Friday, February 7, 2014.
Boise State’s trip to Utah State tomorrow night is not for the faint of heart, a characteristic that has emerged among the Broncos in late-game fades in the past two losses to UNLV and San Diego State. Coach Leon Rice wants to cure the “disease,” but the medicine will be hard to find at USU. Boise State has never won in Logan in a series that dates back 40 years. We’re talkin’ 0-17. The Broncos and Aggies were Big West foes from 1996-2001, and not even the teams that included Roberto Bergersen could win there. The two schools were WAC rivals from 2006-11, and the 2008 WAC championship squad lost at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. By 19 points. Rice has been to Logan once with Boise State, in his first season three years ago. His team fell 77-49.
Utah State had by far the best home court in the WAC, regularly drawing crowds of 10,000. Now it’s one of the best in the Mountain West. Aggies fans are educated basketball folks. They’ve done their homework on Boise State’s discomfort the past week and will let their guests hear about it if they flinch in the second half. As for the Broncos, I used the word “despondent” yesterday after the wrenching loss to the Aztecs. Rice was despondently positive following the game, if that makes sense. “When you’re building a program you don’t go from A to B in a straight line sometimes, there’s a lot of work to be done in there,” said Rice. “And you have to keep getting better. We’re so close to being a really good team. A couple of minutes here and there and we’re a great team.”
Inquiring minds want to know—what kind of lineup will Boise State put on the floor tomorrow night? If Jeff Elorriaga’s not ready to return, the Broncos will miss him, especially in that Spectrum environment. Mikey Thompson replaced Elorriaga as a starter Wednesday and led Boise State with 16 points. But Thompson was only 5-for-9 from the free throw line (incredibly, Thompson was the only Bronco to go to the charity stripe all night). And will true freshman Nick Duncan contribute? He was never a factor versus the Aztecs, playing only 12 minutes while picking up three fouls and missing both of his three-point attempts. Ryan Watkins needed Duncan’s support down low, as Boise State was outrebounded for the first time in Mountain West play. Watkins will need the young Aussie again at USU.
Kudos to the Boise State staff for being able to pull in recruits like Dylan Sumner-Gardner, Chase Blakley and Jabril Frazier. Because it’s going to be harder than ever for Boise State to beat power-conference schools—mainly the Pac-12—for high school prospects. Players are attracted to shiny objects, and every time a mid-major like Boise State builds a sparkling facility like the Bleymaier Football Center, schools like Oregon and Washington up the ante. It may never be like it was. The power conference teams have so much more money than they did even five years ago. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s TV maneuvers have saved the bacon of places like Washington State. But it’s like Bronco coach Bryan Harsin said Wednesday: “The one thing we don’t get to show in the recruiting process that’s probably the best thing we do, is out on the field.”
Before National Letter Of Intent Day was over, Boise State had its first verbal commitment for the 2015 recruiting class, as the new Fruitland expressway strikes again. The Broncos got a verbal from Grizzlies offensive lineman Garrett Larson, who will join former teammates Joe Martarano and Alec Dhaenens on the blue turf. Larson’s verbal commitment becomes the second-earliest one ever received by Boise State. The earliest? Martarano, who made the call on June 28, 2011, just after his sophomore year at Fruitland ended.
Chris Petersen has his first behavorial conundrum as the new head coach at Washington, as yesterday he indefinitely suspended projected starting quarterback Cyler Miles and wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow. The official reason was “violation of team rules.” But news outlets in Seattle report that two Washington football players are under investigation for assaulting a man near campus following the Super Bowl last Sunday night after asking him if he was a Seahawks fan (he was), and one of them was identified as Stringfellow. Miles is from a suburb of Denver. No arrests have been made yet.
A lot of attention has been paid to the fact 15 of Idaho’s 22 signees in its recruiting class are junior college transfers. But one of the most important guys is a high school player named Jordan Rose. The Vandals allowed a massive 53 sacks last season, dead last in FBS football. They have to plug the holes, and Rose is someone they can build around. He’s a 6-6, 315-pounder from Freeman High in Rockford, WA. “We had him in camp,” Petrino said of Rose. “We felt like he was one of the best high school offensive linemen we saw anywhere. He’ll be an outstanding player here at the University of Idaho.”
Before the Opening Ceremonies march-in tonight, there’s already an Idaho-related Winter Olympics result to report. Rigby’s Jessika Jenson went through women’s slopstyle qualifying yesterday and finished 15th, missing a bye into the finals. She’ll compete in tomorrow’s semifinals. There is an Idahoan slated for one of the highest-profile events of the Winter Games on Sunday, as Middleton’s Erik Fisher hopes to make his Olympic debut in the men’s downhill. The U.S. lineup still has to be finalized. He was the third-fastest American in training runs on the Sochi course yesterday. Although Fisher was a member of the U.S. team in 2010 in Vancouver, a bad wrist and bad timing with the weather kept him sidelined.
The Idaho Steelheads have been chasing Colorado much of the season, and the quest resumes tonight and tomorrow night at CenturyLink Arena. The Eagles are six points ahead of the Steelheads in the ECHL Mountain Division. The Steelies are coming off one of their best defensive efforts of the winter in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over Utah, allowing a season-low 17 shots on goal. It was the first time Idaho has out-shot an opponent since January 11—at Colorado. By the way, the Boise State club hockey team will host Montana State following each game this weekend. The Broncos are coached Steelheads legend Cal Ingraham.
After a pair of mind-boggling individual performances the past two games, the Idaho Stampede are probably anxious to see what happens when they go to Reno to face the Bighorns tonight and Sunday. Pierre Jackson exploded for a D-League record 58 points Tuesday night, three nights after Kevin Murphy put up 51. The unsung hero through this is Dee Bost, who has double-digit assists the past three games. He was particularly helpful during Jackson’s landmark night, dishing out 16 helpers.
On the campus circuit: the College of Idaho men’s basketball team, ranked eighth in NAIA Division II, hosts Eastern Oregon in Caldwell. It’s the longest continuous rivalry for the Coyotes—this is the 69th straight year the Coyotes and Mountaineers have played. Idaho got back at New Mexico State last night, winning 73-67 in Moscow. The Boise State women try to get back on track tomorrow against Utah State in Taco Bell Arena and after seeing their six-game winning streak snapped at San Diego State Wedneday. And the Boise State wrestling team hosts revenge-minded Oregon State tonight. The Broncos upset then-No. 6 OSU November 24 in Gill Coliseum, 19-18, to retain possession of the Border Axe, the rivalry’s trophy. The Beavers will come to Bronco Gym to wrestle it away against a BSU team that has fallen on hard times.
This Day In Sports…February 7, 2009, five years ago today:
Sports Illustrated drops a bombshell on baseball, reporting that the game’s highest-paid player, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, tested positive for steroids in 2003. At the time of the test, Rodriguez played for the Texas Rangers and was en route to his third straight American League home run title and first Most Valuable Player award. Later in the month A-Rod would admit using steroids during his three-year stint with the Rangers, casting suspicion on what was assumed to be a clean run to baseball’s career home run record held by the already-tarnished Barry Bonds. Today, the suspended Rodriguez has become forever tainted.
(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.)