A late Friday night in ExtraMile Arena was the setting for a clash between an improving UNLV Rebels squad and the steady Boise State Broncos. After a period of growing pains for UNLV at the beginning of the season, they had begun to put a string of good games together. This included winning three of their last four games against the likes of Colorado State, Nevada, and Air Force. Boise State was coming off of five days rest after beating San Jose State and looking to maintain their tie with Wyoming in the Mountain West standings. The Broncos did just that, winning 69-63.
Bryce Hamilton, a surefire 1st team all-conference player, contributed to the Rebels running out to a 13-4 lead over the first seven minutes of play. The Broncos got into a rhythm on the offensive end of the floor thanks to big man Mladen Armus. Armus scored seven points over five minutes to bring the Broncos back and tie the game at 20 with seven minutes left in the half. Abu Kigab showed some range throughout the game as he gave Boise State their first lead on a corner three with five minutes on the clock. The Rebels showed poise when the Broncos marched their way back, finishing the half on a 12-3 run. A restless Bronco crowd stretched their legs at the half with the Broncos down 36-29.
Boise State regrouped at the half and came out with a different intensity as they trimmed UNLV’s lead to one within the first two minutes of the second half. The margin would stay within five over the next 12 minutes of play as the Broncos and Rebels traded blows, neither team taking control. Tyson Degenhart’s 11 second-half points assisted the Bronco push to put the game away. However, UNLV had players not named Bryce Hamilton step up as the game came down to the final stretch, giving the Rebels a shot at a major upset in conference play. Michael Nuga nailed a game-tightening three for UNLV with two minutes left to close the deficit to just one.
After both teams traded two points, Marcus Shaver Jr. drove into the paint and kicked the ball out to Abu Kigab for a shot at a corner three. With the shot clock about to expire and one minute left in the game, Kigab let it fly and the ball hit nothing but net. This put the Broncos up four and after a pair of free throws by Kigab, Tyson Degenhart was able to seal the game with two more freebies.
For UNLV, it was the Bryce Hamilton show as he racked up 32 points and knocked down four three-pointers. Michael Nuga added 12 points and kept the Rebels in the game with vital shots. The charity stripe was a non-factor as Hamilton was the only Rebel to get to the line, attempting seven free throws. UNLV shot better from the field and from the three-point range than Boise State, thanks to Hamilton and Nuga going a combined 17 of 34 from the floor.
The Broncos, conversely, operated by committee as four Broncos reached double figures. Abu Kigab led the way with 18 points and Tyson Degenhart chipped in with 15 points. Despite shooting one of seven from three-point range, Marcus Shaver Jr. ended up with 13 points. Mladen Armus finally had the bounce back performance we were waiting for as he netted 12 points and came up with seven rebounds. The biggest stat for the Broncos was…their free throw shooting! After starting the season as one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in division one, the Broncos have rounded into form as of late. On Friday, Boise State went 23 of 29 from the line, good for 79.3 percent. Compare this to their season average of 63.4 percent, and it appears that those woes have subsided.
UNLV does not have an easy remaining schedule as they have to take on Fresno State, Colorado State, Nevada, Boise State, Wyoming, and New Mexico. For now, their focus will be on Orlando Robinson and the Fresno State Bulldogs. That game is scheduled for Wednesday, February 16th, and will be televised on CBS Sports Network (CBSSN) at 9:30 PST.
As for Boise State, they will get a chance to host many of the teams that they had to face on the road during their five games in eleven days stretch in January. Coming up, the Broncos will welcome Colorado State to Boise on Super Bowl Sunday. The game is slated for 2:00 MST and will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1). There will be only two college basketball games starting at this time, so consider this appointment viewing before the Cincinnati Bengals take on the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 56.