Broncos open Preseason WNIT with defeat of PSU, move on to face Missouri State

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For onlookers, it was a typical scene at ExtraMile Arena: three’s were raining from the hand of Riley Lupfer, Jayde Chistopher was firing the ball to her teammates before they even knew they were open and Rachel Bowers was working the glass. But the night carried more weight for the Broncos than a typical non-conference game. 

The Boise State women’s basketball team made a convincing name for themselves as first time Preseason WNIT participants with their 82-57 victory over Portland State University on Friday, Nov. 8. 

“It was good to get a DI team under our belt. We needed that,” said senior guard Riley Lupfer. “It was a little different, they were playing zone the whole time, but it was good to play against really good competition.”

With the win, the Broncos move on to host Missouri State for a quarterfinal game at ExtraMile Arena on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. Missouri State finished the 2018-19 season 25-10 and reached the 2019 Sweet 16, losing to Stanford 55-46.   

With another 2019 Division I NCAA Championship participant on their schedule, there are several things to note about the Broncos’ performance thus far and how it will impact the rest of the Preseason WNIT, let alone the rest of the Broncos’ regular season. 

Just two games into the 2019-20 campaign, Boise State has shown that their depth, unselfishness and focus is setting the tone for what could be another record-breaking season.

Productive bench keeps the scoreboard alive

A total of 40 points came from the Broncos’ bench on Friday night, a feat which left their teammates impressed, yet not surprised.

“They’re really unbelievable. Like, how can you come off the bench and have to guard five people to start that are good and then five people off the bench that are equally as good? It’s unbelievable what they can do,” Lupfer said. “We are definitely confident, we see it in practice every day. So when they come off the bench, there’s no doubt that they can get it done.”

Sophomore Rachel Bowers put up 15 boards, closely trailed by 14 points from Jade Loville. Ellie Woerner scored six points and snagged 11 rebounds. But it was redshirt freshman Maggie Freeman whose contribution was undeniably the highlight of the game.

With seconds to go in the first half, Bradydey Hodgins fired the ball from the key to a wide-open Freeman who calmly set up and let one fly from deep: the 3-pointer sank at the buzzer as the entire arena, including the Broncos’ bench, erupted. 

Freeman has recently been sidelined by a nasty case of the flu, making her debut bucket even more admirable. She ended up posting five total points for her collegiate scoring debut. 

“That was pretty impressive, actually,” said head coach Gordy Presnell. “She’s so sick and she’s lost some weight and can’t play for very long periods of time, and pulled up there at the buzzer and hit a shot. It was pretty fun.”

In just their second contest of the season, Boise State’s bench has more than proved their offensive abilities. This lined up exactly with their performance earlier in the week. On Tuesday, Nov. 5 in their season opener against Lewis-Clark State College, Woerner, Loville and Bowers combined for 35 of the Broncos’ 88 points. 

Starters face shooting troubles, but supplement it with an open hand

After averaging 13.2 points per game last season, the hand of “Big Game Braydey” Hodgins has yet to heat up. While it was merely the second competition of the year, Hodgins had difficulty finding the net on Friday, but did not let that stop her from contributing to the game.

While going 1-6 with five points, Hodgins had six assists and snagged three rebounds in the meantime. The 2019-20 Preseason Mountain West Player of the Year had just five points in Tuesday’s game as well, but dished out six assists. 

Hodgins was not the only one who the hoop shrunk on during Friday’s game. A’Shanti Coleman was 1-7 after her 14-point game on Tuesday, but added an assist and three rebounds to the books. 

Jayde Christopher had five points on 2-3 shooting, which went nearly unnoticed as the notorious all-seeing passer handed out a team-leading seven assists. This is no surprise for Christopher, who holds the No. 2 spot on the Boise State leaderboard for overall individual season assists (176 in 2018-19). 

By the end of the night, Boise State totalled 25 assists on 33 baskets, 20 of which came from the starting five.

“That’s tremendous. That doesn’t happen very often,” Presnell said. “We shared the basketball and we made the extra pass and no one got selfish and it was really, really good.”

Lupfer and McGwire display their specialties

Lupfer scored a game-high 20 points, 17 of which were scored in the first half. The senior guard shot 6-12 from deep, just two 3-pointers shy of the individual single game record set by Brooke Pahukoa in 2016. Lupfer also picked up five rebounds and three assists. 

“[Lupfer] loves basketball. She loves to win. Like, she genuinely loves to win,” Bowers said. “It’s crazy, but I just think she has a lot of heart when she plays. So I think that has a lot to do with it.”

Mallory McGwire went 5-8 for 10 points and pulled down eight rebounds. PSU’s senior forward Jordan Stotler (6’4”) presented a challenge for McGwire (6’5”) which she did not face against LCSC: height. A constant battle ensued between Stotler (seven rebounds) and McGwire, but McGwire still noticeably picked the ball out of the air with ease even while surrounded by several Portland State rebounders. 

Size will be a factor again in Sunday’s game, as Missouri has five players on their roster that are 6’2” or taller, featuring a 6’4” center. McGwire, Coleman, Bowers and the other forwards will potentially have their work cut out for them down low. 

“[Missouri is] really confident and then they’re really big… so we gotta adjust to the size that they have,” Presnell said. “They’re going to play with a lot of confidence early and we have to be able to match that confidence.” 

Staying focused

Coleman and Christopher found themselves in foul trouble on Friday, each ending the game with four fouls after picking up two apiece in the fourth quarter. Personal fouls were a frustration for the Broncos all night, especially in the second half in which they picked up 13. 

In the fourth quarter alone, the Broncos were handed nine fouls, three of which happened in a span of 34 seconds. 

After the turmoil, Presnell stated that the team “can’t go flat” even amidst a large lead. 

“I didn’t do a good job of [keeping the team focused]. In our scrimmage earlier in the year, we were up big and went flat and we preached about it; we can’t go flat,” Presnell said. “But you’re up by 30 and all of a sudden you turn your mind off a little bit and we kind of went flat. We’ve got to battle that.”

Remaining Preseason WNIT scenarios 

With a win against Missouri State on Sunday, the Broncos will advance to the tournament semifinals on Nov. 14 at a site to be determined.  

“We know [Missouri State is] a good team, they’ve played a lot of top-25 schools in the past couple of [games],” Bowers said. “I think we’re going to go into the game on Sunday like it’s any other game. We’re going to have one day to prepare and we’ll prepare for it like any other game.”

If the Broncos lose on Sunday, they will head to a third round consolation bracket on either Nov. 15 or 16 at a location to be determined.

Regardless of the outcome, Boise State’s participation in the preseason tournament will ultimately have an impact on their national tournament prospects come March. By facing at least two teams that attended last season’s Big Dance, the Broncos have put themselves in a position to be more well equipped for success both on the court and in terms of RPI.  

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