Saint Mary’s ‘a huge challenge’ for 8-1 Broncos (w/video)

Boise State coach Leon Rice got to take on a rival in Idaho already, and will get another from his recent past Saturday.

The Saint Mary’s Gaels (7-0) come into Taco Bell Arena on Saturday (4 p.m., ROOT), and they’re quite familiar to Rice, who played them 34 times while he was at Gonzaga from 1998-2010. Five of the Gaels’ eight NCAA tournament appearances in school history have come under coach Randy Bennett, who took over in 2001-02. They’ve won 25 or more games six seasons in a row.

“Saint Mary’s presents a huge challenge … I have a ton of respect for Randy Bennett, what he’s done there,” Rice said.

The Gaels are 22nd in the nation with a 1.52 assist-to-turnover ratio and their 77 turnovers in seven games are tied for 19th fewest.

“They’re also a really, really smart team — they don’t beat themselves,” Rice said.

Four Saint Mary’s players averaged double-digit scoring, led by forward Brad Waldow’s 18.6 points per game. Guards Stephen Holt and James Walker III average 12.6 and 11.6 ppg, respectively, and forward Beau Levesque scores 10.9 ppg.

Holt is a familiar face for Boise State’s Jeff Elorriaga, with whom Holt was a high school teammate at Jesuit High in Portland. The Gaels have two Australian players — senior center Matt Hodgson and freshman forward Dane Pineau. Boise State freshman Nick Duncan played with Pineau on the Australian U19 world championship team this summer.

Sophomore forward Edmunds Dukulis has missed the Broncos’ last five games with a meniscus injury, but has steadily shown improvement. He was suited up, but didn’t play Tuesday at Kentucky.

“He’s been bouncing around, he got some treatment on his knee and it’s really helped him,” Rice said. “… hopefully we’ll get him this weekend. Would be great.”

Rice is hoping for a big crowd Saturday, and Boise State said about 8,000 tickets were out by Friday afternoon. The Gaels are currently No. 8 in RealTimeRPI.com’s standings (here). Boise State is No. 40.

New Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin will be introduced to the crowd at halftime.

Only three times in school history has a crowd of more than 10,000 shown up at Taco Bell Arena before January — Dec. 30, 1999 against Cincinnati; Dec. 27, 1987 against Wyoming and Dec. 14, 2012 against LSU. Only the Tigers last year were unranked.

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