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Slamming the breaks on the Runnin’ Rebels

Cody Finney / The Arbiter

It’s crazy to think that a sport other than the beloved Boise State football team has seen some of the national spotlight.

The perimeter heavy Boise State men’s basketball team (40.8 three-point percentage) has garnered a majority of media attention, mostly directed toward guards Anthony Drmic, Derrick Marks and Jeff Elorriaga. They’ve all had shining moments, up to the almost midway point of the season. Even in junior F/C Ryan Watkins, who has quietly been bubbling on the low, emerging in paint for the Broncos.

In Saturday night’s “Main Event” at Taco Bell Arena, it will be Watkins who has the task of containing UNLV standout freshman Anthony Bennett, while the rest of the Broncos look to stop the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (16-4, 3-2 in MW).

The Rebels were already loaded headed into the season with returners all across the board, but it was landing Bennett, who chose them over the University of Oregon that changed the dynamic of what they would be able to do in the down low. Throw in Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch and the transition of rebounding machine Mike Moser to small forward, and just like that UNLV has a frontline that has gotten the attention of NBA scouts and execs from coast to coast.

At 6-foot-5 and 240-lbs, Bennett has the unique blend of size, power and finesse. Coming into Saturday night’s main event, he’s boasting averages of 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds. There’s no doubt he has the most upside of any power forward in the MW, and maybe the country. A couple of mock NBA drafts have him slotted anywhere from the fifth to 10th pick of the first round of next summer’s draft.

Watkins has already gone to battle with an NBA-caliber power forward, in LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant III. O’Bryant is built similarly to Bennett, 6-foot-9, 255 lbs, but he also has more experience. The under-sized Watkins snagged a then season high 17 rebounds, while holding, along with some help, O’Bryant to 15 points and five rebounds for the game as the Broncos won 89-70 over the Tigers.

The Broncos and Watkins will need to rebound as a collective unit, as they have most of the season. UNLV can play in a sped up half court set, while they also like to get out and run in transition. Simply put, there will be a lot of shots going up, and they can’t all go in, so there will be plenty of work to go around in the paint. Watkins, along with Senior Kenny Buckner should have their hands full on the interior.

At the end of last season Watkins seemed to drop off at times, but that hasn’t been the case this season as he is averaging 9.6 points and 8.0 rebounds. He’s been consistent and it’s showing. Already this season he has recorded career highs in points (24) against Air Force and rebounds (18) against Fresno State.

His overall game has improved dramatically and he’s finding a nice little niche for the surprise team of the conference, but in a team game that is based on head-to-head match-ups, in what will be a guard-heavy game, this is a prime opportunity for Watkins to go out and take care of business.