The keys to victory: Boise State

The No. 10/11 Kentucky Wildcats (7-2) return home to the comfortable confines of Rupp Arena to take on the Boise State Broncos in another tough nonconference contest.

Introducing the Boise State Broncos

The basics

What: No. 10/11 Kentucky (7-2) vs. Boise State (8-0)
When: Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET
Where: Rupp Arena (23,000)
Game notes: UK | Boise State
Preview: Cal suggests youth holding talent back
Video: Young, Floreal preview Boise State
Video: Cal’s pre-Boise State presser

The Coach — In his fourth year at the helm of the Broncos, head coach Leon Rice’s 56 victories coming into this season are more than any previous Boise State coach through his initial three years at the school. Last year, Boise State received an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, the first in the school’s history. His 22 wins in his first year at the Mountain West school was the best-ever first season for a Broncos’ head coach, and was the fifth-best turnaround from the previous season — in terms of victories — in the nation. An 11-year assistant at Gonzaga under Mark Few, Rice was the Zags’ associate head coach from 2007 to 2010. Rice employs an up-tempo, fast-paced offense, and a high-pressure defensive philosophy.

The Players — Considering Boise State is the second-highest scoring team in college basketball, averaging 91.9 points per game, it should come as no surprise the Broncos have no less than five players averaging double figures, led by 6-foot-6 junior swing Anthony Drmic (who missed BSU’s last game with an undisclosed illness). Drmic is putting up 20.4 points per game on 48.9 percent field-goal shooting (31.6 percent 3-point accuracy). An adept defender, Drmic also leads Boise State in steals with 2.7 thefts per contest. Derrick Marks, a 6-3 junior guard, is second on the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game. Like his teammate, Marks is also a tremendous shooter, as he connects on 53.5 percent of his shots from the floor. Also like Drmic, Marks is a heady defender, recording 2.3 steals per game. Dangerous 6-2 senior guard Jeff Ellorriaga registers 13.2 points per game on the strength of 63.4 percent 3-point shooting (26 of 41). Rounding out the Broncos’ top scorers is 6-3 sophomore guard Mikey Thompson, who checks in at 10.4 points per contest (48.1 percent field-goal shooting). Ryan Watkins, a 6-9 senior forward, pulls down a team-leading 10.4 rebounds per game (4.6 offensive boards). BSU’s top assist man is 6-4 junior guard Igor Hadziomerovic, who dishes 3.0 dimes per game. Boise boasts two more outstanding long-range shooters in 6-5 senior guard Thomas Bropleh (who earned a start last time out for Drmic), who has been true on 8 of 17 3-pointers on the year (47.1 percent), and 6-8 freshman forward Nick Duncan, who has connected on 9 of 21 from distance (42.9 percent).

TV/Radio coverage

Radio: UK IMG
Live stats: Gametracker
Live stream: WatchESPN
Live blog:

The Schedule — Boise State is a perfect 8-0 on the season, with one opponent common to UK; the Broncs beat Texas-Arlington 116-87 (UK bested UTA by a count of 105-76). BSU has also beaten Simpson College, 110-53, Seattle, 86-68, New Orleans, 100-80, Idaho, 98-89, Portland 76-60, Utah, 69-67, and Carroll College, 80-52.

Three Keys

Rebounding — A strength all season, UK’s rebounding against Baylor last time out was in a word disappointing. Going up against a similarly sized, physical front court, the Cats were manhandled on the backboard 41-25. Worse yet, Baylor grabbed more than 60.0 percent of available offensive rebound opportunities, compared to Kentucky’s nearly 34.0 percent. Baylor’s Rico Gathers, in only 22 minutes of play, snagged 13 boards against the Cats, five of the offensive variety. Although Boise does not boast unusual length (in fact, Rice starts four guards), senior forward Ryan Watkins is a strong board man, and will challenge UK’s bigs for every rebound.

Boise State File

Record: 8-0
Head coach: Leon Rice (64-41 at Boise State)
Ranking: RV/RV
Nickname: Broncos
Player to watch: Anthony Drmic (averaging 20.4 points per game)
Series history: Never met
Last meeting: First meeting

Transition defense — Boise State will push tempo, perhaps unlike any other Wildcat opponent this season, making UK’s ability to get back quickly and defend its basket a key element in tonight’s game. Limiting turnovers and long rebounds will also go a long way in ensuring the Cats are not abused in fast break points.

