A few post-game notes from Albuquerque:
Boise State junior forward Ryan Watkins had a tough night in Saturday’s 60-50 loss at No. 19 New Mexico, going 0-for-2 from the field, grabbing two rebounds and turning over the ball twice in 14 minutes.
He also had a tough time defending New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow (16 points on 5-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds). That’s quite a different stat line than the strong performance Watkins had Jan. 16 in Boise, when he had 12 points and 10 rebounds with Kenny Buckner out of the lineup because of a suspension. In that game, Bairstow and 7-footer Alex Kirk were a combined 3-of-12 from the field. While Buckner had a strong game (11 rebounds), Boise State coach Leon Rice said there was a small factor working against Watkins.
“Ryan had strep throat this week, so he didn’t have the greatest week of practice,” Rice said. “That kind of showed up tonight. We need him back to his normal level, and then the two-headed monster (of Buckner and Watkins) can be really, really effective.”
Next up for the Broncos is a home date Wednesday against Air Force. The Falcons are 15-9 overall and 6-5 in the Mountain West. They are coming off an 89-86 loss at home against No. 24 Colorado State, but guard Michael Lyons had 45 points. Lyons had a previous career high of 37 points against Boise State in a 91-80 win in Colorado Springs on Jan. 19. He is the top scorer in the conference, averaging 19.2 points per game.
Air Force leads the Mountain West with a 48.5 percent shooting percentage, and is a surprising 6-5 in league play, including wins over San Diego State and UNLV.
Rice was quick to point out that Saturday’s 60-50 loss was quite a bit different from last season’s 76-61 loss in Albuquerque.
“Last year we came apart, it caved in on us – we got rattled,” Rice said. “We didn’t get rattled this year. We just didn’t make the plays you have to if you want to win here.”
The Broncos led 54-52 last year at The Pit with 6 minutes, 25 seconds to go, but then had six turnovers and did not have another field goal the rest of the way.
On Saturday, the Broncos cut the Lobo lead to 47-46 with 5:23 left, but made 2-of-5 free throws after that. New Mexico was 19-of-25 in the game, Boise State was 5-of-10.
“You can’t get outscored by 14 at the line, because you aren’t going to get a lot of free throws (on the road),” Rice said. “When you do, you have to go 10-for-10, then you’ve got a chance.”
Boise State has made 334-of-450 free throws this season, 74.2 percent, tops in the Mountain West. By comparison, the Lobos have attempted 623 free throws. They’ve made 451, which is more than Boise State has even attempted.
The Lobos used the 6-foot-9 Bairstow to guard the perimeter for much of Saturday’s game, and it was effective – Boise State shot 5-of-20 on 3-pointers, including a 1-of-9 showing from Jeff Elorriaga, who came into the game No. 1 in the Mountain West in 3-point percentage (46.1).
“I’ve got to give our bigs a lot of credit,” New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. “We had Cam on (Elorriaga) a lot and Cam’s a post guy. Cam’s a power forward, if not center. So he does a good job. We’ve always talked about Cam: he’s got great feet and he can keep people in front of him.”
Boise State had 17 turnovers, including 10 in the first half. New Mexico was able to turn them into 17 points, though it should be noted that Boise State turned 14 Lobo turnovers into 14 points of their own.
“A few were turnovers that I hate, (traveling calls), foot faults like in tennis,” Rice said.
Derrick Marks, who had 19 points, said “we had too many turnovers. We got stops, but turnovers killed us. We’d have a chance to do something, but we’d have a bad turnover.”