Thursday, March 4, 2010.
As the winter of discontent winds down, the stakes for tonight’s Boise State-Hawaii game have been reduced to, “Who won’t finish in last place?” March Madness may begin and end just four days into the month. The play-in game for the WAC Tournament has been eliminated this year, so the Broncos and Rainbow Warriors, tied for eighth place in the conference with 3-11 records, have created their own. On the bright side, both of these teams have shown signs of life. The ‘Bows stunned Nevada last Saturday, while the Broncos upset Louisiana Tech on the road last week and came close against New Mexico State. But who wants to take Taco Bell Arena tonight? Hawaii is 0-7 on the road this season—Boise State is 1-5 in WAC home games.
Boise State’s Greg Graham isn’t the only WAC coach whose seat is warm. Hawaii’s Bob Nash is in his third season of a deal that was extended to four as successor to the popular Riley Wallace, and his high expectations for this campaign quickly evaporated. Nash guaranteed 18 wins before the season after records of 11-19 and 13-17. He’s being reminded of that on the Islands now as the Rainbow Warriors go into tonight’s game at 10-18. Writes Ferd Lewis in the Honolulu Advertiser: “(This was) a season in which a team of mostly his players was to demonstrate significant progress. A finishing flourish might be Nash's best—and last-ditch—argument for finishing out the contract.”
If it seems like the Fiesta Bowl was just yesterday, well, it was two months ago today. But if you’re in need of a Bronco football fix, you’re about to get it, as Boise State spring football starts Monday. As Chadd Cripe reported in the Statesman, Hunter White will move from linebacker to “nickelbacker,” Boise State’s hybrid linebacker-safety spot. And newly-arrived assistant Bob Gregory, fresh off his eight-year stint as defensive coordinator at Cal, will coach the nickelbackers. That demonstrates the importance placed on that position since it was introduced in BSU’s 37-32 win at Oregon in 2008.
Ellis Powers pioneered the nickelbacker that season, and Winston Venable all but perfected it last year. You could consider White the “new Doug Martin” from a defensive perspective. Martin began last season at nickelbacker but was pressed into service at running back in late September. The rest is history there, of course, and Martin is staying on offense. White gives the Broncos an outstanding playmaker to spell Venable and compete with Jason Robinson for the backup spot.
It was an interesting day on Idaho SportsTalk yesterday. While Green Bay guard Daryn Colledge was sitting in with Caves & Prater, word came down that he had been issued a qualifying free agent offer by the Packers. Colledge, with his muted cell phone going crazy, tried to explain his financial options to the two amigos and the KTIK audience, and it was about as easy to decipher as judging for figure skating in the Olympics. What he was offered was a second-round tender worth $1.759 million for 2010. So if another team beats that number, Green Bay would be due a second-round draft pick. Pack coach Mike McCarthy has said if Colledge stays he will have to compete with Jason Spitz to keep his starting job next season.
The Idaho Steelheads had their usual shots-on-goal advantage against Bakersfield last night, out-launching the Condors 37-18. The Steelheads just couldn’t get anything of substance past Bakersfield goalie Tyler Sims, and they ended up with a 3-1 loss in Qwest Arena. Sims had 36 saves on the night—he stopped everything until Mark Derlago scored on a power play with just 3:40 left in the game to cut Idaho’s deficit to a goal. The Steelheads pulled goalie Rejean Beauchemin, but the Condors potted an empty-netter to seal it. The three-game series between the National Conference’s two division leaders resumes tomorrow night.
Things get interesting now for former Boise State standouts Troy Merritt and Graham DeLaet on the PGA Tour. They go to the relatively unfamiliar environment of Florida for the Honda Classic starting today. And they play the renowned PGA National Course in Palm Beach Gardens. After making a nice rookie splash in January, neither Merritt nor DeLaet made a cut in three tries in February.
One more Olympic wrap, if I might—because this is good. Gannett columnist Mike Lopestri asks, “What if the Winter Games were run by the BCS?” Here’s what Lopestri guesses would happen: “The United States, Germany, Norway, Canada and Russia will be allowed in. But not Belarus, Kazakhstan or Liechtenstein. They'll have to compete in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Olympics. Unless, of course, a couple of them are unbeaten. Then they'll play one another in the Fiesta Bowl.”
The Idaho Stampede played well for 3¾ quarters last night at Utah. Then things disintegrated down the stretch, and the Stampede absorbed a 114-107 loss to the Flash. The Stamps had a seven-point lead with just over five minutes left, but the Flash caught them and passed them at the two-minute mark and rolled from there. Coby Karl played almost 42 minutes but attempted only 10 shots and scored 13 points. Karl did have seven assists, though. It was Mildon Ambres who led Idaho, putting up 23 points and 10 rebounds. The Stampede go right back to Albuquerque tomorrow and Saturday after sweeping a pair from the Thunderbirds there last week.
This Day In Sports…March 4, 1990, 20 years ago today:
In the West Coast Conference Tournament, Loyola-Marymount forward Hank Gathers slams home a dunk in a semi-final game against the University of Portland. As he ran back to the defensive end, Gathers high-fived a teammate—then slowed, staggered and collapsed. Suffering from arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat, he couldn’t be revived and died at the age of 23. Gathers had led the NCAA the season before in both scoring and rebounding.
(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 1350 KTIK/The Ticket. He also handles color commentary on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football.)