Thursday, February 6, 2014.
It would have been the biggest win in school history last night. Instead, it’s just another gut-punch of a loss for Boise State. The Broncos mounted their biggest lead of the night over San Diego State, 14 points, with 13:45 left in the game. They still led 59-46 with 11½ minutes remaining—then the Aztecs put ice water in their veins and lead in Boise State’s heels (what happened during that media timeout?). The Broncos didn’t score another point for more than eight minutes as a 15-0 SDSU run put the visitors ahead. Boise State finally got the lead back and was up 65-62 with under a minute to go. But two Xavier Thames free throws and a Dwayne Polee three-pointer with four seconds on the clock spelled defeat. The despondent Broncos fell, 67-65.
San Diego State was ranked No. 5 in the country and staring at the end of an 18-game winning streak and 8-0 start in Mountain West play, its best conference start in 93 seasons of basketball. But the Aztecs’ defense has saved them often this season, and it did again last night. SDSU’s pressure on inbounds plays got inside the Broncos’ heads, and offensively BSU was running in sand during that devastating lull. It’s the second straight game that has seen the team collapse down the stretch. Coach Leon Rice called it a “disease” and aims to cure it. The common thread between the two losses: no Jeff Elorriaga in the second half. Elorriaga missed last night’s game due to the injury he suffered in the first half at UNLV. Could his leadership have been a calming, re-directing influence? He could have been worth three points.
Derrick Marks either takes over games for Boise State, or games take over him. It was the latter last night. In the final six-plus minutes against San Diego State, Marks went 1-for-7 from the field, committed two fouls, and had a turnover that led to the aforementioned Thames free throws at the other end. Elsewhere on the court, Ryan Watkins saw his run of six straight double-doubles come to an end. Watkins had six points and eight rebounds versus the Aztecs—there weren’t that many boards to be had with both teams shooting over 50 percent for the game (SDSU 58½ percent, Boise State 51). Watkins’ streak had been the longest current one in the country and was the longest by a Bronco in at least 35 years. He’s still the only player in the country to record a double-double in six conference games this year.
National Letter of Intent Day at Boise State started with a wild video-documented celebration in an office at the Bleymaier Football Center as the faxes started rolling out. The day finished with a commitment the Broncos (and everyone else) had been waiting for—from defensive end Jabril Frazier out of Verbum Dei High in Los Angeles. Frazier made his announcement on a Fox Sports signing day show, choosing Boise State over USC, which wanted him to grayshirt. That put the Broncos’ recruiting class at 21 after a frantic month on the road by Bryan Harsin’s new staff. It’s amazing this group put together a class like this in, essentially, a month. “This is the first day to sign, and not the last,” said Harsin at his press conference yesterday. “We’re not done yet.” Harsin says he has four more scholarships to utilize overall, with “space for two” in this class.
It’s been evident from the first day Harsin took over that the atmosphere at Boise State is different. Harsin and his staff have tweeted aplenty, engaging fans and recruits alike. There was always a “Go Broncos” on Harsin’s Twitter account whenever a new prospect committed. Then there was another video-documented event yesterday that was striking. “This is a small fraternity of guys that get a chance to do this (play FBS football),” Harsin said, noting that Dylan Sumner-Gardner, Tommy Stuart, Jehren Ertel and A.J. Richardson are already here and in school. They didn’t get to have signing day ceremonies at their schools with friends and families. So the staff brought the entire team together, set up a table with four Boise State caps, and had each player announce his signing and put on his cap. To loud cheers from his new teammates, of course.
Harsin identified quarterback, offensive line and defensive line as the top three areas of need during the recruiting process for Boise State, and NLOI Day filled the bill. “The D-line was one area that was really important to us,” said Harsin, who signed six players at that spot. “You’ve got to have some depth.” But the energy quotient went up a notch when the coach talked about his two new tight ends, Chase Blakley of Coeur d’Alene and David Lucero of Holtville, CA. Harsin called the duo “big, physical tight ends who can run.” He seemed to stress the importance of that position in his offense after a definitively off-year for Boise State tight ends. “You’re going to see more of them out on the field—in different positions, doing different things,” Harsin said.
