Wednesday, March 20, 2013.
No. 11 was a quarterback in high school. You probably know where I’m going with this. We’re not talking Kellen Moore—we’re talking Jeff Elorriaga. He may have been a walk-on with the Boise State basketball program, but he was an accomplished athlete coming out of Jesuit High School in Portland. Jesuit just happened to have a lot of great athletes while Elorriaga was there. Future Kentucky standout Kyle Wiltjer, for example. In fact, that’s how Bronco coach Leon Rice discovered Elorriaga, when he was trying to recruit Wiltjer to Gonzaga. Rice offered Elorriaga a walk-on spot, not realizing at the time he was getting his “glue guy” of the future. “He was just a classic high school kid who just wanted to help his team win,” Jesuit coach Gene Potter told the Oregonian in a feature on Elorriaga last month. “He was just an incredibly heady player.”
Now the “glue guy” has to circle the wagons with his fellow Broncos tonight and play as heady a game as he ever has in the NCAA Tournament’s First Four against LaSalle. That could mean knocking down some threes, which have come with a little less regularity lately. It could mean facilitating for Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic, or it could mean starting the transition game via steals and rebounds at the other end of the floor. Boise State might need the scoring help the most tonight. Elorriaga has attempted exactly four field goals in four of his last five games. We’ll see if the Broncos can free him up around the three-point line.
Some guys are going to be a little tight. Some guys are going to short-arm some shots. Some guys are going to press. Which guys are those going to be—and which uniforms will they be wearing tonight when Boise State takes on LaSalle in Dayton? It’s impossible to tell, because the two teams are so similar in size, effort and philosophy. Elorriaga sees one difference, though. “I think they're a little more athletic, so we're going to have to deal with that,” he said. “They get up and down. A lot of guys can score. They're going to be tough to guard, hopefully just as tough as we are. They play hard, just as hard as we do.”
Boise State has put together an amazing rebounding resume this season, considering its four-guard lineup. The Broncos are third in the Mountain West in rebound margin at plus-4.2 per game, and they’ve done it through grit (a requirement on the boards) and staying true to the fundamentals. That aspect of tonight’s game has been magnified with LaSalle’s 6-11 center, Steve Zack, set to sit out with an injured ankle. Watch Ryan Watkins on the offensive glass against the Explorers, because that will be key. Forty-six percent of Watkins’ rebounds this season (98-of-212) have been on the offensive end.
Tonight’s game might be on the generally anonymous TruTV, but it gets CBS Sports’ A-team on the broadcast. Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg have the call as, unlike the potpourri of second and third-round games tomorrow and Friday, Boise State and LaSalle have a corner on the NCAA Tournament market in the 9 p.m. Eastern time slot. The only competition is an NIT game on ESPN2 between Long Beach State and Baylor.
The surge this season has already paid off next season for Boise State. It’s hard to land invitations to tournaments like the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, but the Broncos will be going this December. In addition to host Hawaii, the field already includes George Mason, Iowa State, Saint Mary’s, Oregon State and South Carolina. The tournament will be played December 22-25, taking Christmas Eve off (presumably for the Hawaii Bowl?).
It was interesting seeing former Idaho coach Kermit Davis on the sideline last night, leading Middle Tennessee against Saint Mary’s in the First Four (MTSU lost, 67-54). Davis looks just the same. How can that be? Coincidentally, the Blue Raiders’ last trip to the NCAA Tournament was in 1989, when Davis was coaching Idaho to the first of back-to-back appearances in the Dance—and those were the last times the Vandals went. A forgotten fact dredged up by an SI.com article: Davis mentored Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett at Idaho in the late 1980s, when both were on Tim Floyd's staff. Davis recalls seeing Bennett in a pair of pants that Bennett had "hemmed'' with a few staples. "He's come a long way,'' Davis said Monday. "I'm sure his suits are more expensive than mine.''
A Scott Slant reader contributes this. The last time a Boise-based team played in Dayton, it did quite well, thank you. The 2007 ECHL Kelly Cup finals pitted the Idaho Steelheads against the Dayton Bombers. While the game was played at the Nutter Center on Wright State’s campus, not the Dayton University Arena where BSU will play, the team from Idaho came out okay. The Steelies beat Dayton 4-1 in Game 5 to take their second Kelly Cup championship, four games to one. Steelheads goalie Steve Silverthorn was named Kelly Cup Finals MVP.
With that, we segue to hockey. The Idaho Steelheads have a worthy opponent in town for their final regular season homestand. The Steelies play three games against the Pacific Division-leading Ontario Reign starting tonight, and they go in trailing the Reign by two points for second place in the ECHL Western Conference standings. Ontario will have to deal with Idaho goalie Josh Robinson, who started and won all three games in Alaska last week, stopping 102 of 108 shots from the Aces while improving to 26-6-4 on the season. Robinson’s 26 wins and four shutouts are both second in the ECHL.
Boise State has gone local again to land its first verbal commitment for the 2014 football recruiting class. Khalil Oliver, a safety out of Rocky Mountain High in Meridian, has good size for a junior at 6-1, 185 pounds. Yes, Oliver’s an early commit, but he’s far from the Bronco “record.” Fruitland’s Joey Martarano, who signed in February, committed in late June, 2011, over 19 months before his National Letter of Intent Day. Boise State’s first commit for the 2012 class came in May, 2011, in the form of quarterback Nick Patti.
It’s the little things—more specifically, the little defensive things—that set D-League players apart when they’re trying to catch the attention of the NBA. The Idaho Stampede’s Justin Holiday appears to be on the right track. The former Washington Husky has now made two or more steals in 14 straight games and leads the league in swipes. Holiday’s scoring acumen goes without saying; he leads the Stampede at 16.1 points a game and is contributing 5.3 rebounds per outing. Holiday and the Stamps are back in action tonight on the road versus the L.A. D-Fenders.
This Day In Sports…March 20, 1948:
The birthday of one of the greatest hockey players of all time. Bobby Orr played 12 NHL seasons, 10 of them as an icon with the Boston Bruins. Orr was the first defenseman to become a prominent scorer in the NHL and is still the only blueliner to win a league scoring title. He was named MVP of the NHL three times and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979. Bobby Orr…65 years old today.
(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.)