Thursday, March 14, 2013.
If you could only stay up until halftime of last night’s Boise State-San Diego State quarterfinal in the Mountain West Tournament, you may be surprised that the Aztecs won by only six points, 73-67. The Broncos had a spirited second-half go and actually took one lead at 50-49 with 8½ minutes left in the game after a 14-0 run. The bottom line, though: unprecedented ice for the highest-scoring duo in the Mountain West, as Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks combined to go 3-of-17 from the field in the first half. Marks came up empty on nine attempts and was scoreless at the intermission. Drmic and Marks were 11-of-42 for the game, the root of Boise State’s season-low 35 percent shooting (although Drmic still managed to score 20 points and Marks 14).
San Diego State decided from the outset last night Boise State was not going to beat it from three-point land. The Aztecs guarded relentlessly on the perimeter. And when the Broncos were fortunate to get a shot off from beyond the arc, you’d often hear a “clang” loud and clear through the rim microphone. Three-point shooting was a little better in the second half than the first, but Boise State still ended up just 6-of-19. The Broncos couldn’t counter with penetration by Drmic and Marks, either, as San Diego State clogged the middle—at least until the pair was able to loosen things up in the second half. It was a masterful defensive effort by a tremendously athletic Aztecs team.
Now the nerves take over. Boise State did not look the part of an NCAA Tournament team last night, save for a brilliant three-minute stretch in the second half. One game shouldn’t determine Dance worthiness, but for a program that doesn’t have a strong hoops pedigree, it hurts. A lot now depends on what the other bubble teams in the so-called power conferences do in their league tournaments over the next few days. Speculation on the Broncos’ fate ranges from placement among the last four teams in, which would put them in Dayton for a play-in game early next week, or the NIT, which could mean one more home game at Taco Bell Arena. Whatever happens, this can be considered Boise State’s best season since Bobby Dye’s heyday in the late 1980’s—in terms of overall performance against the level of competition the Broncos faced.
So the Mountain West semifinals are set tomorrow night, with the top four seeds set to go at it in the Thomas & Mack Center. San Diego State moves on against New Mexico, and Colorado State faces host UNLV. That’s some good basketball. Today, the Boise State women try to extend Lauren Lenhardt’s career when they make their Mountain West Tournament debut in an upset bid against Fresno State. And in the WAC men’s tourney at Orleans Arena, Idaho tries to extend the career of WAC Player of the Year Kyle Barone in a quarterfinal matchup versus New Mexico State.
Other than cornerback, the crucial position to watch on the Boise State defense during spring football is at tackle. Chris Petersen let a hint slip at his Tuesday press conference as the Broncos seek to fill out the rotation anchored by Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe. “Deuce Mataele,” Petersen blurted out before hesitating. “I’m not going to get ahead of myself, but we really like him,” said Petersen. Mataele is a 6-3, 285-pound transfer out of Mt. San Antonio College who at least passes the eyeball test so far. If he passes the football test, it could allow Tyler Horn to remain at defensive end instead of moving permanently inside. Horn had to switch to tackle late last season when Mike Atkinson was injured.
Tjong-A-Tjoe has always aced the eyeball test. And the Dutchman out of Boise High has climbed a sizeable learning curve in football, with a little bit left to go entering his senior year. “Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe needs to take the next step, and when he does, he’ll be really what we need in there,” Petersen said. One intriguing figure at tackle is Armand Nance, who made some impact plays early last season as a true freshman. Nance should benefit from the “Tim Socha effect.” A winter under the tutelage of Boise State’s renowned strength and conditioning coach has taken Nance’s weight from 273 pounds to 290 (according to updated figures from the Statesman’s Chadd Cripe).
Former Boise State captain Richie Brockel, one of the most unlikely undrafted free agent success stories of 2011, has been tendered a contract offer for this season by the Carolina Panthers. Brockel was an exclusive rights free agent, a player with fewer than three accrued seasons. He has played tight end, fullback and special teams since catching on with Carolina a year after being cut by the Chargers. The Panthers were sold on him after he played in the World Football Championships in the summer of 2011. His most memorable NFL moment came later that year when he caught a touchdown pass from Cam Newton at Houston on a fumblerooskie play called the “Annexation of Puerto Rico.”
How about the start of Chase Schaber’s pro hockey career? In his third game, the rookie out of the University of Lethbridge scored his second game-winning goal for the Idaho Steelheads. Schaber tallied 34 seconds into overtime to beat the Alaska Aces 4-3 in Anchorage. Amazingly, the Steelheads won despite posting only 16 shots on goal. Here are a couple statistical peculiarities. The Steelheads are now 31-1-2 when scoring at least three goals. The Aces are unbeaten in regulation at 33-0-5 when scoring first, which they did not last night. The Steelies and Alaska play again tomorrow night and Saturday night.
Idaho Stampede guard Justin Holiday had another huge night, but Rio Grande Valley had seven players in double figures in a 114-102 Vipers victory last night at CenturyLink Arena. Holiday, who had topped 30 points in four of the previous games, poured in 29. He was helped by a season-high 12 assists from former Boise State star Coby Karl, while fellow ex-Bronco Jason Ellis pulled down 14 rebounds. Glen Rice Jr., son of the Glen Rice who was facing off against Boise State as a Michigan Wolverine 25 years ago in the NCAA Tournament, led Rio Grande Valley with 28 points.
The unflappable Boise State men’s tennis team has had its ups and downs this season, but junior Andy Bettles has been hot throughout. Bettles is Mountain West Player of the Week for the second time this year after going 4-0 in singles and doubles in a 4-3 win at San Francisco and a 4-3 loss at Stanford last weekend. This is a big week for the Broncos, as they open play tomorrow against Nebraska in the prestigious Blue Gray Classic in Montgomery, AL. Coach Greg Patton likens this event to basketball’s BracketBuster for those jockeying for NCAA Tournament berths in May.
This Day In Sports…March 14, 1982:
The Idaho Vandals, led by Brian Kellerman, Phil Hopson and Big Sky Player of the Year Ken Owens, go next door to Pullman to play their first round NCAA Tournament game against Iowa. The thriller went into overtime with Idaho pulling out a 69-67 win to advance to the Sweet Sixteen against Ralph Miller and the Oregon State Beavers.
(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.)