A second day in Las Vegas has been a rarity for Boise State. With only three previous semifinal appearances in their Mountain West history, the Broncos have never made it to the final day in Sin City. After a gut-check win against Nevada on Thursday, the Broncos were one step closer to history. The entire quarterfinal slate was absolutely sensational, and the depth of this conference was on full display. Wyoming had their hands full as well with the scorching UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. A Xavier DuSell three in the final minute clinched a semifinal appearance for the Cowboys and, in all likelihood, a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The Broncos got off to a much better start than in their previous outing, jumping out to a 12-4 lead in the first four minutes. Mladen Armus, who has had an up and down season, took charge in the paint and rattled off seven points early on. Wyoming would soon find their rhythm, however, and stormed back with an 8-0 run. Towards the end of the half, Armus took control once again and scored five straight points with less than 90 seconds left. A Naje Smith jumper put a bow on a tremendous half of play for the Broncos. Boise State took a 14 point lead into intermission, up 37-23.
Wyoming cut into the deficit as the second half commenced, trimming it to ten. Hunter Maldonado began to make his mark on the game, but every time the Cowboys would creep closer, the Broncos responded. Boise State not only maintained their lead throughout the majority of the second half, but they were able to extend it by as much as 17. Drake Jeffries, the sharpshooter for Wyoming, hit two crucial threes that energized the team and the Cowboy contingent that traveled to Las Vegas. With just over four minutes to go, the Broncos looked to be well on their way to a comfortable win.
How silly of me.
Despite being held to a sub-par performance, Graham Ike did all he could in the final two minutes. Ike scored eight consecutive points to close the gap to five with 1:27 to go. After both teams traded points, Jeffries hit yet another three to make it a one possession game as 31 seconds showed. Marcus Shaver Jr. split a pair of free throws, but Ike couldn’t find an easy shot on the opposing end. Emmanuel Akot took his turn at the line and also went one for two. A final shot from three fell short for Cowboy Noah Reynolds. Abu Kigab added the finishing touches with a layup as time expired.
Boise State 68 – Wyoming 61.
Jubilation from the entire Boise State bench, including Leon Rice.
Wyoming just didn’t have enough in the tank as their time in Las Vegas comes to an end. Three players reached double figures for Jeff Linder and the Cowboys. Graham Ike led the way with 18 points and both Hunter Maldonado and Drake Jeffries finished with 17 points. From the floor, Wyoming shot 43 percent and only 28 percent from downtown. 16 turnovers didn’t help their efforts and Maldonado fouling out at the end of the game wasn’t the ending he hoped for.
The Broncos had a quartet of players reach double figures. With his mother in the stands, Abu Kigab shot efficiently from the field and wound up with 22 points. Mladen Armus was the player of the game with how he defended Graham Ike and his offensive production. Armus finished with an eye-popping stat line of 16 points, 13 rebounds, and an unlikely four steals. Emmanuel Akot contributed with 11 points, but played the part of facilitator as he dished out six assists. Bench player and energizer bunny Naje Smith added 10 points, flying around the floor and making winning plays when they were needed. The craziest stat of the game was that Tyson Degenhart went scoreless in 18 minutes of action. The last time Degenhart had a bagel in the points column was all the way back in November in the infamous CSU-Bakersfield loss.
Considering expectations, Wyoming still had a terrific season and should be in the NCAA tournament. The dynamic duo of Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado will give an unsuspecting high seed fits and they could pull off the upset. The biggest question in the air is whether or not the Cowboys will have to participate in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.
As for Boise State, this unprecedented season continues to reach new heights. Their first outright regular season championship appears to only be the tip of the iceberg. With this win, 40 minutes stands between the Broncos and their first Mountain West conference tournament championship. Also, this win broke the program’s record for most wins in a single season at 26. San Diego State held off Colorado State in the second semifinal, setting up a third battle between the Aztecs and Broncos. Boise State swept the regular season series in true grind-it-out contests. The Mountain West Championship will be broadcast on CBS, not CBS Sports Network. The title game is slated for 4:00 MST (3:00 PST) and with the game being on CBS, the incomparable Kevin Harlan will be on the call.