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Back into the danger zone

Back into the danger zone

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant


Posted on February 22, 2013 at 8:22 AM

Friday, February 22, 2013.

If you think Boise State can exhale now that it has Fresno State on the agenda tomorrow night, ask UNLV how much fun it is to play in the Save Mart Center.  There are no nights off in the Mountain West—not against a Bulldog squad that’s 9-16, not against anybody.  The Rebels were humbled in a 64-55 loss in Fresno two weeks ago and just now seem to be recovering.  And Wyoming was held to 36 points (that’s 36) in a defeat on the ‘Dogs’ floor in January.  “We’re going to have to play the best game we’ve played all year,” said coach Leon Rice after the win over Air Force Wednesday night.  It’s not entirely lip service.

Fresno State did to Nevada Wednesday night what it will have to do to upend Boise State tomorrow night.  The Bulldogs out-rebounded the Wolf Pack by 10 and held Nevada to 5-of-20 shooting from three-point range in their 69-64 overtime win in Reno.  The Broncos have consistently used superiority on the glass to offset some shortcomings this season, and everybody knows how important the three-point line is to them.  Boise State did something against Air Force Wednesday that will usually beat anybody.  The Broncos had a sterling assist-to-turnover ratio of 22-6.  It was a complete turnabout from the loss at New Mexico last Saturday, and an encore is needed tomorrow night.

There will be some extra emotion in the Save Mart Center, as Fresno State celebrates the 30th anniversary of its 1983 NIT championship.  Many of the players from that team will be there, but Boyd Grant will not.  Grant, the one-time College of Southern Idaho coach, led the Bulldogs from 1977-86, including a 25-10 season when they won the NIT title.  Grant is recovering from pneumonia and won’t be able to attend the ceremony.

Idaho goes to Idaho State as part of the final ESPN BracketBusters event tomorrow night.  It’ll be the first men’s basketball meeting between the two schools in almost four years, since the Bengals edged the Vandals 61-59 during coach Don Verlin’s first season.  Idaho is 4-4 in BracketBusters games since playing the event for the first time in 2004.  The Vandals have won three of their last four BracketBusters matchups, including last season’s 77-68 home win against Portland State.  The Vandals have faced Big Sky foes three times in the event, winning twice.

Which conference is the better one in football moving forward: the Big East or the Mountain West?  That wasn’t the overriding factor in Boise State’s decision to stay in the Mountain West, but inquiring minds like Stewart Mandel’s want to know.  The columnist asks, “Will the Big East remain the sport's No. 6 conference?  Or will the newly emboldened Mountain West pass it up?”  Mandel took the formulas that will be used one final time for BCS bowl determination this year and plugged in the 2014 membership for each league (after Louisville and Rutgers leave the Big East).  Any way he sliced it, Boise State helps the Mountain West immensely based on performances of all schools over the past four years.  But the conferences have to be analyzed top-to-bottom. 

The future Mountain West was better than the future Big East in 2012, but not in any of the preceding three years.  That’s because 11-win seasons by San Jose State and Utah State tilted the scales last year, and the Spartans in particular were bottom-feeders from 2009-11.  When Mandel combines the average BCS rankings for all four years, 2009-12, the norm among the future Big East membership is six spots ahead of the future Mountain West.  Now, Utah State has lost Gary Andersen to Wisconsin, and San Jose State has seen Mike MacIntyre depart for Colorado.  Will the two schools be able to maintain some semblance of strength, or will they drift back toward the crevasse that contains UNLV and New Mexico?  The difference in conference strength will have a lot to do with the bottom each league getting stronger.

The Mountain West Indoor Track and Field Championships begin in earnest today at the Jacksons Indoor Track in Nampa, with the open field events and track events.  The meet opened yesterday with the women’s pentathlon, won by San Diego State’s Allison Reaser for the third straight year, and the men’s heptathlon, with Boise State’s Roderick Townsend second to New Mexico’s Richard York after four events.

As the Idaho Steelheads prepare for their two-game series against the San Francisco Bulls this weekend in CenturyLink Arena, it’s interesting to look at the stat sheet.  The Steelheads’ three leading scorers remain Justin Dowling, Austin Fyten and Tristan King—and they’re all in the AHL.  Among current Steelies, the leaders are Sam Carrick, Matt Case and David de Kastrozza, tightly-bunched at 36, 35 and 34 points, respectively.  Whoops…as I type this, Case has been loaned to Manchester of the AHL.  Oh, and rookie forward Brad Ross has been assigned to the Steelheads by the Toronto Maple Leafs.  With 18 games left in the regular season, the ever-churning Steelies are nine points behind Alaska in the ECHL Mountain Division.  The Aces have not lost in regulation in their past 11 games.

Former Syracuse star Kris Joseph put a real crimp in the Idaho Stampede’s style this week.  Joseph poured in 27 points last night after putting up 24 Wednesday to lead Springfield to a 109-104 win in CenturyLink Arena.  Joseph thus scored 51 points in his first two games with the Armor after being traded from the Maine Red Claws.  Former Stampede coach Bob MacKinnon brought his Springfield team to Boise with a woeful 9-21 record and left 11-21.  In the meantime, the Stamps recorded their 20th loss of the season and are now 10-20.  Durrell Summers had another big game for Idaho wirth 24 points, but—as they say—it wasn’t enough.  The Stampede play at Reno on Sunday.

I’ve always said: when you get past President’s Day in the Treasure Valley, you’re out of the woods as far as winter’s concerned.  Baseball players would say, “Define winter.”  The College of Idaho opens its home season on the diamond with doubleheaders against Whitman College at Wolfe Field tomorrow and Sunday.  The Coyotes are 2-6 on the young season.  Men’s basketball is over with Wednesday night’s loss to Northwest College.  One-time Boise State coach Rod Jensen, in his third year with the Yotes, logged his first winning season at 15-14.  Women’s basketball continues tonight with the Lady Yotes hosting Oregon Tech in a Cascade Conference semifinal.

This Day In Sports…February 22, 1980:

“Miracle On Ice” day at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, the day Al Michaels made one of the most famous calls in sports history: “Do you believe in miracles?  Yes!”  The underdog U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the seemingly-invincible Soviet Union 4-3 to set off a national celebration.  A couple weeks earlier, the Russians had humiliated the Americans by seven goals in a 10-3 shellacking.

(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.)