Wednesday, March 7, 2012.
The defections from UCLA have been in the news this week, thanks to Sports Illustrated’s expose on the decline of the Bruins the last three years. Many have landed in the Mountain West, and they’ll all be in one place when the MW Tournament begins tomorrow in Las Vegas. The Pac-12 hasn't had a team ranked in the AP Top 25 since the week of November 28. The Mountain West, the nation’s fifth-ranked men’s basketball conference has two in the rankings and a third bubbling under, and all three have Pac-12 expatriates. Many observers feel there’s a correlation. The trio who bolted UCLA have received the lion’s share of attention: UNLV’s Mike Moser is fifth in the MW in scoring and second in rebounding, the Rebels’ Chace Stanback is ninth in scoring, and New Mexico’s Drew Gordon is the league’s leading rebounder.
But there’s more. Guard Demetrius Walker, who transferred from Arizona State, is also a key contributor for New Mexico. Forward Leonard Washington of Wyoming, a USC transfer, is 10th in the MW in scoring. San Diego State guard Xavier Thames, a one-time Washington State Cougar, is also a top 20 scorer in the Mountain West. Even Boise State has a Pac-12 transfer—former Oregon Duck Drew Wiley has had a hot-and-cold season for the Broncos. Did I mention that the Pac-12 is rated the nation’s 10th-strongest conference this season? It’s behind not only the Mountain West, but also the Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, and Conference USA.
“When we can make our threes and hit our free throws, we’re right there,” said Boise State coach Leon Rice yesterday. Sometimes the Broncos make their free throws, but they’ve rarely connected on their three-pointers since the new year dawned. If they can’t regain their touch from beyond the arc, they have no chance against 18th-ranked San Diego State in the opener of the Mountain West Tournament tomorrow. Boise State was last in the MW in three-point accuracy during conference play, shooting just 28 percent. True freshman Anthony Drmic, who lit it up from long range in November and December, shot only 19 percent from three-point land in Mountain West games.
Boise State’s four quarterbacks won’t be talking to the media during spring football, but they’ll have hours and hours to chat with new quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith. Early morning hours. The Broncos’ spring drills will commence Monday morning at 8:45, the convening time for all but two practices during the session. Smith was an important hire for Boise State—his role is rather huge now as he presides over the Kellen Moore Replacement Sweepstakes between Joe Southwick, Grant Hedrick, Jimmy Laughrea and Nick Patti. Coach Chris Petersen has been following Smith’s football career for a long time. “The first time I encountered him, he knocked us out of the Rose Bowl when I was at Oregon and he was quarterback at Oregon State,” Petersen recalled. Smith was offensive coordinator at Montana the past two seasons.
BYU started spring football Monday, with the lead story being Riley Nelson’s entrenchment as starting quarterback. After a mediocre 2-2 start last year, the Cougars finished 10-3 after Nelson supplanted the now-departed Jake Heaps as QB. What’ll be interesting about Nelson when he hits Bronco Stadium on September 22 is his history on the blue turf. He started for Utah State against Boise State as a true freshman in 2006. That happened to be Senior Day for the Broncos. Incredible to think that on the other side of the field from Nelson that day were Jared Zabransky, Jerard Rabb, Legedu Naanee, Derek Schouman, Korey Hall, Drisan James, Gerald Alexander, and on and on. Nelson went on an LDS mission after that season and transferred to BYU in the meantime. He resumed his career in Provo in 2009.
The Idaho Steelheads have to find a way to tone down opposing offenses if they’re to break their 10-game losing streak. The Steelheads are 17-1-1 when holding the opposition under three goals this season. That’s 17 wins in 19 tries. Thing is, the Steelies have played 59 games. That means they’ve yielded three or more goals 40 times, going 6-28-6. The Steelheads are last in the ECHL in shots allowed this season at 39.3 per game. Reading is just ahead of them, but there’s a huge gap between those two teams and the rest of the league. The Steelheads open a three-game series against Bakersfield tonight in CenturyLink Arena.
The NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships are going to be an intense, compact affair at the Jacksons Indoor Track at the Idaho Center Friday and Saturday. A lot of what you see will be a blur—in a good way. The track is 200-meters long and includes six banked lanes on the oval and an eight lane straight track located in the middle. The track has a Mondo surface, required by the NCAA and USA Track and Field for sanctioned championship meets. It’s the only world class, championship-ready indoor track facility in the Pacific Northwest. Action begins at 10:00 Friday morning.
It’s double motivation for both teams when the Idaho Stampede visit the Tulsa 66ers tonight: avoiding the cellar and staying in playoff contention. The Stampede are last in the D-League West Conference right now, but they’re just a half-game behind Tulsa in their quest to escape it. The top eight teams in the 16-team D-League qualify for the playoffs, and Idaho is four games behind the line of demarcation right now. More importantly, there are four other teams on the outside looking in that are in better position than the Stampede at the moment.
The College of Idaho women’s basketball team is making its fourth straight trip to the NAIA Division II National Championships, and the tournament starts today in Sioux City, IA. The Coyotes open this morning against Friends University of Kansas. A win would give the Lady Yotes a probable matchup against top-seeded Indiana Wesleyan on Friday. This is the seventh trip to nationals overall for the C of I women, and it’s the first time they’ve made it four years in a row. The Lady Yotes made a run to the national championship game in 2001. Meanwhile, the Boise State women open Mountain West Tournament play tonight against Colorado State in Las Vegas.
This Day In Sports…March 7, 1982, 30 years ago today:
The NCAA Tournament Selection is televised live for the first time. The popularity of March Madness had exploded in the three years since Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores in the 1979 final. A year later, Treasure Valley fans would watch the Selection Show intently, as the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional were played in the BSU Pavilion for the first time.
(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.)