Boise State has done the impossible, upsetting first the #1 seed and then the #3 seed on their home court in front of a very hostile crowd to capture their first WAC basketball championship. The Broncos are dancin' in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994.
has returned to BoiseState.
The Broncos capped off
an improbable tourney run with a heart-stopping, three-overtime win over
hometown New MexicoState 107-102 to capture the Western
Athletic Conference Tournament Championship tonight in Las Cruces.BoiseState led nearly throughout the
thriller, jumping out to a 17-3 lead and yet fighting the entire way to
preserve that lead.
Now, Coach Greg Graham's team is going to the Big Dance for the first time since 1994 when they
won the Big Sky Conference title and played Louisville in the first round of the NCAA
Tournament.The story of this team can
be told in unselfish terms, like the way they not broke but shattered the
school record for assists.Like the way
they played when their star center, Matt Nelson, went down with an injury.Or that despite losing first Nelson then
sharpshooting forward Tyler Tiedeman to fouls tonight, they still found a way to win.
Make no mistake—that
early start out of the gate was key in front of a hostile crowd of Aggie fans
hoping for a repeat performance to the NCAA's.The Broncos would not have won without it.When BoiseState last saw the PanAmericanCenter in Las Cruces, they were outplayed from start
to finish in a 19-point blowout loss.After that debacle, what made them think they could come back and
actually defeat New MexicoState?And how did they pull it off?
It was not easy.Championships never are.A lot has to go right along the way to
capture them.Courage.Tenacity.Poise.Athleticism.Endurance.BoiseState displayed all of these
attributes and more in their pressure-packed three-day adventure to their first
WAC Tournament title.The first entry in
their Las Cruces scrapbook was a come-from-behind victory over a scrappy Hawai'i team in the opening round.That set up a battle with #1 seed UtahState, another team that handed BoiseState a devastating 19-point loss in
Taco Bell Arena less than a week earlier.The Broncos passed that test with flying colors, handing the Logan
Aggies a shocking loss that was just BoiseState's first victory over USU in eight games.That set up the Championship Classic.
Reggie Larry, the
brilliant transfer from junior college powerhouseCollege of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, led the Broncos with 31 points
and 16 rebounds.But this championship
was won by T-E-A-M.They shot a lights
out 58.3 percent from three-point territory in the second half.Matt Nelson, one of the nation's best
shooters, had one of the best games of his career, countering the boisterous
and needling Aggie crowd time and time again by scoring amongst the redwoods of
the New MexicoState defense.Nelson finished with 26 points for BoiseState.The sensational Tyler Tiedeman poured in 17,
every one of which was needed and seemed to come at a time when the Aggies
thought they were gaining control.Local
star Matt Bauscher from Caldwell's VallivueHigh School closed out a sensational
tournament that included 9-of-11 three-point shooting with 14 points tonight.Anthony Thomas sliced and diced his way through the Aggie defense for 13 points.Freshman Paul Noonan was ice at the
free-throw line with four swishes with the game on the line.Bauscher, Larry and Nelson were all named to
the All-Tournament team.Coach Graham
got key contributions from throughout his lineup.
Speaking of the WAC
Coach of the Year, he brilliantly altered his defense between zone and
man-to-man to confuse the talented New MexicoState team.The zone defense instituted early in the game
not only kept the athletic Aggies from getting into a rhythm but just as
importantly kept the sellout Pan American crowd from erupting.The tenacious Bronco "D" held the skilled
Aggie shooters to less than 38 percent in the first half (11-29).New MexicoState would rally like the great team
that they are and the fans would yell and stomp their approval.But they never could get over the hump, not
grabbing their first lead until late in the game and certainly were not allowed
to duplicate their romp over BoiseState the last time the two teams
When BoiseState switched periodically to a
man-to-man defense, the Broncos played that nearly to perfection as well.It was perhaps the best defense played by a
Bronco team since the glory years of the Bobby Dye era.Chris Childs, Arnell Jones, Wilson Foster,
Doug Usitalo and company must be smiling.The tall, agile Aggie big men did not find the going easy inside.Nelson, Larry and Kurt Cunningham denied
opportunities for entry passes.When
they did get the ball inside, the alert Broncos double and triple teamed them,
taking away any open lane to the basket.This was a sign of a well-coached team who brilliantly prepared for the
style of New MexicoState.
