LAS VEGAS — The disappointment of a sixth-place finish in the Mountain West regular season standings means nothing for the Boise State basketball season this week.
“It’s a new season,” said Boise State coach Leon Rice, whose Broncos will face San Jose State at 8 p.m. MT today in the opening round of the Mountain West tournament. “I think our guys are hungry and ready to go, and I think maybe a little healthier than they have been.”
It looked like the Broncos were going to finish either fourth or fifth in the standings — and get a bye into Thursday’s quarterfinals — until a loss at Air Force and three other unfavorable scores on Saturday dropped them down to fifth.
But instead of getting a bye and having to face UNLV on their home floor at the Thomas and Mack Center, the Broncos ended up trading the extra day off for a chance to face the 11th-seeded Spartans, who went 1-17 in conference play.
“There are some benefits to it, no question,” Rice said. “I’ve seen in tournaments before if you’re able to get that first one, there is an advantage to playing the day before.
“I think everybody has talked about it all year, how anybody can beat anybody in this tournament. If you played it 10 times, you would probably get 10 different outcomes, I would think. It’s going to be an exciting tournament.”
Boise State (19-12, 9-9 Mountain West) is looking to makeup for an underachieving conference season in which they suffered several close losses. Six of the Broncos’ nine conference losses were by four points or less, including the overtime loss to Air Force and a double overtime loss to Nevada in the home finale last week.
“It’s been one of the craziest years I’ve ever been associated with as far as the ups and downs,” Rice said. “You play that many close games, it has to even out a little bit. I’m looking for the even out part to come.”
Leading scorer Anthony Drmic has been playing the last month with a stress fracture in his foot and senior Jeff Elorriaga has played despite a broken bone in his back. Rice hopes both can continue to improve and help the Broncos make a run this week in Vegas.
With all hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament gone, the Broncos will have to win four games in four days to get back to the Big Dance for the second-straight year.
“There’s people disappointed in us losing some close games and this and that, but I’m proud of them the way they keep battling,” Rice said. “There’s a lot of guys that could have said, ‘I have a broken back, I’m done,’ or, ‘I have a stress fracture in my foot, I’m done.’ And they don’t. They just keep trying to bring something, and they keep coming and they are hanging in there.
“Now we get to go to the conference tournament and now we get to put that aside, and now we get to let it rip and see where it ends up.”
Tip off is scheduled for 8 p.m. MT and the game will be streamed online by the Mountain West Network.