BOISE, Idaho--The Boise State basketball team opens the regular season with a contest always tough-Montana in Missoula tonight.
Montana has won 20 or more games in 5 of the last 6 seasons and qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 3 of those years. The Grizzlies were one of Boise State's toughest rivals when the two were both in the Big Sky Conference together from 1970-1996. Boise State is 26-32 all-time against Montana, and just 6-24 in Missoula.
Bronco head coach Leon Rice talked about facing the Grizzlies: "My thoughts are, 'What the heck was I doing scheduling that game?' They're picked to win the Big Sky; they're picked to make the NCAA Tournament. Historically speaking, it's one of the toughest places to play in the country. We played there with our good Gonzaga teams and they gave us everything we could handle. We know what we're in for. Playing a game like this to start; it keeps an edge to you. I think it's made us better preparing for a game like this."
In Montana's exhibition win last Tuesday over Dill Whitworth, 5-10 guard Walter Wright, an honorable mention All-American last season at Snow College, led the way with 31 points. Wright averaged 21.8 points and 6.0 assists per game in leading the Badgers to an 18-14 record. Rice knows stopping Wright will be a challenge for the Bronco defense.
"He was terrific in their exhibition game, he can really score, he's a quick guard," Rice said. "We know a lot about him from his days at junior college; he's not a secret by any means. They were pretty high on him when they got him and he's lived up to expectations. He's going to drive a hard bargain, and he presents a lot of problems up and down your roster," Rice continued. "He creates baskets for other guys, he can get in the paint, make shots...he's just a really good player."
With seven new faces and several others bothered by injuries, getting chemistry and continuity in practice has been a challenge for Rice and his staff. Freshman Paris Austin led the team with 35 minutes in their exhibition win against Northwest University of Washington. Lonnie Jackson and Zach Haney are among the other new players that are expected to see plenty of action tonight.
Rice has several veterans to lead his team, but unfortunately, several have been bothered with injuries. Anthony Drmic required ankle surgery just seven games into last season, and complications with that surgery have prolonged his recovery time.
Physically, he's not 100%. I don't know when he's going to be at 100%, but he's getting there," Rice said.
In addition to Drmic, guards Mikey Thompson and Montigo Alford have been out, but both have been practicing for about a week-and-a-half, according to Rice.
"We've probably had over 100 days of missed practices with our top 10 guys. We need some time to get clicking, and the best way to get clicking is some games."
The absence of Thompson and Alford opened up practice time for Austin, and the prized recruit from Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland has made the most of the opportunity. Rice said Austin is adjusting to college ball and playing within the system.
"The biggest adjustment has to be that in high school, a guy like him can just dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble and go make a play. The way we play, and at this level, pretty tough to do. Just trusting his teammates and know that he's got four really good players with him every time he's out there, and to understand where the ball needs to go and how if he just moves it, one of those guys is going to be able to make a good play. He's a great kid and he wants to learn, and he wants to be a good player, and he's going to be."
Tipoff tonight in Missoula is set for 7 PM Mountain Time.