``Guys stepped up for
us,'' said Graham. ``They all kept us
Despite the big early
lead in a game that BoiseState led nearly from start to finish,
they couldn't shake the Aggies.Not in
this classic roundball game.After a New MexicoState comeback that cut the early
margin to five, BoiseState closed out the first half in
fashion that resulted in a 34-27 advantage going into the locker room.The two teams were tied at 71 before putting
on an offensive clinic in the three overtimes.They were even at 80 in the first overtime and again at 92 in the second
The Broncos looked like
they would win the game at several points only to see the determined Aggies
fight back.It would be either a clutch
three-point shot or an offensive rebound put back for a three-point play or a
basket after a Bronco turnover.The Aggies
played with great intensity especially in the second half and yet with all that
pressure and noise from the faithful, the Broncos did not wilt or lose their
poise.They took tremendous care of the
basketball in the midst of Aggie runs and played intelligently.99 percent of the time they took good shots
and they made them.They screened out
the taller Aggie players who had outrebounded Nevada by 27 the night before and did
the same thing to BoiseState the last time the Broncos
ventured to New Mexico.Graham's team in fact got several offensive
putbacks themselves.It took all of this
and more to withstand the Aggie onslaught.
``I never thought we
were going to lose,'' Hawkins said. ``We never doubted it. Every time we tied
it up and it was going into the next overtime, we thought, 'All right. Here we
BoiseState finally built up enough cushion
in the third overtime, with Larry scoring twice in a 6-0 run that would this
time, finally, hold up.New MexicoState once again struck back to cut
the lead to 99-97 and it looked like the game could go into a fourth extra
period.Thomas countered with a sweet,
slashing layup in and around the trees that he turned into a three-point play
with a clutch free throw that advanced the lead to five with 42.6 seconds
``That was the one that
hurt us,'' Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said. ``It gave them a window of
opportunity to protect the clock.''
Seconds later, Thomas
forced NMSU's Jonathan Gibson into a backcourt violation, and it was fiesta
time back in Idaho.
Freshman Herb Pope led
the Aggies (21-14) with 20 points, playing through foul trouble since picking
up his third late in the first half.Justin Hawkins had 18 and KansasState transfer Fred Peete scored 13
of his 17 points in the second half as New MexicoState erased a 16-point deficit.Peete was amazing as the Aggies stormed from
behind. They outscored the Broncos 35-19 after Bauscher's 3-pointer gave BoiseState their biggest lead of the night
52-36 with remaining.
New MexicoState chipped away like a boxer in a
championship fight, jabbing away continually and getting their crowd pumped
up.They got big baskets from Pope,
Hawkins, Peete and especially Gibson, who put New MexicoState ahead 71-70 with a huge
3-pointer with 24 seconds to play in regulation.
Shortly after an
airball on a free throw, Larry tied it at 71, making one of two free throws to
tie it with 16.8 seconds to play. Larry said he caught the ball with a thumb on
the way up but agreed the noisy crowd was a contributor.``You're hearing all kinds of things out
there,'' he said. ``Your legs are shaking.''
Which made the victory
all that much sweeter.
The Broncos won their
championship and ticket to the Big Dance in front of passionate Aggie fans but
cut down the nets in a largely vacant PanAmericanCenter.Graham noted it was fitting that his team had
won a school-record 12 road games and capped off their historic WAC season in
``All the odds were
stacked against us,'' Nelson said. ``It's a tough environment, a tough team.
But we pulled it off because we're family. We're tight.''
As the final horn
sounded that ended this marathon, Bauscher heaved the ball into the rafters and
several of his teammates jumped atop a courtside table to cheer with a
contingent of fans in orange and blue.
``Here it is. Here it
is,'' Larry said, proudly holding the WAC trophy high in the air. ``Going back
Larry was named Most
Valuable Player, as he finished the three-day tournament with 79 points.
The third-seeded Aggies
came into the tournament that they hosted on a tear, winning five straight and
10 of 11 to close out the regular season. They were hoping to repeat a title
after winning the tournament on their home court to reach the NCAA's for the
first time since 1999.
But the WAC, with a No.
20 national conference RPI, will likely only place one team in the Big Dance.That leaves New Mexico State, Nevada and UtahState to make plans for the NIT.
committees for both tournaments will huddle one final time this afternoon
before making their choices public.The
traditional NCAA Selection Show will air at 3 this afternoon to announce the
bids and pairings.BoiseState will open up Taco Bell Arena
for Bronco fans to enjoy this special moment in school history and learn what
college basketball giant the committee will put in front of them.ESPN will no doubt have a film crew in town
to capture the Boise party.
And Bronco fans
certainly know how to Fiesta!
the Boise State Broncos on this very special occasion—their first Western
Athletic Conference basketball championship.You Should Be Dancing. Yeah!