Title defense continues as #2 Boise State meets #3 New Mexico State in WAC semifinals on Friday...

#2 Boise State (23-6, 14-2 WAC) continues its defense of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship from last season when they meet the host school #3 New Mexico State Aggies (22-8, 11-5 WAC) in the semifinals Friday afternoon. The game is the second contest of the semifinal round and will start at least 30 minutes following the conclusion of the Fresno State-Louisiana Tech game which tips at noon (Mountain). The Bronco-Aggie contest is tentatively scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. in the Pan American Center at Las Cruces, N.M.

Friday’s encounter between the Broncos and Aggies will be a rematch of last year’s conference tournament title game that Boise State won over host New Mexico State by the score of 49-46. The Pan American Center is also the site of Boise State’s last loss this season where NMSU’s Aggies handed the Broncos a 14-point 79-65 setback on Jan. 10. Boise State has not loss since running off a school record tying 15-game win streak and in the process claimed a share of the WAC regular season championship for the second consecutive year. The two teams split the 2008 season series with the home team winning each time. Boise State won the second meeting in overtime 83-82 at Taco Bell Arena in Boise on Feb. 9. In that game six Broncos recorded double-figure points for only the seventh time in program history led by Tasha Harris’ team-high 16 points.

The two-time defending WAC regular season champions entered the tournament as the number two seed after tying for the title with Fresno State and losing the tiebreaker for seeding. However, Boise State is the hottest team in the conference sporting a 15-game win streak. New Mexico State entered the competition as the number three seed and have won two straight.

How They Reached the Semifinals

Boise State played Utah State in back-to-back games winning the last WAC Tournament quarterfinal game of the day 61-47 Wednesday night in Las Cruces, N.M. The Broncos’ backcourt trio of Tasha Harris, Jessica Thompson, and Jackie Lee led Boise State to the victory combining for 49 of Boise State’s 61 points. The victors pulled away from Utah State midway through the second half outscoring the Aggies 22-10 in the final 10 minutes to sweep the season series 3-0. Tasha Harris had team-highs for points and rebounds with 19 and eight respectively. Jessica Thompson added 17 points, four rebounds, and a career-high six steals, followed by Jackie Lee’s 12 points, seven rebounds, and three steals.

New Mexico State reached the semifinals with a hard fought 55-40 win over Hawaii Wednesday evening. The Aggies held the Rainbow Wahine to 26 percent shooting from the floor and 14 first half points. They also dominated the boards out rebounding Hawaii 48-to-34. Freshman Madison Spence led NMSU with a team-high 20 points followed by senior Sherell Neal with 12 points and a team-best 13 rebounds. Anikia Jawara and Carla Denning each recorded double-digit rebounds with 12 and 10 respectively.

Looking at Boise State: Two-Time WAC Champions

Boise State features the league’s top and the nation’s 23rd ranked scoring offense averaging 73.5 points per game. They are an up tempo team who is at it’s best pushing the ball up the floor in a wide open attack. During their current 15-game win streak they have been held below 70 points four times and have scored 80 or more six times. Their current win streak is the 6th longest active streak in the NCAA.

Boise State won its second straight conference season title this year going 14-2 in the WAC to tie Fresno State for first. The Broncos finished the regular season 22-6 overall recording the program’s second consecutive 20-win season, first ever back-to-back, and the fifth all-time. Boise State closed their home schedule undefeated for the first time since Taco Bell Arena opened with the 1982-83 season. They went 13-0 at home and currently have an active 16-game win streak in Boise dating back to last year. That home record is ranked tied, with Connecticut, for the fifth longest active streak in the NCAA.

Boise State returned three starters and seven letterwinners from last year’s championship team. They also added eight new faces to the squad. After struggling initially going 3-3 early, the Broncos slowly found their way finishing the non-conference slate at 8-4. Included in Boise State’s non-conference results is a 2-1 mark versus the Pacific-10 Conference and a 4-0 record against teams that went to postseason tournaments in 2007. Their two wins over league rival Nevada, who played in the WNIT last year, gives the Broncos’ a perfect 6-0 record against 2007 postseason teams (3-0 vs. NCAA Tournament and 3-0 vs. WNIT).

