Inside Slant: Boise State Basketball

Heading down the stretch of the nonconference season, Boise State got hot and got some rest. The Broncos swept homes games against Houston Baptist, Portland State and Montana State in a pre-Christmas stretch. After that, the Broncos have only a game against Division II Northwest Nazarene (Dec. 29) standing in its way before the Jan. 2 conference opener at Fresno State.

The 69-62 victory against Portland State was particularly satisfying because the Vikings had won at ranked Portland earlier this season and defeated Boise State last season.

"This is a big win," Boise State forward Ike Okoye told the Idaho Statesman. "Our out-of-conference schedule -- our crowd thinks it's weak -- so we're trying to get big wins when we can."

Boise State was 8-4 by Christmas, having lost to Montana, Wyoming, Illinois and San Diego. The Broncos actually squandered all of an 18-point lead early in the second half against Montana State, trailing 52-51 with 7:11 left.

Boise State went almost nine minutes without a point in the second half, but used some tough defense down the stretch to hold off the Bobcats. Protecting a 58-56 lead with 6.9 seconds left, BSU's Reggie Arnold missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but the Broncos chased down the rebound and ran out the clock.

--Boise State went 4-1 against the Big Sky Conference this season, losing to Montana in the second game of the season but then beating Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Portland State and Montana State.
--The Broncos entered the week as the league leader in blocked shots, averaging 4.6 per game. Boise State had three of the WAC's top individual shot blockers, led by Ike Okoye, who was fourth at 2.0 per game.

JANUARY AT A GLANCE: The Broncos open conference play on the road at Fresno State and Hawaii, then return home for New Mexico State (Jan. 9) and Louisiana Tech (Jan. 11). Boise State was 6-2 in conference home games last season, but will be trying to improve on its 3-5 road mark from a year ago. A tough three-game stretch comes later in the month with a trip to Utah State, followed by a home game against Nevada and a trip to Idaho.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The two things we need to do are take care of the ball and defend. If we do those two things, we're gonna be hard to deal with. We play a lot of guys, got a lot of weapons and can do a lot of different things." -- Boise State coach Greg Graham, in the Idaho Press-Tribune.


SEASON RECAP: The nonconference schedule wasn't overly taxing, so there wasn't much to read into an 8-4 record through Christmas. But with the bulk of the core returning from last season's 19-win squad, the Broncos again look solid, bolstered by the improvement of Ike Okoye (14.1 points, 9-0 rebounds) in a full-time starting role. A trio of junior college transfers -- starting forward Robert Arnold (11.0 points, 3.9 rebounds), forward Daequon Montreal (6.4 points, 5.5), and guard Wes Perryman (3.6, 1.1) -- have provided additional punch for a team that is looking to climb past the middle of the WAC.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- PG Anthony Thomas, G La'Shard Anderson, SF Robert Arnold, PF Ike Okoye, C Kurt Cunningham. Key Subs -- SF Paul Noonan, F Daequon Montreal, G Wes Perryman, C Zack Moritz

Boise State 96, Houston Baptist 59
Boise State 69, Portland State 62
Boise State 58, Montana State 56

vs. Northwest Nazarene, Tuesday, Dec. 29
at Fresno State, Saturday, Jan. 2
at Hawaii, Monday, Jan. 4
vs. New Mexico State, Saturday, Jan. 9
vs. Louisiana Tech, Monday, Jan. 11

IN FOCUS: Fresno State and Hawaii figure to be lower-division teams in the WAC, so there is a chance to get off to a fast start in WAC play for Boise State. The Broncos would like to see their 3-point percentage improve as conference play begins as they rank last in the league, shooting 30.3 percent (57 of 188) from behind the arc. Boise State doesn't have a proven sharp-shooting ace, however -- G Anthony Thomas was at 35.1 percent and F Paul Noonan was at 33.9 -- so the Broncos figure to continue to rely on pace and what seems to be an improving defense.

--G Wes Perryman missed the Montana State game on Dec. 23 because of an ankle injury suffered a game earlier against Portland State.
--G La'Shard Anderson played all 40 minutes against Montana State two nights after playing 39 minutes against Portland State. With G Wes Perryman out with an ankle injury, Boise State's backcourt was thin and couldn't afford to be without Anderson on the court. 
--PF Ike Okoye had 20 points and 11 rebounds against Portland State on Dec. 21, which was his second double-double of the season.

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