Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice isn’t afraid to admit what most Bronco fans know — his team, while being the eighth seed in today’s first round of the Mountain West tournament, is on its way to making some noise down the road.
The Broncos (13-16, 3-11 MWC) have two seniors on their roster and will have three in 2012-13. Running the gauntlet that is the MWC has caused a few bumps, but Rice believes they will make his team stronger in the long run.
“As a coach, you want all this instant success,” Rice said. “You get caught up in that, but everybody involved in the program is really excited about how good these young guys are going to be. The promise of tomorrow really has us excited.”
Five of Rice’s top six scorers are freshmen or sophomores, and underclassmen have been the team’s leading or co-leading scorers in 21 of 29 games.
At the same time, the focus is now — the Broncos take on top-seeded and 18th ranked San Diego State today at 1 p.m., televised on The Mtn.
“This conference tourney is a big (step),” sophomore guard Jeff Elorriaga said. “Last year, this is kinda where Thomas (Bropleh) and I kind of turned into sophomores. It’s not over. Hopefully we can make a run here.”
Boise State reached the Western Athletic Conference tournament finals last season. Elorriaga scored in double figures in each game. The Broncos won 19 games going into the tournament, but were playing in a weaker conference and had more veteran leadership.
This season, the Broncos don’t have the wins, but have fostered a toughness through being competitive in one of the nation’s best basketball leagues.
“I think we just got better every day,” freshman guard Joe Hanstad said. “Sometimes it’s not about wins and losses.”
Youth, with all the tantalizing possibilities for the future, came back to bite Boise State on occasion, leading to inconsistency. Freshman Anthony Drmic, the team’s top scorer, made 30.9 percent of his 3-pointers in nonconference play, but in MWC competition, has made just 19 percent. Opening 8-1, the Broncos have one winning streak since and have lost their last four.
“I knew coming into this season we had a few freshmen, we’re going to make mistakes … kind of a growing pain,” Elorriaga said. “Sometimes we kind of just hit the wall.”
One of the lowest points, however, could prove to be a boon for the future.
A school-record eight-game losing streak in January and February turned out to be another step in building the program. Hanstad said it will prove to be one of the biggest things to help the team next season and beyond. During that skid, the Broncos lost three times by five points or less, and two of those were against ranked teams (San Diego State and UNLV).
“They had a lot of hearbreaking losses, especially there in that little stretch where it could’ve really folded them up,” Rice said.
The Broncos didn’t fold, winning three in a row after losing those eight straight.
“We know we can play with good teams in this league,” Hanstad said.
The 2011-12 season saw Rice’s hand forced to burn Hanstad’s redshirt after an injury kept Iggy Hadziomerovic out for two months. The North Dakota native has led the team in scoring twice in the last 10 games.
With plenty of young weapons at his arsenal and a league rated No. 5 in the RPI, Rice has seen enough from his team to be anxious for what lies next — today and in the years ahead.
“You hear coaches talk about ‘good competition raises your level,’ and I’ve seen that,” Rice said. “Sink or swim. I’ve seen some pretty good things out of some pretty young kids that maybe if they weren’t forced to have to do it, it wouldn’t have happened.”
BSU beats CSU to advance
The Boise State women’s basketball team pulled off an upset Wednesday in the first round of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The six-seeded Broncos edged No. 3 Colorado State 68-63 to advance to Friday’s tournament semifinal against New Mexico.
The game is scheduled for 3:35 p.m. at Thomas & Mack Arena.
Wednesday’s game was the first time since 2008 that a No. 6 seed beat a No. 3 seed. The last time it happened San Diego State beat Wyoming, 66-54.
Boise State won Wednesday despite going nearly seven minutes without scoring to open the second half.
The Broncos (15-15) had four players score in double figures, led by Lauren Lenhardt with 18 points and seven rebounds.
Kati Isham added 15 points, five rebounds and three assists and Heather Pilcher and Kinzi Poteet each contributed 12 points in the win.
Hayley Thompson led Colorado State (13-17) with 15 points and 10 rebounds, Kim Mestdagh added 14 points and Meghan Heimstra had 12 points for the Rams.
The Broncos converted 46.2 percent of their field goals and outrebounded Colorado State 37-33.
The Rams made 35 percent of their shots from the field, including just 28.6 percent (8-of-28) in the second half.
Boise State dominated the paint, scoring 34 points, compared to Colorado State’s 18 and converted nine second-chance points.