Boise State started conference action with two disappointing conference road defeats at Fresno State 73-63 and at New Mexico State 79-65. In both games the Broncos dug themselves a huge hole then battled back only to fade down the stretch. However, Boise State has not lost since going 15-0 to win the conference championship while averaging 75.1 points per game with a victory margin of 12.9 ppg during the streak.

Boise State is the defending Western Athletic Conference champions after going 12-4 in league play during the 2006-07 campaign. They set a school record for overall wins after finishing 24-9 highlighted by the WAC’s regular season and tournament titles, and a NCAA Tournament first round appearance where they lost 76-67 to George Washington. This year’s Boise State team was picked to repeat their conference championship in 2008 by both the league’s coaches and media.

Who To Watch For The Broncos

Boise State has become a solid team during league play with seven of the 10 active players having recorded at least one double-figure point game and four Broncos averaging over 10 points per game. Boise State has arguably the best backcourt combination in the WAC in juniors Tasha Harris and Jessica Thompson. The duo were both preseason and postseason All-WAC honorees and have each reached the 1,000 career points milestone this season.

Tasha Harris starts at the point-guard position where she is a 2008 All-WAC First Team and all-defensive team honoree. She has scored double-figure points in 28-of-29 games while leading the Broncos in scoring 15 times this season and 32 times during her career. She enters the game as the WAC’s leading scorer at 16.4 points per game to go with 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists (WAC 2nd), and 2.1 steals (WAC 6th).

Jessica Thompson was the WAC’s Preseason Player of the Year and is a 2008 All-WAC Second Team honoree, she was a first teamer in 2007. The junior starts at the shooting-guard position where she has led the team in scoring 10 times this year and 32 times throughout her career. She is ranked eighth in the WAC for scoring at 14 points per game. She has recorded double-digit points in 24-of-29 games during the 2007-08 campaign.

The Broncos play for the most part a three guard offense with senior Jackie Lee playing the wing (three-guard). She has turned it on during league action averaging of 10.3 points (WAC 16th) and 5.1 rebounds (WAC 20th) per game. On the season she is averaging 9.4 points (WAC 17th) and 5.1 rebounds (WAC 18th). She is approaching the 1,000 career point milestone needing 19 entering Friday’s game in order to join teammates Thompson and Harris in the 1,000 point club as the 15th member.

Meanwhile, junior forward Jenna Galassi was a major factor in WAC competition as well averaging 10.2 points (WAC t-17th) and 4.4 boards during conference play. Galassi is averaging 7.1 points per game and 3.8 boards on the year. Junior reserve guard Jamia Malone is one of the better 3-point shooters for the Broncos hitting 34.4 percent (39-123) of her attempts to rank 11th in the WAC. She averaged 7.3 points per game in conference games.

Sophomore Ja'Lara Walker moved into a starting role at center on Jan. 28th and has exploded onto the scene for the Broncos. The Merced, Calif. native has recorded three double-doubles and reset her career highs for points and rebounds three times. She recorded the school’s third ever 20/20 game with career highs on 21 points and 23 rebounds against San Jose State. She set the school record for rebounds in a game with the 23 and tied the mark for offensive boards with 11 against SJSU on Feb. 28. In addition, she shot an impressive WAC second best 60.7 percent (54-89) from the floor in league games, while averaging 8.1 points and 6.3 rebounds (WAC 11th).

Offensively As A Team

The Broncos feature the WAC’s top ranked scoring offense and the nation’s 23rd on the year averaging 73.5 points per game on 40.1 percent (WAC 4th) shooting from the floor, 33 percent (WAC 4th) from 3-point range, and a league best 70.6 percent from the foul line. In league games, the Broncos averaged 74.6 points (WAC 1st) per game and have scored 80 plus points six times. On the season, they are ranked 23rd nationally for three-pointers per game at 6.9 per contest.

