BOISE - Two teams headed in opposite directions will meet tonight at Taco Bell Arena when the sinking Boise State men’s basketball team faces the surging New Mexico Lobos.

New Mexico (18-4, 9-1 Mountain West) has won six games in a row and 11 of its past 12 while Boise State (15-9, 5-6 MW) has lost three in a row and four of its last six.

“We know how good they are,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “They probably have one of the best front lines in the country. They have a lot of good players. We have our work cut out for us, no question.”

New Mexico sits in second place in the Mountain West standings while the Broncos are sixth.

It’s been a puzzling season for Rice and the Broncos, who entered with high expectations as the only team that made the NCAA Tournament last season to return all five starters but have been snake bit late in games.

Six of the Broncos’ nine losses have come when they were within three points of the lead with 30 seconds remaining. They lost despite having double-digit second-half leads to both UNLV and No. 5 San Diego State before falling Saturday at Utah State for their third loss in a row.

“These guys are great,” Rice said. “They are resilient, they are tough — we’re not spending any time over spilled milk. What happened in the past is done and there’s nothing we can do about it now.

“That’s basketball. You’re a couple of shots away from being a great team and that’s the focus of these guys, that were so close to being a great team that we have to give that extra little percentage to make us get there.”

Boise State has virtually no chance of an at-large bid to the big dance and now must use the final seven conference games to improve its seed for the Mountain West tournament next month in Las Vegas.

The top five teams get a bye in the first round.

In a season that has surprised and confused many, the Broncos still have plenty to play for. A win tonight against New Mexico would be a nice start.

“I’m always proud of the way these guys battle,” Rice said. “We’ve had our hearts ripped out a few times, but ... we know we have a good basketball team. We know we battle and we play as hard as we can, and if we can get a little better, we’re going to be a great basketball team and look out.

“We’re really close. We’ll have some great nights down the stretch here, but you look around the country, and it happens all over. In good leagues, this is what happens. It’s just how you respond to it, and that’s what our focus is, how we’re responding to this.”

Boise State is asking fans to help create a ‘Black Out’ by wearing black. Tickets remain for the game, which is scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m. and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

  • B.J Rains covers Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press-Tribune. He also makes daily appearances on ESPN Boise.

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