The past two seasons, Boise State's basketball team has charged towards the finish like a bunch of...well, Broncos. Two years ago, they won their final six games of the regular season, including an upset over league-leader UTEP. Last year the Broncos beat Tulsa in the opening round of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, then shocked nationally-ranked Nevada and Fresno State to advance to the title game against UTEP.
This year's race in the WAC as close as it has ever been. In the tightly bunched standings, just three games separate 1st from 7th. Thus, every game is vitally important to seedings for the upcoming WAC Tournament, to be held in Reno. Since 5th place New Mexico State plays at Nevada and Utah State and 4th-place Hawai'i plays at Boise State Saturday, now is the time for the Broncos (5-5 in the WAC for 6th place, 12-9 overall) to make their patented late-season move.
Before the home game with the Rainbow Warriors, however, Coach Greg Graham's team must first teal with co-league leader Louisiana Tech in Ruston. Louisiana Tech is 7-3 in the Western Athletic Conference and 14-9 overall. They are a much better team at home (7-2) vs. away from Ruston (7-7). They played a fairly tough non-conference season, losing to Wisconsin, Alabama, Memphis and Nebraska. The Bulldogs had a nice win over Texas Tech prior to the WAC season. Tech defeated Boise State once this year when star junior forward Paul Millsap (6-8, 240, Jr.) buried a three-pointer with time expiring to give the Bulldogs their first of seven conference wins this season. Tipoff for the game is set for Wednesday night at 6 p.m. Boise time.
Of course, you can't talk about Louisiana Tech without starting with Millsap, twice the NCAA leader in rebounding and once again leading the country in that category. Millsap, who was recently named to SI.com's Mid-Season All-America Third Team, is averaging 20.7 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. When conference only games are counted, that rebounding total shoots up to 14.1 a contest. Millsap quite simply is one of the best basketball players the conference has ever seen.
Millsap's supporting cast, and it really is that, is led by Corey Dean (6-4, 200, Sr.) averaging 7.8 points per game. Dean is the Bulldogs' top free-throw shooter at 75 percent. Marcus Elliott (6-3, 180, Jr.) is hitting 7.3 points per game. Elliot is a legitimate three-point threat, hitting 27 of 81 shots from behind the arc for 33%.
Michael Wilds (6-8, 240, Sr.) keeps defenses from collapsing on Millsap with excellent three-point shooting (32-80 for 40%); Wilds is averaging 6.6. Daevon Haskins (6-3, 170, Sr.) has started all 23 games for Louisiana Tech and is averaging 4.6 points a game. He leads the team both in assists (117) and steals (41). Haskins is 2nd in the WAC in both categories. Jerome Richardson (6-4, 200, Jr.) will also see plenty of action, averaging g 5.6 points a game.
Louisiana Tech's defense is third in the WAC in scoring defense, allowing 64.6 points a game. That will be a good matchup because Boise State is #3 in the league in offense running to the tune of 72.4 points a game. If the game is close and comes down to free throws (providing both teams get an even number of chances), it's no contest, with Boise State leading the league shooting 72% while Tech is 8th at 64%. Led by Millsap, Louisiana Tech is ferocious on the offensive glass, pulling down an incredible 16.7 offensive rebounds a game and 40 total. The Bulldogs are 15th in the nation in rebounding margin--they've done it all year long. Make no mistake--they will win the battle of the boards. The way to beat them is to hit your shots and screen out as best you can (Boise State is tops in the WAC in defensive rebounds) and keep Millsap from getting second-chance points.
For Boise State, Coby Karl leads the team in scoring, but there are no other Broncos in the WAC's top 15. This cannot continue if Boise State is to make a run at the top. Matt Bauscher has been playing well of late; perhaps he will be the guy that the Broncos count on to score 10-15 points per game. < A HREF=[PlayerNode: 2115458]>Tez Banks has been on fire inside for Boise State; if the big guy can continue that pace down the stretch, the Broncos will be difficult to beat. They shoot the ball well, score a lot of points, are excellent free-throw and 3-point shooters, play pretty good defense and generally rebound the ball well. Their Achilles heel has been turnovers, something that has in fact been improving the last three games which, not coincidentally, the Broncos have all won.
Louisiana Tech, which at #114 is the WAC's 3rd highest-rank team in this week's Sagarin Ratings, is a six-point favorite over #133 Boise State. When you face a guy like Millsap, you're not going to stop him from getting his points and rebounds; the key is making sure that they are earned and not putbacks for easy buckets. Like Karl, he too has no other consistent scoring threats to complement his game. Thus, whichever team can get other players to step up offensively should win the game. Boise State has already proven it can play with the best in the conference but a win against a team of this caliber on the road would indeed be an upset.