It’s a fact hardly surprising to anyone at Boise State, but the Mountain West is being recognized as the toughest conference in college basketball.
RealTimeRPI.com has the conference No. 1 in it is rankings, with seven teams in the top 65, including Boise State at No. 44 and Saturday’s opponent, New Mexico, at No. 4.
The site has the Big Ten, with seven teams in the top 32, at No. 2.
“You see it every night, almost every game comes down to the end, and we’ve been focusing on those last few minutes, finishing strong, because if you want to win in this league, that’s what you have to do,” guard Jeff Elorriaga said.
Boise State was able to win at Wyoming on a last-second Elorriaga 3-pointer Jan. 9 and scored eight of the final nine points in a 74-67 win over Fresno State on Jan. 23. At the same time, there was last Wednesday’s 63-62 loss at San Diego State on a 3-pointer with less than 3 seconds left, and a 79-74 overtime loss in Boise the last time the Broncos met the Lobos, on Jan. 16.
“Our biggest thing is closing,” Elorriaga said. “The nerves have kicked in at times, but we’ve got to enjoy the moment, take advantage. We’ve missed some late free throws we should’ve made and we’re trying to fix that.”
Derrick Marks missed the tail end of a pair of free throws against San Diego State that ended on the other end with Chase Tapley’s game-winning shot, and the Broncos were 3-of-7 on free throws in the second half against New Mexico in their first meeting.
“Some of that, to me, is a mindset, some of that is getting the right guys to the line in those situations, but even if you plan on that, it might not go the way you want it to,” Rice said. “… as guys get older and more experienced, you start winning more and more of those, more consistently.”
Mountain West teams are 12-32 in conference road games this season, and the site of the Broncos’ next game, in Albuquerque, is no doubt one of the toughest sites in the league, let alone the country.
“I’ve always thought (your team) has to be 15-20 points better,” Rice said about playing better away from home. “… when you go to The Pit, it’s not a neutral court. You’ve got to be at your best, which is maybe 15 points better than normal.”