Monday, March 19, 2012.
What happened Friday night in the NCAA Tournament gives us a chance to reminisce today. It’s one thing to watch a No. 15 bring down a No. 2 on TV—it’s entirely different in person. Especially in a packed house, with about 95 percent of it rooting for the underdog. That was the case the last time it happened in the NCAA’s, when Hampton shocked Iowa State 59-58 in the BSU Pavilion on March 15, 2001. The magic started during halftime of the evening’s first game between Georgetown and Arkansas, when Hampton’s pep band entered the arena to set up, smiling and waving and endearing itself to the Pavilion crowd. And then the band played. Almost as well as its team, which rallied from nine points down with seven minutes to go to pull the unthinkable. And that started a 48-hour love affair between Boise and Hampton.
The Hampton upset of Iowa State naturally got some attention when 15th-seeded Norfolk State and Lehigh took down Missouri and Duke, respectively, Friday night. What’s generally forgotten about the Hampton game is that it capped the closest first round bracket in the history of the NCAA Tournament, with the combined margin of victory only seven points. First, Georgia State upset Wisconsin by one, then Maryland held off George Mason by three, then Georgetown beat Arkansas by two at the buzzer. But the last game was the best.
Idaho had a shot at a 20-win season. It would have been something to remember, since it’s a plateau not reached since 1993. Instead, the Vandals ended the season with something they’d like to forget at Utah State Saturday night in the College Insider.com Tournament. The Aggies drilled ice-cold Idaho, 76-56. Who really wants to be there is an issue in tournaments like the CIT. USU fans didn’t want to be, with students on spring break. And they weren’t, with only 2,430 fans in a place accustomed to 9,000-plus. But the Aggies themselves wanted to be there, never letting the Vandals up for air. Idaho finishes the campaign at 19-13.
Week number two of Boise State spring football is here, and we join the reloading program on the defensive line—already in progress. With the departure of Billy Winn, Shea McClellin, Chase Baker, Tyrone Crawford and Jarrell Root, the Broncos lose 492 career tackles and 66 sacks. The guy with the best credentials coming back is Michael Atkinson, the 6-0, 312-pound tackle from Windsor, Ontario. He has 50 career tackles and six sacks and is surprisingly athletic. “Canadian Bacon” played hockey in high school. Appropriately, he was a hard-nosed (and wide-bodied) defenseman. Many fans had already seen video accounts of Atkinson’s exploits as a 300-pound running back by the time he was plugged in at fullback in the 2009 Blue & Orange Game. Hence the roar when he rumbled 25 yards on a handoff. Still waiting for the encore.
Check out the D-line cupboard, and you’ll find it far from bare. Not only is there a slew of up-and-comers from Boise State’s recruiting classes of the past two years (Tyler Horn, Samuel Ukwuachu, Jeff Worthy, Robert Ash et al), there are indeed a couple veteran seniors waiting for their chances. Greg Grimes has made 18 career tackles and a sack, and Darren Koontz has registered 15 tackles. And they haven’t all been in mopup time. I’ll never forget looking out there in the heat of the 2010 Fiesta Bowl and seeing Koontz on the field. Grimes and Koontz would like to demonstrate that they are not chopped liver.
Momentum has been aggravatingly elusive for the Idaho Steelheads. They were unable to seize any on home ice over the weekend, losing twice to the Ontario Reign. Maybe part of the problem this season is working overtime. With Saturday night’s loss having gone to a shootout, Idaho leads the ECHL with 19 games that have gone beyond regulation, 14 of which have been stretched to a shootout (also tops in the ECHL). Goalie Jerry Kuhn has been carrying his lunch pail all season. Kuhn has moved into second place on the ECHL's single-season saves list with 1,871 after stopping 29 shots Saturday night.
Not much left to play for this season for the Idaho Stampede. The L.A. D-Fenders rallied past the Stamps 106-105 Friday night in El Segundo (very odd to watch highlights of that game before a handful of fans in the Lakers’ practice facility). The Stampede got the lion’s share of their offense from three players—Marcus Banks scored 25 points, Tony Bobbitt 23 and Jordan Brady 19. Idaho was out-rebounded by 13 and committed 20 turnovers.
Is this the end for Dontrelle Willis? The former Boise Hawk’s three-year plunge from prosperity and popularity may be complete now with his release by Philadelphia Friday. Willis had signed a non-guaranteed major-league contract with the Phillies in hopes of reinventing himself as a reliever. But in 2 2/3 innings for the Phils this spring, Willis yielded five runs and four walks and never struck a batter out. In five seasons with the Florida Marlins, when he first became known as the D-Train, Willis went 68-54 with a 3.78 ERA in 162 starts. Since signing with the Tigers as a free agent in 2008—then bouncing to the Diamondbacks and Reds--he is 4-15 with a 6.15 ERA. And those may be his final numbers.
More weekend wrap: the Boise State men’s tennis team notched an impressive 7-0 win over Arizona Friday. BSU improved to 13-5 this season. The Bronco swimming team picked up two top 25 individual finishes at the NCAA Championships at Auburn Saturday, both in the 100-meter freestyle. Stephanie North was 19th and Amber Boucher 23rd. The Boise State softball team beat Minnesota, Portland State and Utah State before the rest of the SpringHill Suites Invitational #1 was wiped out yesterday by rain and snow. SpringHill #2 starts this Thursday, Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise. And none of the four Bronco wrestlers at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis were able to place. Boise State is looking forward to next season, though, as it returns all 10 starters.
This Day In Sports…March 19, 1992, 20 years ago today:
At the BSU Pavilion, in what would be the second-to-last game of his college career, LSU center Shaquille O’Neal sets an NCAA West Region record with 11 blocked shots in a first round tournament win over BYU. Shaq would finish his college career in Boise two days later when Indiana stopped the Tigers, 89-79. The Hoosiers and Bobby Knight would advance all the way to the national semifinals that year.
(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.)