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Boise State basketball finds success by staying in the moment


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Boise State’s Marcus Shaver Jr. arrives at the Moda Center on Wednesday for the Broncos’ open practice. The Broncos play Memphis in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

Boise State Athletics

Tackling something never done before requires patience and laser focus.

For the Boise State men’s basketball team, it has meant climbing the ladder one rung at a time — literally.

Following a 3-4 start, coach Leon Rice wrote out the Broncos’ remaining schedule on a whiteboard in the locker room, making it look like a ladder. Once the team got a good look at the journey ahead, Rice erased all but the next team on the schedule, adding one team at a time, until the climb was complete.

Over the course of their journey, the Broncos set program records for consecutive wins (14), conference wins (15) and total wins (27) while claiming the Mountain West regular-season and tournament championships for the first time in program history.

The next rung on the ladder is winning the school’s first NCAA Tournament game when the eighth-seeded Broncos (27-7) take on No. 9 Memphis (21-10) in the first round at 11:45 a.m. Mountain time Thursday at the Moda Center.

But winning Thursday means sticking to a routine on Wednesday. The familiarity can help keep the nerves at bay.

“It’s not so much the schedule, it’s the mindset of how we approach it,” Rice said. “We still want to enjoy everything. We want to be here now and play with the joy that we’ve played with all year and the togetherness.”

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Boise State’s Emmanuel Akot, left, and Abu Kigab field questions from the media on Wednesday at the Moda Center in Portland. Boise State Athletics

Even when it seemed the Broncos were finally ready to talk about the NCAA Tournament after their Mountain West Tournament championship win, their focus instead turned to the details others might skip over. As it turns out, winning the league’s automatic bid was secondary to physical recovery and the practices in between.

“That was a big part of our staying in the moment, the humility to just, ‘Hey, here’s the task at hand today. Here’s what we’ve got to accomplish today.’ It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy it. It doesn’t mean we don’t love being around each other and finding the fun and the enjoyment in our daily activities.

“But we are here now. … You have to address that. You have to practice it. You have to get your minds right to do that.”

Which meant Rice wasn’t ready Wednesday to address the potentially historic moment looming Thursday. The Broncos are 0-7 in NCAA Tournament action, most recently losing to Dayton in 2015.

“Our job is the same,” Rice said. “How badly we wanted to win the conference championship, how badly we wanted to win in the tournament. It’s all the same as far as, that’s the magic of these guys and the way these guys have approached it.

“They’ve wanted to win every game the same way, and they competed that same way. Our mission is the same, our job is the same. It’s business as usual with these guys, and the way they’ve approached their business all year long has been just tremendous, how they compete and how they fight every night.”

Here’s a look at how the Broncos occupied their time before Thursday’s matchup against Memphis:

  • 10 a.m.: Breakfast at the team hotel
  • 10:45 a.m.: Film study
  • 11:30 a.m.: Depart for press conferences at Moda Center
  • 11:50 a.m.: Select players, coach Rice field questions from media members
  • 12:30 p.m.: Open practice at Moda Center
  • 1:10 p.m.: Grab-and-go meal
  • 1:30 p.m.: Depart for practice
  • 1:45 p.m.: Closed practice at undisclosed location
  • 3 p.m.: Post-practice snack
  • 7 p.m.: Dinner at the hotel

Note: Players have free time between 3 and 7 p.m., and many of them choose to watch game film. At dinner, the team will be given a curfew.

This story was originally published March 16, 2022 8:25 PM.

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