BOISE, Idaho — Chandler Hutchison was a valued player for Boise State the previous four seasons, starting 88 games and becoming one of the Mountain West’s top players and an NBA first-round draft pick.
More than a starter, he was there to finish games, a job he excelled in as the Broncos often made the key late plays.
That’s been missing this season, with close victories turning into what-might-have-been defeats, a process the Broncos are working through as they prepare to host UNLV at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Taco Bell Arena. ESPNU will televise the game.
Boise State is 1-5 in games decided by one possession or in overtime. The Broncos were 6-3 in such games last season.
The difference is the reason Boise State coach Leon Rice said his team misses Hutchison more at the end of games than for his leadership as a proven starter.
“Give me a closer, and we know how to find the leadership, and our players and culture do that,” Rice said. “We need a closer.”
Boise State (10-12, 5-4 MW) and UNLV (11-10, 5-4) meet at critical points for each team. The winner takes a significant step toward finishing in the top five in the conference and trying to avoid the first-day play-in games in the Mountain West tournament next month.
Finishing near the top of the league has been a habit for the Broncos under Rice. They have won at least 20 games the past six seasons and finished in the top four of the conference the past four years.
Any hand-wringing in Boise about the program underscores the elevated level of expectations under Rice. Boise State had losing records two of the three seasons before he arrived in 2010.
“I never take it about me,” Rice said. “It’s about all the guys that have been here, all these players that have put so much into it, the legacy they left. We’re a development program. We don’t usually go out and get 10 new guys. Everything doesn’t always go exactly as you plan it.”
That’s been evident given the difficulties with no longer having Hutchison, who was drafted No. 22 overall by the Chicago Bulls. He also was named the Mountain West Player of the Year last season by the conference media after averaging 20.0 points and 7.7 rebounds.
The Broncos have hope for the future with sophomore Derrick Alston (11.2 points) and juniors Justinian Jessup (13.1) and Alex Hobbs (12.0) scoring in double figures. Abu Kigab transferred last month after playing a year and a half at Oregon, so he will be eligible midway through next season.
But Boise State hasn’t given up on this season. The Broncos are making progress with their play late in games. Their most recent one-possession game, Jan. 29 at Colorado State, was a 70-68 victory.
“We had some games that were close that we turned into a big win at the end,” Rice said. “So it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, my God, if it’s close, we can never win.’ But those one-possession games, a lot of our good teams just found ways to win those.”
Who: UNLV vs. Boise State
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Taco Bell Arena, Boise, Idaho
TV/Radio: ESPNU; KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Line: Boise State -6; total 147
UNLV (11-10, 5-4 MW)
Coach: Marvin Menzies (42-44, third season)
Player Pos Hgt Ppg
Noah Robotham G 6-1 7.8
Amauri Hardy G 6-2 12.7
Kris Clyburn G 6-6 13.6
Joel Ntambwe F 6-9 12.9
Nick Blair F 6-5 7.1
Boise State (10-12, 5-4 MW)
Coach: Leon Rice (175-108, ninth season)
Player Pos Hgt Ppg
Marcus Dickinson G 6-2 6.5
Alex Hobbs G 6-4 12.0
Justinian Jessup G 6-6 13.1
Derrick Alston G 6-8 11.2
David Wacker F 6-10 3.0