Monday, March 18, 2013.
Boise State was not at all disappointed yesterday by the play-in game route it has to take against LaSalle Wednesday night in the NCAA Tournament. All you have to do is watch the video of the team’s reaction in the players lounge as soon as the Broncos’ name popped on the screen during the Selection Show on CBS. LaSalle’s reaction was similarly ecstatic, as the Explorers haven’t been to the Dance in 21 years. No, it’s not the field of 64. But the awarding of an at-large berth in the NCAA’s is high praise, even if the Broncos’ No. 13 seed has to be shared. They are not Liberty, nor North Carolina A&T, nor LIU Brooklyn, nor James Madison. Those teams had to win their conference tournaments in one-bid leagues, only to be sent to Dayton for one more final exam. An at-large bid is acknowledgment of a deserving season.
A look at the NCAA Tournament field shows that Boise State has wins over a No. 5 seed (UNLV), two No. 7 seeds (Creighton and San Diego State) and a No. 8 seed (Colorado State). But should the Broncos get past LaSalle Wednesday, a No. 4 seed awaits Friday in traditional Big 12 power Kansas State. In Kansas City, no less. It’s a geographically-challenging week, if indeed it lasts the week. It’s a far cry from the Big Sky days, when Boise State, as the champion of a one-bid conference, was sent to closer locales—Eugene, Salt Lake City twice, and Sacramento. Five years ago, as WAC champ, the Broncos were placed in Birmingham. But if the long trip to Dayton leads to another stop in K.C., Boise State will take it.
So what do we know about LaSalle? The Explorers are 21-9 this season and posted back-to-back wins over Butler and VCU in January. They present an interesting matchup, because like Boise State, they usually play four guards. LaSalle has a hot-scoring duo along the lines of the Broncos’ Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks. Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren average 17.0 and 15.1 points, respectively (Drmic averages 17.3 and Marks 16.3). Galloway is an athletic, creative transfer from South Carolina who will be a handful.
So what do we know about Boise State? The Broncos’ pride was hurt by a poor performance in a game that had a lot of eyeballs on it last Wednesday. They were out of sync offensively in the 73-67 loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West quarterfinals, as Drmic and Marks combined to go 11-of-42 from the field. Was there a little stage fright with so much at stake? We’ll never know. But Boise State is better for the experience and has a chance to show it has put whatever it was behind them.
The Mountain West got a great deal of respect on Selection Sunday. Five conference teams are in the tournament, led by the third-seeded team in the West, New Mexico. The Lobos get a trip to Salt Lake City Thursday to face 14th-seeded Harvard. UNLV is the No. 5 seed in the East, but the Rebels stay relatively close to home at the outset, opening against Cal in San Jose Thursday. San Diego State is seeded seventh in the South and plays Oklahoma in Philadelphia Friday. And Colorado State got a No. 8 seed in the Midwest and drew Missouri in Lexington Thursday. Incidentally, Air Force will play at Hawaii in the College Insider.com Tournament, and Wyoming hosts Lehigh in the College Basketball Invitational.
Woe is us if we don’t rewind a day and recognize this, as we do every year. Yesterday was the 97th birthday of Lyle Smith, known as the “father of Bronco football.” A refresher if you’re a relative newcomer: Smith built Boise Junior College into a powerhouse in the late 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s and is considered the man who inspired the Boise State program to grow into what it is today. His career record at BJC was 156-26-6, with five undefeated seasons, a 37-game winning streak, 51 shutouts, and the school’s original national championship—in the JC ranks in 1958. And Lyle is still sharp as a tack.
The Idaho Steelheads’ best week of the season was capped by one of their best performances of the season Saturday night. The Steelheads ventured onto the Olympic ice of Sullivan Arena in Anchorage and swept three games from the division-leading Alaska Aces, sporting the best record in the ECHL. And the Steelies shut out the Aces before a standing-room-only crowd in the finale, 2-0, getting 36 saves from Josh Robinson, who recorded his fourth shutout of the season. The Steelheads managed only 21 shots on goal, but tallies by Justin Taylor and Austin Smith were more than enough. Next up is Idaho’s final homestand of the season, beginning with a Wednesday night clash against the Ontario Reign.
The Idaho Stampede’s losing streak has reached four games, with the last three coming against the top two teams in the D-League’s Central Division, Rio Grande Valley and Tulsa. The Stampede were handled easily by Tulsa Friday night in CenturyLink Arena, 110-95. But they showed a lot of fight Saturday night, taking the 66ers into overtime before falling 100-98. It took a fadeaway jumper with one second remaining in overtime by Oklahoma City Thunder assignee Jeremy Lamb to decide it. Lamb scored all six of Tulsa’s points in OT. The Stampede return to action Wednesday night against the L.A. D-Fenders in El Segundo.
In women’s hoops, Idaho is headed to its first NCAA Tournament in 28 years after the Vandals downed Seattle University 67-64 in the WAC championship game Saturday in Las Vegas. UI coach Jon Newlee could write a book on learning to win close games. The Vandals won their three games in the tournament by a combined seven points on the heels of three losses by a combined six points in the previous month. The women’s Selection Show is tonight. Elsewhere, the Northwest Nazarene women fell 68-57 to Simon Fraser in the first round of the NCAA Division II West Regional in Bellingham, WA.
The Boise State men’s tennis team recorded its three biggest wins of the season over the weekend, upsetting Nebraska, No. 22 Notre Dame and Texas Tech to win the Blue-Gray Classic in Montgomery, AL. The Broncos did it the hard way against the Fighting Irish and Red Raiders, losing the doubles point versus each before taking four of six singles matches. The Bronco women finished their stay at the Blue-Gray with a come-from-behind 4-3 win over Michigan State. And the Boise State women’s softball team christened Dona Larsen Park by winning four of its six games in the SpringHill Suites Invitational.
Graham DeLaet got better and better as the week went, and the result was a tie for 17th yesterday after he had started the final round tied for 41st at the Tampa Bay Championship. DeLaet’s scorecard went from 73 to 71 to 70 to a four-under 67 to claim $79,750. The former Boise State star has made four consecutive cuts and has now topped a half million dollars in eight PGA Tour events this season.
In Davis Cup ramp-up news, Novak Djokovic was stunned in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, CA, Saturday. Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro broke the Serbian star’s 21-match winning streak in a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory. Maybe Djokovic will seem more mortal going into the Davis Cup quarterfinals against the U.S. in 2½ weeks at Taco Bell Arena.
This Day In Sports…March 18, 1993, 20 years ago today:
Big Sky champion Boise State makes its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in five years, facing Vanderbilt in the first round of the West Regional in Salt Lake City. Vandy’s Billy McCaffrey lit it up with 26 points as the Commodores pulled away in the second half for a 92-72 victory. BSU senior center Tanoka Beard scored 15 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the final game of his career. He finished as the Broncos’ all-time leading scorer with 1,944 points.
(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.)