Wednesday, February 26, 2014.
Boise State is a better team now than it was a month ago. By the same token, Fresno State is a much better club now than it was when it came into Taco Bell Arena to open Mountain West play at the beginning of the year. The Bulldogs have won six of their last seven games, including last Saturday’s victory at Utah State. ‘Nuff said there. In the first meeting, an 86-79 Bronco win, Boise State outrebounded Fresno State by 16. Could the boards possibly be as friendly tonight in the Save Mart Center? The Broncos can’t expect to have the huge disparity in free throws they did in January, when they went 28-for-34. Then there are these footnotes: the Bulldogs drained more three-pointers than BSU did in Boise (13-10), and they turned what looked like a rout at halftime into a respectable result by outscoring Boise State by 14 points after the intermission.
By all accounts the turning point for Fresno State came in Fort Collins a week after its Boise visit, following a 76-57 loss to Colorado State. The pounding bothered the Bulldogs’ two seniors, guards Tyler Johnson and Allen Huddleston, who called a team meeting that night at the hotel. “I thought we were starting to turn it (around) and we went up to Colorado State and just laid an egg, really,” Johnson told the Fresno Bee. “It was one of the first times I thought we just didn’t play hard.” The results weren’t immediately apparent, as Fresno State would lose its next four games. But the ‘Dogs did play hard, and all the contests were competitive. The opponents were San Diego State, New Mexico, Nevada (when it was hot) and UNLV. The Bulldogs’ current run of better fortune began on January 29 with a 67-62 home victory over Wyoming.
One-tenth of a second last Saturday spelled the difference between Boise State being tied for third in the Mountain West and tied for sixth. Such is this period of parity in the conference. Fresno State is currently in seventh—just a game-and-a-half behind the Broncos. The NCAA RPI this week doesn’t have things so tightly bunched, though. New Mexico, a 67-58 winner over Utah State last night, is actually highest in the computer model, rated 18th among 349 Division I schools. That’s ahead of San Diego State at 20th. The next-highest Mountain West team? Boise State at No. 54. To demonstate how fragile that is, UNLV is No. 103. Yet four days ago, the Broncos were just one-tenth of a second better.
Athletic director Rob Spear’s longtime quest to build a basketball-only arena adjacent to the Kibbie Dome at the University of Idaho really came into focus again last week. The Vandal men’s basketball team was moved out of the Dome—as it is every year in February—for the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, one of the Northwest’s premiere musical extravaganzas. But the Vandals hoopsters need their own place. They held Senior Night last Saturday afternoon in Memorial Gym, the 84-year-old facility down the street. Only 1,080 were there to send off Stephen Madison, Joe Kammerer and Glen Hill in an 83-77 win over Grand Canyon. Madison, incidentally, scored 34 points and earned his fifth WAC Player of the Week honor this season.
You can count former Boise State coach Chris Petersen among those who hope the proposed slow-down rule for hurry-up offenses gets kaboshed by the NCAA. In an interview with a Seattle sports-talk station, the Washington coach called it a “ploy” and doesn’t expect it to pass. “Last year, we were no-huddle at Boise and the year before we were back and forth,” Petersen said. “We’ve always dabbled in a little bit of both. And even if we were a huddle-up team the whole time I still wouldn’t agree with it. I think that hurts the game. I think that handcuffs it. I think one of the beautiful things about college football is all the diversity of the different styles, the different tempos, the different everything.”
One of the longest and most productive NFL careers of any Treasure Valley native is coming to an end. After vacationing back home in Idaho and talking it over with his family, Fruitland’s Jordan Gross has elected to retire after 11 seasons with the Carolina Panthers, with an announcement set for today. Gross was chosen by Carolina with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft out of Utah. He started 167 games for the Panthers, a club record, and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection. Tributes to Gross from teammates and opponents alike are coming in from near and far, as much for the kind of person he is as for his considerable ability as a left tackle.
The Idaho Steelheads have one regular season shot left at the rival Alaska Aces, and it’s tonight in CenturyLink Arena. The Aces, second in the ECHL’s Western Conference and riding a big lead in the Mountain Division, are tops in the league in goals per game at 3.37 and are second in fewest goals-against per game at 2.23. It’s been a spirited series this season, with the Steelies going 5-5-1 versus Alaska.
With Canada winning the men’s hockey gold medal at the Winter Olympics Sunday, it got me curious about the makeup of the Idaho Steelheads this season. Hadn’t really looked it over. There are 13 Canadians currently on the Steelheads’ roster, more than half the squad. I thought the team had gone a bit more European than that these days, but the Steelies had a lot invested in our northern neighbors the past two weeks. One of Team Canada's top players, Jonathan Toews, had a little brother, David, who played for Idaho last season. The Steelheads’ first team in 1997-98 had a definite Canadian flavor, led by top scorer Alain Savage and goalie Alain Morissette.
The Boise State men’s tennis team has nailed its highest ranking since 1998, moving a stunning 26 spots to No. 15 after winning its second straight championship at the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic last weekend. The Broncos did it with consecutive upsets of Alabama, Clemson and VCU. In the NAIA Division II men’s basketball rankings, the College of Idaho has jumped up to No. 3. The Coyotes, already assured a spot at nationals, open the Cascade Conference Tournament tonight against Eastern Oregon at the J.A. Albertson Activites Center.
The Boise State women’s basketball team’s status in second place in the Mountain West is precarious, as this week it faces two teams to which it lost in the first round of league play. The Broncos host old nemesis Fresno State tonight—they’ve lost 10 straight games to the Bulldogs. Fresno State was picked to win the MW last fall and is directly behind BSU in the standings.
This Day In Sports…February 26, 2004, 10 years ago today:
Boise State kicks off a key WAC road trip by racking up is biggest margin of victory in a road game in school history, routing SMU 89-50 in Dallas. The Broncos had shot 2-for-27 from three-point range 26 days earlier against the Mustangs in Taco Bell Arena—on this night, they hit 15 treys in 24 attempts. The victory came in the middle of a seven-game winning streak, a late-season run that would land BSU in the NIT.
(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.)