BOISE, Idaho — Sitting in a back conference room of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., staring back at a half dozen reporters peppering him with questions about his star senior, Leon Rice tried to spin a tale that might have been hard for some to believe.
Earlier that day, Boise State’s 6-foot-7 guard, Chandler Hutchison, was tabbed the preseason Mountain West Player of the Year — and with good reason coming off a 2016-17 campaign during which he started to shed that “potential” tag. Hutchison stepped into the lead role and into an NBA prospect for the perennially contending Broncos.
And Rice claimed he saw all of it — and more — coming when he recruited the skinny Orange County guard four years earlier.
“It sounds crazy, but this is what we had envisioned for him when we recruited him,” Rice told the gathered league media. “I said, ‘Man, this guy’s versatile. He’s got a feel for the game. He’s long. He can do a lot of different things. And if we can make him better, I think the sky is the limit.
Rice and Hutchison, who along with the Broncos (12-2, 2-0 Mountain West) host the University of New Mexico Lobos (6-9, 1-1 MWC) Wednesday night in Taco Bell Arena, returned to Las Vegas on Saturday for the first time since the preseason media conference.
And, as if to offer a belated exclamation point to his coach’s October praise, Hutchison had arguably the game of this college career, leading Boise State to an 83-74 win over a UNLV team some started believing had the goods this season to win a conference title.
Hutchison had 32 points, hit all three of this 3-point attempts, grabbed 12 rebounds and added an assist, steal and block for good measure, while remaining the primary defensive target of the Rebels. That was three days after his 24 points in a home blowout over Colorado State, leading to his being named on Tuesday league player of the week.
Wednesday night, the Lobos get their shot at slowing Hutchison and the Broncos.
The Journal was unable to connect with New Mexico coach Paul Weir on Tuesday by telephone in advance of the Boise State game.
Hutchison has his history with UNM. As a junior in the Pit on Valentine’s Day last season, he scored 31 points. But he and BSU have also lost four straight to the Lobos.
What has made Hutchison and the Broncos so dangerous this year, as in some other past seasons when they’ve been at their best, is the 3-pointer.
Boise State is shooting 39.2 percent from deep and ranks 25th in the nation in how many points it gets via the 3-pointer — 40.5 percent of the Broncos’ points come from shots beyond the arc.
UNM, meanwhile, has been vulnerable at times to the 3, but often in transition or before the Lobos get set in the half-court. While Boise State has had nine of 14 games in which it has hit 10 or more 3-pointers, UNM, despite playing in higher-possession games than the Broncos, has allowed only two such games from opponents, and none since Nov. 21.
Men: UNM at Boise State
7 p.m., espn3.com, 770 AM/94.5 FM