BOISE — Everybody dance now.
The Boise State Broncos waited anxiously since Wednesday’s loss in the Mountain West Tournament to see if they were headed to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time.
Sunday’s selection show named nearly all of the 68 teams in the field before the Broncos’ came up, sending the team into a tizzy.
For the first time in school history, Boise State earned an at-large berth, and will open tournament play Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. MST in Dayton, Ohio, against La Salle in a matchup of 13-seeds.
“It was probably one of the best moments of our lives,” Boise State guard Jeff Elorriaga said. “… to be able to see your name on that board is unbelievable.” The winner of Wednesday’s game will travel to Kansas City and take on fourth-seeded Kansas State on Friday. Boise State coach Leon Rice called making the tournament “a huge milestone.” As soon as the celebration died down, it was right back to work for Rice and his team.
Only 72 hours separates the Broncos (21-10) from finding out they were in the field to flying across the country and taking the court against the Explorers (21-9).
“I’ve never had to turn around this quickly,” Rice said. “… now it’s a rush, a mad dash.” The Broncos practiced Saturday and Sunday with the possibility in mind that they would play Wednesday. Rice quickly dispatched his assistants to scout the Explorers, and the team held a walkthrough Sunday night.
What Boise State did know in the minutes after finding out it will face La Salle is that a similar foe awaits. The Broncos are 51st nationally in scoring offense and the Explorers are 55th.
Wednesday’s matchup will be the first between the teams, and it marks La Salle’s first trip to the tournament in 21 years.
Boise State practiced Sunday before the selection show and met again Sunday night to discuss the Explorers.
The two teams will find a bit of similarities, as both use guard-heavy rotations, and are 51st (Boise State) and 55th in scoring offense (La Salle). Both have three guards average at least 10 points per game.
“They’ve got a lot of guards that are really good, real balanced team … I haven’t got the opportunity to see them much this year, they probably haven’t seen much of us,” Rice said. “It’s going to be interesting.” Even though the Broncos are playing in one of the “First Four” games, there was no disappointment in heading to Dayton.
“We’re in the tournament,” forward Ryan Watkins said. “I don’t’ care where we play. We could play on Mars. I’d be happy to go.” The tournament berth also will provide the Broncos a chance to play again after a lackluster showing in their 73-67 loss in the Mountain West Tournament on Wednesday, when they shot a season-low 34.9 percent from the field. Rice said his team was “hungry” in practice and it wouldn’t be content just being in the field.
“There will be none of that — we didn’t play our best ball in the Mountain West Tournament,” Rice said.
Rice’s players echoed that sentiment.
“I don’t think anybody’s satisfied just making it,” Watkins said. “We want to show everyone we can play on a big stage.”