Anticipated to be one of the toughest games of the 2015 Broncos season, James Webb's heroics weren't enough for Boise State to knock off #12 Arizona. The 12-point underdogs hung with Arizona for most of the contest until the home crowd fueled the finishing touches at McKale Center.
From the opening tip on, Boise State and Arizona maintained a feverish pace that ignited both offenses throughout the game. The Broncos snatched early momentum with charges taken by Nick Duncan and Anthony Drmic. Perimeter shooting and attacking the basket was key for the Broncos in the early going, finishing layups and draining three-pointers.
Arizona's frontcourt size and talent became an issue early on for Boise. Easy interior baskets and dunks by Arizona's seven-footers, Dusan Ristic and Kaleb Tarczewski, prompted coach Leon Rice to make adjustments to his defensive matchups. With a little over eight minutes left in the first half, Boise State switched to a 2-3 zone to force the Wildcats back to the perimeter, daring Arizona to fire deep shots.
The home team was able to answer. Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Gabe York connected on triples after Boise's defensive switch, but Boise State had a number of responses. Nick Duncan sank four deep bombs in the last eight minutes of the half, and the Broncos trailed 44-42 with 20 minutes to go.
Then James Webb III entered the spotlight.
A pair of Webb free throws tied the score at 44 apiece early into the second half. No other Bronco scored until 12:41 remaining in the game. Over the nine minute span, Webb scored nine points, injured his ankle, left the game, and returned to add another six points before the Nick Duncan three with just under 13 minutes on the clock.
Webb's injury occured with 17:09 left in the half after stepping on Anthony Drmic's foot on a rebound. Webb fell back and instantly grabbed his ankle while wincing on the floor. After a few moments with the training staff, Webb hobbled to the BSU locker room. The junior forward returned to the game with 15:47 left and finished with a career-high 27 points.
Rebounding was a struggle during Webb's short absence. Arizona's first possession after Webb's injury was extended thanks to three offensive rebounds, eventually leading to a tip-in basket by Mark Tollefson that energized the crowd.
Arizona began to slightly add to its lead. With 11 minutes remaining, the home Wildcats were on top 68-61, the largest lead of the game to that point. The fourth personal foul on James Webb III with 10:08 on the clock sent Webb to the bench where he would stay momentarily.
Boise State began to unravel soon after Webb returned to the floor. Three Boise turnovers in a one-minute span led to easy baskets by Arizona, pushing UA's lead back to seven.
The Wildcats pulled away in the final minutes with a compilation of dunks and three-pointers. Boise State was unable to replicate its outside shooting that was displayed earlier in the game, as Arizona wound up victorious 88-76.
The Broncos arrived in Tucson double-digit underdogs but proved that it is capable of competing with a top team in the country. A win would have been huge for BSU's confidence, but a chip on the shoulder should lead the Broncos nicely into the Wooden Legacy tournament next weekend.
Next up for the Broncos will be Concordia (Oregon) at home on Monday night.