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Back from a three-year hiatus

Back from a three-year hiatus

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant


Posted on January 17, 2014 at 8:27 AM

Updated Friday, Jan 17 at 8:27 AM

Friday, January 17, 2014.

Utah State coach Stew Morrill has been a man of many colors over the years in the BSU Pavilion/Taco Bell Arena.  We first saw Morrill on the Boise State campus as a player—he was a center for Gonzaga in the early 1970’s, playing in old Bronco Gym when the Bulldogs were members of the Big Sky.  But man has coaching been good to him.  Morrill has coached Montana, Colorado State and now USU on the Broncos’ home floor, and he’ll be back tomorrow night for the first time in Mountain West play.  It’s the Aggies who have been the beneficiaries during Morrill’s glory years.  He’s in his 16th year in Logan and has never had a losing season there.  Morrill has taken Utah State to eight NCAA Tournaments and four NITs.  He became the winningest coach in Utah State history six years ago today—with an 82-78 win over Boise State.

Boise State now tries to protect its house, something that didn’t happen last Saturday in the wrenching loss to Wyoming.  The Broncos will have to try to do it tomorrow night against their old WAC nemesis.  This will be the first time the two teams have met since Boise State left the WAC three years ago.  Utah State swept the Broncos that winter, including a 68-59 win before 8,825 fans in Taco Bell Arena, and beat them a third time in the conference tournament championship game on the way to a 30-win season. 

Ryan Watkins will have his hands full tomorrow night with Utah State’s 6-10 center, Jarred Shaw.  The Aggies’ hopes of making noise in their first season in the Mountain West looked like they’d take a big hit when Morrill announced a month ago that Shaw, USU’s best player, was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.  Later it was found to be a felony marijuana possession charge, but the Oklahoma State transfer pleaded guilty and was promptly reinstated two weeks ago.  Shaw is averaging 15½ points and eight rebounds, helping Utah State to the Mountain West’s biggest advantage on the glass.  The Aggies are outrebounding opponents by a whopping 11.4 per game. 

If Boise is going to be called the “City of Threes” thanks to the Broncos’ affinity for three-pointers, Utah State will feel right at home during its brief visit.  The Aggies like life beyond the arc.  In their 57-50 win over Colorado State Wednesday night they shot less than 40 percent overall, but went 11-for-21 from three-point range.  It was the fifth time this season USU has been over 50 percent on treys.  Boise State has equaled or bettered the 50 percent mark from long-range three times this season.

Just as the window opens again on football recruiting with National Letter Of Intent Day approaching, new Boise State coach Bryan Harsin finds himself on the trail with a heavy heart.  One of his Arkansas State players, junior Markel Owens, was killed Wednesday night during a robbery in his hometown of Jackson, TN.  Owens was shot and killed along with his stepfather during the robbery as he tried to defend his family from a group of men who had followed them home.  Police say it’s possible Owens saved his mother’s life.  He played in 11 games for Harsin and the Red Wolves last season and made four tackles, including one for loss.

Whether or not it leads to pro football, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl has a couple good stories on its hands tomorrow in the form of Boise State products Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and Matt Paradis.  Tjong-A-Tjoe came to Boise from Holland in 2008 to play football at Boise High and ended up a starter at the FBS level at defensive tackle.  He still has upside if he can get a shot somewhere.  Paradis walked on with the Broncos as an unknown quantity from Idaho small-school football at Council but was named the team’s Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year in 2008.  He then switched to offense and blossomed into a first-team All-Mountain West center.  The game will be on ESPN2 tomorrow at 4 p.m.  Former Bronco left tackle Charles Leno is set for the higher-profile but less-visible East-West Shrine Game, which airs at 2 p.m. tomorrow on NFL Network.

Not to dredge up any sour memories, but something San Francisco 49ers play-by-play man Ted Robinson said this week on CBS Sports Radio (and KTIK) struck me.  In the hype-fest leading into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against Seattle, John Feinstein asked about Colin Kaepernick.  Robinson said, “He plays better in the second half than in the first half—he plays better when the 49ers are behind than when they’re ahead.”  Ironically, Kaepernick’s four-game history against Boise State with Nevada was exactly that, especially the only game he won against the Broncos during his senior year in 2010.  Each year it was a big early Boise State lead, followed by a Wolf Pack comeback and an exciting finish.

The Idaho Stampede and Santa Cruz Warriors will break a first-place deadock atop the D-League West Division tomorrow night at CenturyLink Arena.  And still in the Stampede’s corner is Pierre Jackson.  The league’s second-leading scorer still hasn’t been called up by New Orleans, the team that holds his NBA rights.  Nor have the Pelicans elected to trade Jackson, so unlike most D-League players, he is stuck.  "I'm disappointed the Pelicans have decided not to call up Pierre," Jackson's agent, Colin Bryant, told USA Today on Wednesday.  "He has proved he is ready for the NBA and deserves a call-up."  Jackson is averaging 29.9 points per game and has logged four games of 40 points or more this season.

The Idaho Steelheads play the Utah Grizzlies again tonight in CenturyLink Arena before following them down to West Valley City for games tomorrow and Monday.  The Steelheads are still within striking distance in the ECHL Mountain Division.  Alaska has jumped Colorado to retake first place, with 47 points to the Eagles’ 44.  The Steelies have 42 points.  Idaho still has two of the top 10 scorers in the league—Mitch Wahl is No. 4 with 38 points, and Anthony Nigro, who was placed on reserve this week, is No. 8 with 36 points.

The most visible legacy left by former Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier is, of course, the blue turf.  One of the lesser ones is the popular annual “Beauty & The Beast” event.  Bleymaier got the idea while shuttling between a wrestling match in Bronco Gym and a gymnastics meet in Taco Bell Arena one night in 2002.  The following Valentine’s Day, Beauty & The Beast made its debut—wrestling and gymnastics side-by-side.  The 12th annual edition of the event rolls out tonight when the 11th-ranked gymnasts host No. 14 Denver and No. 23 BYU, while the 21st-ranked wrestlers go against No. 22 North Dakota State.

A couple other campus things: the Boise State men’s tennis opened the season last night with a 7-0 sweep of Montana State at the Boas Bubbles.  With Andy Bettles sitting out, Nathan Sereke played No. 1 singles for the Broncos and won 6-1, 3-6, 10-4 (I’ve got to figure how you win a set 10-4).  BSU hosts Northwestern tomorrow night at the Boise Racquet & Swim Club.  And former Idaho Stampede standout Luke Jackson has moved on to coaching and will return to the Treasure Valley tomorrow night as head coach of Northwest Christian.  NCU visits the College of Idaho at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center.

This Day In Sports…January 17, 1995:

Owner Georgia Frontiere makes it official—the Los Angeles Rams are moving to St. Louis.  The Rams had been in Southern California since moving from Cleveland in 1946, spending the final 15 seasons playing in Anaheim.  That same year, the Raiders moved back to Oakland, and the nation’s second-largest market has not had an NFL team since.  Unbelievably, it’s been 19 years now.

(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.)