Tuesday, March 6, 2012.
The last time Boise State was the No. 8 seed in a conference tournament was in the WAC in 2005. That was in a nine team league, so it wasn’t surprising when the Broncos knocked off Tulsa in the play-in game. But then came the rest of the tournament. The event was held in Reno, and top-seeded Nevada was at a peak one season after its trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Boise State proceeded to shock the Wolf Pack in the Lawlor Events Center, 73-72. In the semifinals, it was another one-point win over Fresno State, launching the Broncos into the WAC championship game on ESPN. UTEP was too much for BSU, winning 91-78. That’s a long way to go to say that 1) anything goes in tournaments, and 2) it would admittedly be infinitely stranger to see the Broncos still playing in the Mountain West final Saturday night.
If Boise State is to have any chance of upsetting San Diego State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament Thursday, a double-whammy of Kenny Buckner and Ryan Watkins inside would be crucial. Until last Saturday, that didn’t seem feasible. But Watkins’ rejuvenation at New Mexico gives the Broncos hope. The 6-9 sophomore bounced back from a disappointing conference season with 16 points against the Lobos, going 7-of-9 from the floor. “Ryan was terrific and got his mojo back,” coach Leon Rice said on the KBOI postgame show. Watkins had not been in double-figures in five weeks.
The Mountain West has two ranked teams and at least three NCAA Tournament locks going into this week’s gathering at the Thomas & Mack Center. San Diego State is 18th and UNLV 20th in the new AP Poll. The two teams are flip-flopped in the Coaches Poll, with the Rebels ranked 20th and the Aztecs 21st. New Mexico is bubbling under on both lists. As for the March Madness bubble, Colorado State is on it. Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology at ESPN.com has the Rams in. Most observers see a CSU win over TCU in the quarterfinals Thursday getting it done. The Rams beat all three of the Mountain West’s “big three” in Fort Collins this season.
Ironically, Boise State and Idaho will be playing at exactly the same time Thursday in Las Vegas. The Vandals open the WAC Tournament across town in Orleans Arena, and they’re favored in their game against Hawaii. Idaho has won seven of its last eight games and earned the No. 3 seed in the WAC tourney. The Vandals look to be headed to the postseason. The goal, of course, is the NCAA Tournament with a championship this week. Short of that, they’d be unlikely to make the NIT but are sure to be ticketed for either the College Basketball Invitational or the College Insider.com Tournament.
Aside from the four-way battle at quarterback, it’ll be fascinating to see what develops in the Boise State defensive backfield this year. New Bronco secondary coach Jimmy Lake is immersed in planning for spring football, which starts next Monday. Lake is learning defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski’s system and installing his own points of emphasis for a group that lost both its starting safeties, George Iloka and Cedric Febis. Coach Chris Petersen feels strongly that Lake is the right guy to replace the departed Marcel Yates. “That was all Coach K,” said Petersen of Kwiatkowski’s role in hooking Lake, the former secondary coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I didn’t know him—Marcel Yates didn’t know him. Then he comes in and interviews, and you can see what kind of teacher he is. This guy’s an expert, expert coach.”
Idaho released its 2012 football schedule yesterday as a pivotal year awaits for Vandal coach Robb Akey. Coming off a terribly disappointing 2-10 season, Idaho needs to see serious improvement (if not a bowl game). The Vandals will have to get it done with non-conference road games at LSU, North Carolina and BYU, as well tough WAC road trips to Louisiana Tech and Utah State. The wild cards are WAC newcomers Texas State and UT-San Antonio. It’s hard to handicap those two.
Boise State hosts the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships Friday and Saturday at the Jacksons Indoor Track at the Idaho Center. And it’ll provide a nice little boost to the Treasure Valley economy, as 650 athletes and 200 coaches are expected (and hopefully some out-of-town fans). This will be the fourth NCAA championship event hosted by BSU, joining the 1994 and 1999 outdoor track and field meets and the 2000 women’s gymnastics championships.
The exhibition games are underway in Arizona and Florida, and there are 52 former Boise Hawks in big league camps, 34 of them on 40-man rosters. One who bears watching is Dontrelle Willis, the one-time National League Rookie of the Year, who’s trying to prove to the Phillies he’s not washed up. Willis pitched one inning and gave up a run and two hits and walked a batter in his spring debut Saturday as the Phils lost to the Yankees 8-5. But the D-Train is projected as a specialist who will face lefthanded batters. Lefties went 0-for-2 with a walk against him Saturday—righties went 2-for-3. Willis was the Hawks’ Opening Night pitcher when the club debuted as a Cubs affiliate in 2001.
The Idaho Stampede held off Dakota Sunday. The Wizards did the same to the Stampede last night, winning 101-97 in Bismarck. The Stamps whittled a 20-point third quarter deficit down to one in the final minute of the game but couldn’t get it over the top. They were hampered by a 4-of-18 night from three-point range and renewed vigor on the boards from Dakota, which had a rebound advantage of six after being pounded on the glass the night before. Mikki Moore and David Bailey each scored 22 points for Idaho, which finds itself back in sole possession of last place in the D-League West Conference.
This Day In Sports…March 6, 1947:
Dick Fosbury, the originator of the “Fosbury Flop” high jump, is born. Fosbury won the gold medal in his event at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, leaping 7 feet, 4¼ inches—then an Olympic record. The former Oregon State star later became a prominent Ketchum resident. Dick Fosbury…65 years old today.
(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.)