Boise State feels better-equipped for tough matchup with UNLV (w/video)

Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice can’t help but wince a bit when he thinks of the last time the Broncos faced UNLV.

On Feb. 1 in Las Vegas, Boise State led 67-56 with 3 minutes, 48 seconds to play before collapsing down the stretch in a 73-69 loss. The Broncos host the Rebels on Saturday at 6:05 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

“We played a lot of good minutes,” Rice said. “… we also made some dumb plays down the stretch we know we can do a better job with.”

The Rebels (17-9, 8-5) have gone 2-2 since beating the Broncos. Still, UNLV presents a tough matchup for Boise State with its length and shotblocking ability (172 blocks). In that game at Thomas & Mack Center, the Broncos used some different faces down the stretch with Jeff Elorriaga hurt and Anthony Drmic fouled out soon after taking that 11-point lead.

“They can be pretty spectacular defensively at times, and they kind of turned up the heat on us and we didn’t handle it very well,” Rice said.

Rice feels the team is better prepared for that situation, in part with the bench getting more experience since that game, namely freshman Dez Trent and senior Thomas Bropleh. Elorriaga came off the bench for 20 minutes, scoring nine points Tuesday at Colorado State.

Boise State beat UNLV 77-72 in Boise on Feb. 2, 2013 last season when the Rebels had Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in last summer’s NBA draft. The Broncos know they are certainly capable of doing that again, and are potentially motivated by a shot to move up in the Mountain West standings.

The Broncos are alone in fifth — the top five teams get byes in the conference tournament — while UNLV and Wyoming are tied for third at 8-5. Wyoming lost star forward Larry Nance Jr. to a torn ACL this week, so the potential is there for the Broncos to rise in the standings.

“As you get closer to the tournament, teams start paying more attention to where you can stand and who you can end up playing and what it means — all these games become really important, especially when you’ve got so many teams separated by one or two games,” Rice said.

The Broncos’ biggest spark off the bench in the last month has no doubt been Bropleh, who has scored at least 13 points in five of the Broncos’ last six games. He’s had 12.2 points per game in the last six, third-best on the team. Of the 73 points he’s put up in the last six, 44 have been in the second half. Bropleh is making 44.4 percent of his 3-pointers in conference play.

“It’s huge — if you look at his numbers, he’s shooting the ball better than Jeff,” Rice said. “People wouldn’t imagine it, that someone could be shooting better than Jeff. Now you add another guy that’s a deep threat, it spaces the floor for us and makes us an even better offensive team.”

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