Defensively As A Team

Defensively, Boise State allows 65.3 points per game to rank sixth in the league. Meanwhile, opponents have shot 38.5 percent (WAC 4th) from the court and 31.3 percent (WAC 4th) from long range. Boise State is a +1.3 (WAC 5th) in rebound margin, 40.9 to 39.6 rpg. The Broncos are forcing 20.2 turnovers per game (WAC 2nd) while giving it away 16.5 times per game (WAC 2nd), they are second in the WAC for turnover margin at +3.7.


Game 30 Preview: #2 Boise State at #3 New Mexico State in WAC Tournament Semifinals
Las Cruces, N.M. (Pan American Center) at 2:30 p.m. (Mountain) 

The Series

Friday’s encounter will be the third meeting this season and 19th meeting all-time in the series between New Mexico State and Boise State. Boise State leads the series 10-7 all-time. The two split the regular season series with the home team winning each time. The first meeting of the year was in Las Cruces, N.M. where the Aggies handed the Broncos their last loss by the score of 79-65. The rematch was on Feb. 9 in Boise where the Broncos won in overtime 83-82. Boise State swept last year’s series 3-0.

This Year

The two teams split this year’s series. Boise State won in Boise on Feb. 9 by one in overtime 83-82. In the series, Boise State averaged 74 points per game while shooting 39 percent from the hardwood, 31 percent (14-45) from the arc, and 64 percent (30-47) from the free-throw line. Two Broncos averaged double-digit points led by Tasha Harris at 16.5 points per game, followed by Ja'Lara Walker with 10.5 ppg, Jenna Galassi at 9.5 ppg, and Jessica Thompson with 9.0 ppg. Galassi led on the glass at 5.5 rebounds per game.

New Mexico State won the first meeting in Las Cruces by 14 points, 79-65. The Aggies averaged 80.5 points per game against Boise State while shooting 44 percent from the floor, 45 percent from 3-point land, and 79 percent from the charity stripe. Five players averaged double-figure points led by Sherell Neal with team-highs in points and rebounds at 14.5 and 15.5 respectively. Hannah Spanich averaged 13 points followed by Madison Spence with 12.5, Anikia Jawara with 11, and Irma Kmitaite-Smith with 10.5 points per game.

Scouting New Mexico State

The Aggies are the number three seed at the tournament finishing the season with a 11-5 league mark and 21-8 overall record. They finished the season with two losses in their final three games, both defeats came against Fresno State.

New Mexico State is in its fifth season under the direction of Darin Spence where he has accumulated a 67-81 record. The Aggies returned four starters and nine letterwinners from last year’s 13-18 team that place seventh in the conference with a 6-10 mark. The 2007-08 NMSU team was picked to place in the middle of the pack in both WAC preseason polls, the coaches projected them fifth while the media tabbed them fourth.

Statistically For The Aggies

As a Team: New Mexico State features the WAC’s fourth ranked scoring offense on the year averaging 68.5 points per game while giving up a league best 62.7 ppg. They have been shooting 41.9 percent (WAC 2nd) from the floor, 34.2 percent from 3-point range (WAC 3rd), and 69.9 percent (WAC 3rd) from the free-throw line. Defensively, opponents have shot 36.1 percent (WAC 1st) from the court and 26.8 percent (WAC 1st) from the arc. The Aggies are averaging 41 boards per game (WAC 4th).

Who to Watch: New Mexico State is led by first team All-WAC honoree Sherell Neal. The senior forward averages 14.3 points per game (WAC 6th) to go with 10.2 rebounds (WAC 3rd), both are team highs. Anikia Jawara is second in scoring at 12.5 points per game (WAC 9th) followed by Madison Spence at 10.3 ppg (WAC 14th).

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