The last game of February.
The calm before the storm.
Boise State traveled to Las Vegas Saturday in an attempt to sweep UNLV and get one step closer to the Big Dance. The Broncos were riding the wave after their one-point win against San Diego State this past Tuesday. For UNLV, they were hoping to extend their winning streak to four games and maintain momentum going into the Mountain West conference tournament.
Abu Kigab kicked the Broncos into high-gear early as he tallied eight points in the first four minutes, including a pair of threes. Boise State continued to extend the margin as the lead to grew to as much as 13 by the 12:32 mark in the half. UNLV stormed back, going on a 15-4 run to cut the deficit to two by the under-eight media timeout. The score remained close throughout the remainder of the first half as the Broncos went to the locker room up 47-41.
Bryce Hamilton, a lock for first team all-conference, took ahold of the UNLV offense and made his presence felt. He tacked on nine points in the opening five minutes of the second half to give the Runnin’ Rebels their first lead of the game. Hamilton continued to pour it on, accumulating 16 points in the first eight minutes of the half. The final ten minutes were the Shaver and Kigab show, combining for 18 of Boise State’s last 23 points.
With 5:22 left on the clock, UNLV had managed to hang around and were only down by three. Marcus Shaver Jr., in front of friends and family from the Las Vegas area, stepped up and went on an individual scoring tangent to seal the win for the Broncos. Shaver scored seven straight points to put Boise State up nine. After a run of intentional fouls committed by UNLV, the Broncos were able to take their winnings and fly back to Boise with an 86-76 win in their back pocket.
As expected, Bryce Hamilton was the catalyst in the fight against Boise State, going for 25 points and doing damage in the second half. Foul trouble limited Hamilton to only 27 minutes of game action. Two other Rebels reached double digits – Donovan Williams off the bench and Royce Hamm Jr., scoring 17 and 12 points, respectively. With Williams’ contributions, the rotational players had a larger part to play as they added 32 points. The three-point line was not kind to UNLV as they only shot 33 percent on 24 attempts.
Boise State had its best offensive performance of conference play from the floor and there were no sizable scoring droughts to be seen. Marcus Shaver Jr. took over down the stretch and compiled 27 points while hitting on three triples. It is of note that teammates of Shaver were labeling his performance as a “Flu Game”, an homage to Michael Jordan’s stellar outing against the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. This surrounding circumstance makes his efforts even more impressive as he only sat out for 36 seconds of the game. Abu Kigab certainly did his fair share, contributing 23 points and going 66 percent from the field on 12 shots. Tyson Degenhart was the only other Bronco to go for double digits, tallying ten points and acting as a stabilizing presence on the court. The one number that was a blackeye on the stat sheet was free-throw shooting. Despite making it to the line 25 times, Boise State only converted 13 attempts, marking their percentage at a brutal 52 percent.
Coming down the home stretch, UNLV has two games left on the schedule. A battle against a Wyoming team on their heels for one of the first times this season and a trip to Albuquerque to take on New Mexico in the season finale. The Rebels are close to knowing their seed for the conference tournament as they will either be a five or six seed, depending on their results and those of Fresno State. UNLV will host Wyoming in their next game on Wednesday, March 2nd. The game is at 8:30 MST and will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).
As for Boise State, the stars have aligned for them to clinch an outright Mountain West regular season conference championship tonight. After Wyoming’s loss against San Diego State on Monday, the Cowboys are two games back and would need Boise State to lose both of their last two games to have a shot. The Broncos have two games remaining – a home tilt against Nevada and a road trip to Fort Collins to duke it out with Colorado State. Boise State’s next game is tonight against Nevada and the seniors will have a chance to make history in their final appearance at ExtraMile Arena. The game is slated for 7:00 MST and will be televised on Fox Sports 2 (FS2).