Defend the mid-range shot and the rim — Another area that caused UK trouble against Baylor, defending the 2-point shot, will be an important issue tonight as well. With Baylor on Friday night having made 54.5 percent of its shots inside the arc (24 of 44) and garnering 38 points in the paint (to UK’s 26), the Cats simply must perform better when defending inside the arc against Boise State. The Broncos, on the season, have made 55.1 percent of their 2-point shots, with a high percentage of those makes coming inside the paint. UK’s positioning on defense and strong executing switches in the man-to-man are both key factors for the Cats. Additionally, on Friday night, Baylor made a living off the high pick-and-roll because of the Cats’ inability to react quickly, or rotate over to give help. Do not be surprised if Boise State employs a similar strategy this evening when in its half-court offensive set.

Key Matchup

Kentucky versus Kentucky’s youth — “What this team does is, they get it going and they get it right, and then they get arrogant and they step back,” John Calipari said Monday about his young team after the loss to Baylor. And therein, sports fans, lies the on-going challenge of coaching such a youthful collection of players. Although as talented as any team in the country, this squad, not unlike previous Calipari UK teams, suffers from not knowing: Not knowing how bad its opposition wants to beat the Cats. Not knowing that no lead is big enough. Not knowing that regardless of time and score, one never lets up; one never relents. In time this group will “get it,” but until that time comes, playing hard all the time will be key to any Wildcat victory. Testing UK’s youth is a veteran Boise State team that returns all five starters from its NCAA Tournament team a year ago.


  • Since making a combined 1 of 10 3-point shots against Cleveland State and Eastern Michigan, James Young, over the last two games, has connected on 7 of 11 shots from distance.
  • In the last three games, Aaron Harrison has handed out 12 assists and committed only five turnovers (2.4 assist/turnover ratio). Harrison is also shooting the ball well, having made 8 of 17 3-point shots over the last four games (47.1 percent).
  • Through the first six games of the year, Julius Randle averaged 10.7 free throws per game; over the last three contests Randle has been to the stripe an average of 6.3 times per game. Randle’s scoring average has also dipped from 19.8 points per game in Kentucky’s first six contests, to 14.0 points per game in the last three tilts.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein has not grabbed double-digit rebounds since snagging 10 boards against Texas-Arlington five games ago. Cauley-Stein’s rebound average has dropped from 9.4 per game in UK’s first five games, to 5.8 boards per contest the last four games.
  • Perhaps overlooked in UK’s loss to Baylor was Andrew Harrison’s six assists to only one turnover (as a team, the Cats had 19 assists on 21 made baskets, an unbelievable 90.5 percent assist rate).
  • After making a combined 6 of 30 from beyond the arc against Cleveland State and Eastern Michigan (20.0 percent), the Cats have nailed 14 of 25 from long range in their last two games (56.0 percent).
  • Through UK’s first seven games, the Cats attempted an average of 58.1 shots per game; in the last two contests UK has taken 92 shots, an average of 46 per game.
  • The only two games UK has given up more than 41.5 percent field goal accuracy to its opponent? Michigan State (47.6 percent) and Baylor (47.3 percent). Both were losses.

Team stats

UK Boise State
Scoring offense 82.0 91.9
Scoring defense 64.3 69.5
FG percentage 47.7 50.1
FG percentage defense 36.8 42.7
3-point percentage 33.6 40.2
3-point percentage defense 31.3 31.1
FT percentage 67.0 75.3
Rebound margin +12.0 +10.9
Steals per game 4.0 9.8
Blocks per game 7.6 1.6
Assists per game 13.6 13.0
Turnover margin -1.2 +4.1 adjusted offensive efficiency rank 3 27 adjusted defensive efficiency rank 50 128

Individual leaders

UK Boise State
Points per game Julius Randle (17.9) Anthony Drmic (20.4)
Rebounds per game Julius Randle (12.1) Ryan Watkins (10.4)
Field-goal percentage Willie Cauley-Stein (59.6) Jeff Elorriaga (65.2)
3-point percentage Andrew Harrison (40.0) Jeff Elorriaga (63.5)
Free-throw percentage Andrew Harrison (80.0) Mikey Thompson (83.8)
Assists per game Andrew Harrison (3.7) Igor Hadziomerovic (3.0)
Blocks per game Willie Cauley-Stein (3.8) Ryan Watkins (0.5)
Steals per game Willie Cauley-Stein (1.1) Anthony Drmic (2.7)

The Wrap-up

Tip-off of UK vs. Boise State is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET in historic Rupp Arena, with television provided by ESPN. And as always, will have complete pre-, in- and postgame coverage of the contest.