After the final buzzer rang, opposing hands were shaken and the stands started to clear, six athletes promptly sat on the center of the court, right over the Broncos’ logo.
Those six Broncos were the 2020 senior class, who had just completed a 29-point blowout of UNLV on senior night. It was a bittersweet moment for the group as they sat together taking in their final win at ExtraMile Arena.
“Leaving the floor for the last time, it is so sad,” said guard Riley Lupfer. “We have so much love for each other, and obviously we still have games to play. But it’s something special [to be]coming in here two hours before the game meeting the trainer and being around those people, and just the camaraderie around all of us. It’s just sad and just leaving that floor is just so hard.”
The seniors combined for 58 points in Boise State’s 81-52 win over the Rebels on Feb. 24. Lupfer (16 points, 5-8 from deep) and forward A’Shanti Coleman (22 points, 10 rebounds) conducted the high-paced victory, joined by guard Braydey Hodgins (14 points, five assists) and guard Jayde Christopher (eight assists).
Jan. 8 was the last time the Broncos faced UNLV, and they were stunned with a 66-65 loss. The Rebels had completed an 11-point comeback in the fourth quarter, and the Broncos quickly proved that it would not happen again.
A 16-14 first quarter soon turned into a 43-24 Bronco lead at halftime. The final quarter opened with Boise State leading 63-34, and they extended their lead to at least 30 points on four occasions. In their previous loss to UNLV, the Broncos’ largest lead was by 12 points.
“Our first time around at UNLV’s place, we started the first half out on fire, then kind of lost it in the second half,” Coleman said. “Coach said at halftime today [that]the same thing happened last time; we was on fire the first half. We have to maintain it because UNLV’s the type of group that can pick up the slack they didn’t have in the first half.”
Guard Ellie Woerner (four rebounds, one steal) was on the starting line-up for her first time since Jan. 6, 2018, making for an all-senior start. Completing the class was graduate student Marijke Vanderschaaf, who has been sidelined for the entirety of the season due to extensive injury recovery.
“[Woerner] adapts to her role and she’s played pretty much all five positions her career here,” said head coach Gordy Presnell. “She’s a person that chases down rebounds, and she gets critical rebounds for us because she doesn’t get the ones that just come to her… in terms of our mathematics, she’s our best defender.”
While the win was undoubtedly an emotional one for the tight-knit group, it also officially clinched the No. 2 seed and a first round bye at the Mountain West Tournament for the Broncos. Combined, the senior class has won six Mountain West titles and made four NCAA Tournament appearances.
“I thought our kids were really fired up and ready to play. I thought we played pretty good basketball, and our seniors certainly rose to the occasion and sort of the whole team, and I’m so happy with the victory,” Presnell said. “We’re in second. Obviously it’s not what we wanted, but the nine other teams that you play would trade places, and we get to go down to the tournament and see what we can do.”
The Broncos (21-9 overall, 13-5 Mountain West) have their sights set on a fourth-straight conference tournament victory and, thus, an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Boise State will begin their campaign in the Mountain West Championship tournament on Monday, March 2 at 7 p.m. MT in Las Vegas.