Other NLOI Day news and notes: There won’t be any grayshirts in Boise State’s 2014 recruiting class, says Harsin. The Broncos are back up to 85 scholarships now following their NCAA sanctions, so there are enough to go around. It shouldn’t be surprising that Rocky Mountain star Khalil Oliver ended up going with Oregon, the way things were shaking out. Oliver will also run track for the Ducks. Another long-awaited decision was that of defensive end Patrick Choudja—he chose Nevada over the Broncos and Fresno State. And no wonder the major recruiting sites never listed Edmund Faimalo as a Boise State commit. He ended up signing with Utah State.
The Utah Grizzlies are one of the hottest teams in the ECHL, and they came into CenturyLink Arena last night with the league’s top one-two punch between the pipes. Igor Bobkov was last week’s ECHL Goaltender of the Week, and Aaron Dell was last month’s ECHL Rookie Of The Month. Utah went with Dell against the Idaho Steelheads, and he was solved by two goals from Brett Robinson and one from newly-acquired Luke Judson in a 3-1 victory. The netminding star in this one was the Steelies’ Pat Nagle, who turned away 16 of 17 shots, and Idaho’s defense (uh, did you notice the Grizzlies attempted only 17 shots?). The Steelheads stay home this weekend for a pair of games against the Colorado Eagles.
Competition at the Winter Olympics in Sochi actually begins today with some qualifying in slopestyle that includes Rigby’s Jessika Jenson, with the Opening Ceremonies set for tomorrow night. There are eight Idahoans in the Games this year, compared to 10 in Vancouver four years ago. Sandpoint’s Nate Holland (snowboardcross) is in his third Olympics, while Middleton’s Erik Fisher (downhill), former Boise State trackster Nick Cunningham (bobsled), Boise’s Sara Studebaker (biathlon) and Sun Valley’s Hilary Knight (hockey) are all repeats from the last Olympiad.
The last of the WAC holdovers face off for the final time as conference foes tonight when Idaho hosts New Mexico State in Cowan Spectrum. The Aggies rolled over the Vandals 78-54 last month in Las Cruces. NMSU’s twin towers will be worth the price of admission in Moscow—7-5 Sim Bhullar and his 7-3 brother, Tanveer. The duo was featured two weeks ago in Sports Illustrated, which called them “most likely the tallest sibling tandem in college basketball history.” It takes Sim 14 strides to run the full length of the court. Accompanying the story was a photo of normally-imposing New Mexico power forward Cameron Bairstow attempting to defend Sim, and Bairstow looked like a fourth-grader next to him.
On the honor roll, Austin Basterrechea of the College of Idaho has been selected as the NAIA National Men's Indoor Field Athlete of the Week. The Gooding product recorded this season’s No. 1 NAIA mark in the heptathlon last weekend at the Ed Jacoby Invitational in Nampa, setting a C of I school record in the process. Boise State’s Brittany Aoyama is the Mountain West Swimmer of the Week after three individual firsts and a relay win in the Broncos’ rout of Oregon State last Saturday. And the Broncos’ Thomas Tenreiro was named MW Men’s Tennis Player of the Week for his role in victories at New Mexico and Arizona last weekend.
This Day In Sports…February 6, 2005:
The New England Patriots win their third Super Bowl in four years with a 24-21 victory over Philadelphia. The Eagles pulled to within three on a Donovan McNabb-to-Greg Lewis touchdown pass with 1:48 left—then got the ball back at their own four-yard-line with 46 seconds left. But the Patriots put it away with Rodney Harrison’s second interception of the game. Quintin Mikell became only the third Boise State alumnus to appear in a Super Bowl, playing special teams and goal line defense for Philly.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)