they can do no worse than getting a share of the regular season title.
“You’re going through the valley of death and that’s how you respond, how you react and how you come together as a team,” said Rice. “We’re going to see a change in some things, change a few things and find out who wants to do their job and can do it at the highest level and go from there.
“During this season you will have some peaks and valleys and we are in the valleys and we have to fight for that ourselves.”
Boise State hosts UNLV Thursday nights at 8pm on the CBS Sports Network.