Thursday, March 15, 2012.
As the NCAA Tournament tips off today, we wonder out loud whether the Big Dance will ever return to Taco Bell Arena. During the 1990’s, Boise was on a three-year rotation of sorts with the tournament—then it went to four years in the 2000’s. March Madness last visited in 2009, and there’s no four-year checkpoint this time, as Boise is not a host city in 2013. Which Western cities are? San Jose, in the HP Pavilion, and Salt Lake City, in Energy Solutions Arena. It’s become a major market phenomenon more often than not. (This year it’s The Pit in medium-sized Albuquerque, a college basketball hotbed, and the Rose Garden in Portland.)
When the NCAA Tournament made the first of its eight ventures into Boise, the BSU Pavilion was less than a year old and was one of the top college basketball facilities in the West. Since then, numerous new venues have been built, and what is now Taco Bell Arena is about as small a facility as the NCAA’s would dare go, with a capacity of 12,000. But here’s the rub. Look around today and tomorrow and see how many empty seats there are at these second and third-round sites. Sometimes it’s downright embarrassing. The early rounds aren’t a big deal to audiences in the bigger markets. In Boise, the NCAA knows it’s going to get a sell-out, and that looks a lot better on TV. We’ll see if that still matters.
Mountain West opponents in what is now called the second round of the NCAA Tournament run the gamut. Two are ticked off, and two are fairly ecstatic at their good fortune. The first game of the day this morning pits Colorado State against Murray State, which is a No. 6 seed despite a 30-1 record. The Racers have a big ol’ chip on the shoulder. This afternoon, New Mexico, seeded fifth, faces Long Beach State, which is anxious for the opportunity. The final game of the evening sends UNLV, a No. 6 seed, against Pac-12 champion Colorado, who couldn’t be more excited. San Diego State, seeded fifth, goes tomorrow morning against North Carolina State, still fuming over the no-call at the end of its ACC Tournament loss to North Carolina.
I noticed this when I was scanning the TV broadcast teams for the NCAA Tournament. One of the sideline reporters: Otis Livingston. Is that the Otis Livingston who played hoops at the University of Idaho? The Otis Livingston who wanted to get into broadcasting and once worked the front desk at KTVB? Yes, that Otis Livingston. He’s now the sports director at WCBS-TV in New York. How do you like them (big) apples?
Idaho advanced in the College Insider.com Tournament last night with a wild 86-83 win over UC Santa Barbara last night in Cowan Spectrum. The Vandals romped through the first half, building a 17-point advantage with five minutes to go before the break. But the Gauchos whittled away in the second half, getting the lead down to two points with five minutes left in the game, then down to one with less than two minutes on the clock. But Idaho made enough free throws at the end to fend off UCSB. The Vandals now face WAC colleague Utah State. And they’ll do it on the road, as there are some losses to recoup after the university paid $31,000 to host and drew only 1,203 fans last night. But coach Don Verlin was profusely grateful for the chance to play at home.
SI.com’s Holly Anderson presents a “list of burning questions for non-AQ’s” for spring football this week and has Boise State representing the Mountain West. It pretty much sums up the nation’s assumptions. “Is Chris Petersen ever leaving Boise? No. What else you got?” muses Anderson. “Will we recognize anybody in a Broncos jersey this season? Another repeat topic, ahoy! Where last year’s burning question for Boise was ‘Who’s Kellen Moore’s new top target?’…this year’s is ‘Who’s Kellen Moore?’ Or who’s anybody, really. Four foals jostle for starting QB honors: Grant Hedrick, Jimmy Laughrea, Nick Patti and Joe Southwick. Southwick has a leg up in the race, according to offensive coordinator Robert Prince.”
Anderson: continues: “But there are holes to plug all over. The Broncos are down a whopping 17 starters from last year’s 12-1 scoring machine, most notably Moore and Doug ‘Muscle Hamster’ Martin. All-Name aficionados, stand ready: Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe is one of a scant few familiar faces on a decimated defensive line.” The situation with returning starters depends on your perspective, but those are the Boise State storylines as far as the rest of the country knows.
The Idaho Steelheads had spotted Stockton a two-goal lead slightly more than seven minutes into the game last night. Then rookie Ron Meyers took over. The 5-9 forward scored two straight goals to knot the game, the second one coming just 26 seconds into the second period. Derek LeBlanc added a power play goal in the third period to give Idaho the lead, and it held up in a 3-2 Steelheads victory. With the win, the Steelies pull to within three points of the Thunder for the No. 5 position in the ECHL Western Conference standings as playoff posturing continues. By the way, Meyers’ nickname is “The Cowboy.” We’ll have to research that—must have something to do with his formative years in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
Boise State has four competitors in the NCAA Wrestling Championships starting today in St. Louis. Only one is among the 12 seeds assigned per weight class, with sophomore Jake Swartz entering at No. 10 in the 184-pound bracket. The Broncos are also sending three unseeded juniors: Brian Owen at 133 pounds, George Ivanov at 157, and Brent Chriswell at 197. Elsewhere, the Boise State softball team finally takes the diamond at Mountain Cove Field today after playing the first 25 games of the season away from home. The Broncos are 15-10 and open the Spring Hill Invitational this afternoon against Minnesota.
The Idaho Stampede celebrated their new three-year lease in CenturyLink Arena by snapping a four-game losing streak last night in a 101-96 win over the Texas Legends. NBA veteran Marcus Banks went over 20 for the second straight game since returning from injuring, leading the Stampede with 24 points. And former Boise State standout Reggie Larry posted a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. The new agreement between the Stampede and facility proprietor Block 22 goes through the 2014-15 season. The Stamps have played in what was formerly known as Qwest Arena the past seven seasons.
This Day In Sports…March 15, 1990:
The last trip to the NCAA Tournament for the University of Idaho basketball team, five days after it beat Eastern Washington in the Big Sky championship game at the BSU Pavilion. The opponent was Louisville, who cruised past the Vandals, 78-59, in Salt Lake City. It would be the final game in the career of Big Sky Player of the Year Riley Smith, and the final game at Idaho for coach Kermit Davis (until his one-year return seven seasons later).
(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.)