BOISE — Leon Rice had quite the analogy when describing Boise State’s road game at No. 15 Oregon on Saturday.
“We’re going out of the shallow end and into the middle of the ocean where the sharks are,” Rice joked.
Which begs the question: Can his players swim?
“This is where we find out,” Rice said. “We have a lot of returners, but we’re going to find out which ones know how to swim.”
The Broncos topped Life Pacific 126-49 in the season opener on Tuesday, setting program records for most points in a game and greatest margin of victory (77). Boise State looked great — seven players scored in double figures — but it came against an NAIA team.
How do the Broncos stack up against a nationally ranked team with multiple NBA prospects on the roster? They are eager to find out.
“Oregon is a great program and they’ve reloaded again,” Rice said. “They are a top 20 team and they certainly look like it. We know what kind of challenge it is. We’re going to have to play an A-plus game to even compete.”
Boise State’s 10th-year coach has taken his group swimming plenty against Oregon of late. This will be the Broncos’ fourth straight year playing the Ducks in Eugene. And the Broncos were competitive in each of the previous three.
They lost 68-63 in 2016 and won 73-70 in 2017 on a half-court buzzer beater from Lexus Williams. Last year the Broncos led at halftime before ultimately falling 66-54.
The Broncos are 2-3 against Oregon overall in the last four seasons, winning 74-72 in Boise in 2015 and losing 62-50 last year in Boise. The two teams played twice last year in a rare in-season home-and-home and Boise State led both games at the half before faltering late.
But if the recent matchups are any indication, the Broncos have a shot to at least keep things competitive.
“I think we have great respect for their program so our guys are always juiced up to play them,” Rice said. “I went back and watched all of them and you forget how many good games there were. ‘Did we win this one? No we lost on a 3 at the buzzer.’ They were all like that.
“Even last year when we had our struggles we led both games at halftime and they were competitive, we just couldn’t score down the stretch and they left us a little bit. These games have really been remarkable. Fans certainly get their money’s worth when they watch Boise State and Oregon.”
The Ducks brought in a highly ranked recruiting class and added a pair of graduate transfers from the Mountain West in UNLV’s Shakir Juiston and New Mexico’s Anthony Mathis, both of whom started in Oregon’s season opener against Fresno State. Both are familiar with the Broncos.
“Both those guys are great players,” Rice said. “They both bring something to the table that can be dangerous.”
Boise State, meanwhile, is hoping to get a big game from Derrick Alston Jr., who will be playing in front about 20 NBA scouts and executives that are expected to attend. With his name starting to appear on mock drafts and rankings, Alston could make a statement with a strong effort against the future NBA talent on Oregon’s roster.
The Broncos will likely be without Emmanuel Akot again Saturday as they wait for the NCAA to make a decision on their appeal for immediate eligibility this season. And with Oregon transfer Abu Kigab not eligible until December and freshman Riley Abercrombie out with a broken wrist, the Broncos will likely have just seven scholarship players available against the Ducks.
“I have all these great players sitting in polos,” Rice said. “It’s just killing me. Enough with the polos, lets get them in uniforms. We’re doing a great job with what we have, but one guy can change everything in terms of your rotation and having enough depth. You’re going to face foul trouble and things, and eight is probably not enough.”
Saturday night’s game will tip off at 9 MST and be televised nationally by the Pac-12 Network.
FAMILY CONNECTIONA cool side story to Saturday’s game will be the return to Eugene for freshman student manager MicGuire Monson, the grandson of former Oregon coach Don Monson.
Don Monson gave Rice his start in coaching when he hired him as a graduate assistant, and Rice is “paying it forward” by having MicGuire in the program as a student manager. A freshman manager typically wouldn’t travel, but Rice informed MicGuire this week he would be joining them on the trip.
“It’s really unbelievable to be honest with you,” MicGuire Monson said. “I was actually planning on driving and checking it out on my own and hopefully snagging a ticket somehow, so it means a lot. It’s where it all started, where this whole situation I’m in started.”
MicGuire said Rice has “basically been like an uncle to me” growing up because Rice and MicGuire’s dad Dan have been close friends for a number of years. Don is the current coach at Long Beach State.
“It’s really a neat story,” Rice said. “Don Monson gave me my shot at getting into college basketball and if it wasn’t for Don I would never have gotten in maybe. So he gave me my start and flash forward 31 years later and now his grandson is on my staff here as our student manager. He wants to coach, so to be able to pay it forward like that has been neat and it meant a lot to Don.
“Now I get to take MicGuire back to Oregon where his grandpa was a coach for nine years and had some great teams and great memories and it was where I got my start.”