The Boise State Broncos haven’t played the Utah State Aggies in nearly three years, but Boise State’s veterans won’t forget that last matchup.
On March 12, 2011, Utah State beat Boise State 77-69 in the WAC championship game in Leon Rice’s first season at the helm of the Broncos. All three of Boise State’s seniors this season played in that game.
“Us seniors have a special place in our hearts for Utah State,” forward Ryan Watkins said. “… we lost to them in the WAC championship my freshman year, we still remember that.”
The Aggies (12-4, 2-2) come to Taco Bell Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m. as Mountain West newcomers, set to take on Boise State (12-5, 2-2), coming off a win Tuesday at Nevada.
Longtime coach Stew Morrill’s team is again renowned for its execution, wealth of set plays and outside shooting. The Aggies own a plus-10.3 rebounding average per game, tops in the league, are No. 1 in 3-point percentage (42.0 percent) and lead with a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“They might be the best rebounding team in the league,” Rice said. “That’s where the battle’s going to start.
“They’re so disciplined and they take good shots.”
Center Jarred Shaw, who was suspended five games, leads the Aggies with 15.5 points per game. He also adds 8.1 rebounds per game. Guards Spencer Butterfield (13.9 ppg) and Preston Medlin (13.6 ppg) hit 47.5 percent and 45.8 percent of their 3-pointers, respectively.
Rice said the Broncos’ 74-65 win at Nevada may have been the team’s best combination of team defense and rebounding. They held the Wolf Pack to 34.5 percent shooting, including 24 percent from 3-point range. Making it more impressive is that Nevada made five of its final six shots from the field.
“A great road victory at a time where we really needed one,” Rice said Friday.
If there were any things to nitpick, it’s the fact the Broncos had 15 turnovers to 12 assists, and that they were 14-of-33 on 2-point baskets.
“We turned the ball over a little too much, missed some bunnies around the hoop,” Rice said.
Rice has often stated the need for Boise State to expand its bench — the Broncos have typically used an eight-man rotation, each averaging at least 14 minutes per game. Those eight represent 92.2 percent of the team’s scoring. On Tuesday, Rice played true freshman Dezmyn Trent for two first-half minutes. It was his first game since playing one minute Dec. 23 against South Carolina. Before that, he hadn’t played since Dec. 5.
“We’ve seen Dez develop over practice lately … that’s what we have to be able to grow on, and I think we’re gonna,” Rice said.
Trent, a well-built 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard, has a strong scoring instinct, and Rice feels he can find his way into the rotation as the wear and tear of conference play continues. Trent has played 53 minutes this season, and has 25 points.
“He’s got a great attitude, and he’s worked his way into a position where he’s going to play a little more and more, so I think he can help the team down the stretch here,” Rice said. “I’d like to, I’d hope to. As a coach, you don’t want to jinx anything, but I’ve seen progress there and I think we can get more out of him.”