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Avoiding the indignity of an unprecedented upside-down WAC sweep

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant


Posted on January 26, 2010 at 8:22 AM


Tuesday, January 26, 2010.
It seemed like Boise State had just forgotten how to win. The Broncos forged an eight-point second half lead at Idaho last night, only to see the Vandals carve out a 17-point turnaround and boast a nine-point advantage with 4:49 left to play. BSU was in danger of losing to every team in the WAC during the first rotation of conference play. But the Broncos chipped away, and the guy everyone in Cowan Spectrum loves to hate, Anthony Thomas, swished a three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime. From there it was all Boise State, with the Broncos getting their first win of the new year—and the WAC season—77-67. 
For much of the game, it was as ugly as it gets on both sides. Boise State had 10 turnovers in the first 12 minutes of the game and started the night 3-for-18 from the field before finishing at 42 percent for the game. Idaho shot just 38 percent. But Thomas netted 12 of his game-high 17 points after halftime while being greeted with a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball. He was 6-of-9 from the field and 4-of-7 from three-point range. Yes, the Broncos are fine with the end result.
The victory at Idaho last night might be the difference between going to Reno the second week of March and staying home for Boise State. A loss to the Vandals would have put the Broncos on the edge of the unthinkable: missing the WAC Tournament. Boise State is still in last place in the conference but at last has something to build on. BSU is a half game behind Idaho and one game behind Hawaii. Of course, the fact that we’re talking about the WAC race in these terms is not good. It looks like a three-way battle between the Broncos, Vandals and Warriors to avoid the cellar this season.
If Boise State and TCU don’t have a place in fellow non-automatic qualifiers’ hearts, they have spot in their pockets. The five non-BCS conferences are set to take in a record $24 million from this year’s BCS bowls, thanks to the fact two non-BCS schools made the cut for the first time. The Mountain West gets $9.8 million (because TCU earned the automatic spot in the BCS) and the WAC $7.8 million (because Boise State was an at-large selection). The rich still got richer this year, though, with the Big Ten and SEC hauling in $22.2 million apiece, and the other four BCS leagues getting $17.7 million each. Chadd Cripe of the Statesman reports that BSU’s final number is $3,363,889 (before expenses).
It’s all about practices during Senior Bowl week—the game Saturday is almost secondary. Scouts are doing their evaluating right now, and reports that Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson is “stock up.” Writes’s Bucky Brooks: “The diminutive cover man showed outstanding footwork and movement skills during drills.  Wilson's ability to flip, turn and close was impressive, and his natural ball skills stood out in coverage.  Although he lacks the prototypical height (five-foot-10) that some teams covet, his cover skills have scouts buzzing about his potential as a future starter.” Wilson’s probably getting more chances in practice in Mobile than he ever did during his senior season. This is much more valuable than tape for scouts. Wilson had just three interceptions in 2009, although two of them were returned for touchdowns.
Russ Lande of the War Room lists “players with the most to prove this week in Senior Bowl practices” in the Sporting News Daily online edition. Among them is Idaho offensive guard Mike Iupati. “Rarely do NFL scouts get as excited about guards, but Iupati is the exception,” writes Lande. “He is massive with shocking explosiveness and athleticism, perhaps to the point where he could play left tackle. He will get his chance on the edge this week, and if he plays with consistent leverage and footwork he could become a top-10 pick.” 
Former Boise State star Quintin Mikell was second-team All-Pro in 2008 but didn’t make the Pro Bowl. This season the Philadelphia Eagles strong safety did not make the All-Pro list, but he will be in this Sunday’s Pro Bowl. The move of the game to the weekend before the Super Bowl has opened up a lot of roster spots, and Mikell will be replacing Roman Harper of the Saints on the NFC squad. Mikell, the 2002 WAC Defensive Player of the Year, had 90 tackles and two interceptions for the Eagles this season. He joins fellow former Bronco Ryan Clady in Miami. Clady, Denver’s first-team All-Pro, will be starting at left tackle for the AFC.
Sundiata Gaines is making the Idaho Stampede look brilliant for taking him in the first round of the D-League Draft last fall. So brilliant that the team will be without him for the remainder of the season. After a pair of 10-day contracts with the Utah Jazz, Gaines has received a deal for the balance of the campaign from the NBA club. The former Georgia star has averaged only seven minutes and less than three points over seven games for the Jazz, but he also has one of the highlights of the NBA season: the buzzer-beating three-pointer that beat Cleveland January 14. Gaines averaged just under 24 points and seven assists in 14 games with the Stampede this season.
There have now been nine former Idaho Steelheads getting ice time in the NHL this season, as goaltender Matt Zaba made his debut with the New York Rangers Saturday night. Zaba was plugged into the game midway through the second period versus the Montreal Canadiens and allowed two goals the rest of the way in a 6-0 loss. It would be interesting to see if Zaba has the same on-ice ritual with the Rangers that he had with the Steelheads. During every stoppage of play, Zaba would skate over to the glass in the right corner and tap the boards twice. I sat there once, and it was quite entertaining. Zaba went 15-8-1 in 28 games with the Steelies in 2007-08.
The names Troy Merritt and Graham DeLaet have been used in the same sentence the past couple weeks as the pair of former Boise State stars launch their rookie seasons on the PGA Tour. Today DeLaet has some separation from his friend and one-time Bronco teammate, as he wrapped up the Bob Hope Classic yesterday with a sparkling five-under 67 to finish tied for 18th. DeLaet earned $58,750 for his efforts. It’s not like Merritt is hurting after the Hope tourney—he made the cut as well and finished tied for 63rd, picking up a paycheck of $10,500.
This Day In Sports…January 26, 1986:
The Chicago Bears humble the New England Patriots, 46-10, in what was at that time the most lopsided Super Bowl in history. It was supposed to be the start of a Bears dynasty, but it was a flash in the pan. It was Walter Payton’s only Super Bowl, but he never got to score a touchdown despite a perfect short-yardage opportunity late in the game. Coach Mike Ditka elected to go with a gimmick, giving the ball to defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry for the final score.
(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 1350 KTIK/The Ticket. He also handles color commentary on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football.)