RENO, Nev. -- Boise State's Jason Ellis knew the only way the eighth-seeded Broncos had a chance for an NCAA Tournament bid was to knock off Fresno State a day after stunning top-seeded Nevada in the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
The Broncos (16-17) did just that Friday night, beating the
fourth-seeded Bulldogs 86-85 to become the lowest seed in WAC
history to advance to Saturday's title game against second-seeded
"We have no choice," said Ellis, who scored 25 points and
grabbed 17 rebounds in Friday's semifinal.
"We don't win and we go home. And I'm not ready to go home,"
In the other semifinal Friday night, Omar Thomas scored 29 of
his 31 points in the second half to lead UTEP past Rice 85-77 in
the hunt for the automatic bid to the NCAA tourney that comes with
the WAC postseason trophy.
Boise State shocked 24th-ranked Nevada 73-72 Thursday when Coby
Karl made one free throw but missed the second before Jermaine
Blackburn grabbed the rebound and put it back in with 1.8 seconds
Against Fresno, Karl went 0-for-11 from the field before finding
himself in the same position on the free-throw line, trailing by a
point with 8.7 seconds to play. This time he made them both.
"Luckily, I was able to redeem myself," said the son of Denver
Nuggets coach George Karl.
The previous lowest seed to make a WAC final was sixth-seeded
Hawaii in 1995. The lowest seed to win the tourney was fifth -- UNLV
in 1998 and Hawaii in 2001.
"This shows how far we've come," Boise State coach Greg Graham
said Friday night.
"We've had a lot of tough losses, but they've held together and
now we're playing well at the right time," he said.
Fresno State coach Ray Lopes said he wasn't surprised by the
"Hats off to Boise. They played a whale of a game. They
deserved to win," Lopes said.
"You see it all over the country ... It's not the best team
that wins in tourney play, it's the best team for 40 minutes," he
UTEP, which beat Hawaii in the quarterfinals, has hopes of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney should it fail to win on Saturday. But that could put UTEP and Nevada (24-6) in a dogfight for an invitation if Boise wins the tourney and only two WAC
teams get invited. The Wolf Pack won the regular season WAC title
with a record of 13-2 to UTEP's 11-4 and the two won on each
"We came up here knowing we had to win Thursday. We were scared
to death of Hawaii," UTEP coach Doc Sadler said.
Giovanni St. Amant added 15 points on five 3-pointers and Jason
Williams had 10 for the second-seeded Miners, who won their sixth
Thomas, who scored two points in only eight minutes of play in
the first half, was 8-for-14 shooting from the field and made all
14 of his foul shots. Rice outrebounded UTEP 35-28 and shot 55
percent from the field to UTEP's 47 percent, but committed 17
turnovers to the Miners' six.
"Omar's play doesn't surprise me," Sadler said. "You gotta
credit Omar. He couldn't hit that 18-foot jump shot until this
In the other game, Blackburn added 22 points for the Broncos,
who outrebounded Fresno 45-30 and led by 10 points with less than 6
minutes left before withstanding a late Bulldogs rally for an
unlikely shot at the WAC tourney title.
Ja'Vance Coleman had 26 points for the Bulldogs (16-14),
including a pair of 3-pointers in the last 1:28 before missing a
final attempt that would have won the game with 2.5 seconds to
Boise State led by as much as 12 and went ahead 80-70 on
Blackburn's 3-pointer with 5:20 left. But Fresno answered with a
15-4 run, taking an 85-84 lead when Kevin Bell stole the ball from
Karl and made a layup with 30 seconds left.