Thursday, March 8, 2018.
If Boise State’s three-pointers don’t go down tonight against Utah State in the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals—and sometimes they don’t, don’t we know—the Broncos will have to compensate in other facets of their game. The one constant for Boise State this season has been rebounding, and if that comes through again, the Broncos may be able to survive a rash of misses from beyond the arc. They’ve had a double-digit advantage on the boards in 13 games this season and have been out-rebounded only five times. Taking care of the ball is another matter—turnovers could sabotage them if they aren’t hitting their three-balls. Boise State has logged fewer turnovers than its opponents in just 12 games this season. But this week in Las Vegas has been the Broncos’ focus all season. Focus, focus, focus.
This year is where the rubber meets the road in Boise State’s Mountain West Tournament portfolio. It’s time for the Broncos to buck history in Las Vegas. They are 3-6 all-time in this event and have never made the championship game. And they lost first time out each of the past two years. They have beaten every team in the conference this season except Nevada. Some like to intimate that Boise State is a one-man team, as All-Mountain West guard Chandler Hutchison is the only Bronco to so much as earn honorable mention in the league this week. But this roster is underrated. It goes a solid eight players deep, with defined roles and an inordinate amount of chemistry. This is the first time Boise State has ever been the No. 2 seed, and No. 2 has won this tournament more than any other seed.
Colorado State made it interesting well into the second half, but Utah State held serve in the first round yesterday, winning 76-65. So the Broncos are tasked tonight with avenging one of the losses that most damaged their NCAA Tournament at-large candidacy. The Aggies threw a monkey wrench at Boise State, winning 71-65 in Logan four weeks ago. And the first game between the two teams was no cakewalk, with the Broncos rallying to win 71-67 in Taco Bell Arena in mid-January. Boise State and Utah State have never met in the Mountain West Tournament, although the Aggies were the opponent when the Broncos last played in a conference championship game in 2011. USU won 77-69 to take the WAC title in BSU’s final year in that league—and Leon Rice’s first as coach of the Broncos.
The idea of a woman taking over as men’s basketball coach at Colorado State is gaining traction. According to the Coloradoan, CSU athletic director Joe Parker didn’t specifically mention Becky Hammon by name this week, but he did say the question he’s been asked most by those wondering who might be the Rams’ next coach is if he would consider hiring a female. “I’ve thought a lot about that,” Parker said. “I’m not closing the door on any thought.” If this breakthrough is going to happen, Hammon would be the one to do it. She’s a women’s hoops legend at Colorado State—more importantly, she’s the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history, in her fifth season on Gregg Popovich’s staff with the San Antonio Spurs. Hammon hasn’t said if she would be interested, but she hasn’t ruled it out, either.
The Boise State women are playing for the trophy tomorrow. The defending Mountain West Tournament champions go for a repeat after routing Colorado State 76-51 last night. The Broncos actually trailed by seven points in the second quarter, but by halftime they had blasted past the Rams to lead by 10, on the way to their ninth straight victory. Braydey Hodgins has been a house afire at the end of the season, scoring 25 points last night. It was the reigning MW Player of the Week’s fifth straight game in double figures. The title game will pit Boise State against Nevada, the tourney’s Cinderella after upsetting Wyoming 67-63 last night in the semis.
Second-seeded Idaho opens against Southern Utah in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Men’s Tournament tonight in Reno. It took a jumper from All-Big Sky forward Brayon Blake with one second left for the Vandals to beat those same Thunderbirds 78-76 last Saturday night in Moscow. Idaho wants to add to its 22 wins, the school’s most in 25 years. This is only the Vandals’ fifth 20-win season in the past 30 years (and the second in Don Verlin’s 10 seasons as coach). Southern Utah earned another shot at Idaho by dropping Idaho State 76-68 Tuesday night. It was heckuva rebound for the Bengals this season, though. ISU finished 14-16 after going 5-26 a year ago.
College of Idaho has national championship aspirations, and why not? The Coyotes are seeded fourth at nationals as the tournament begins today in Sioux Falls, SD. This is C of I’s 13th trip to the NAIA Division II Championships, having won the title in 1996 and making the quarterfinals in 1993, 2001 and 2015. The Yotes, who drew Mayfield State of North Dakota in the first round this afternoon, are led by Cascade Conference Player of the Year Aziz Leeks. He was also the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, only the second time in CCC history a player has captured both awards.
Think about this: Leighton Vander Esch wasn’t really even a Boise State starting linebacker until one year ago today. That’s when Fruitland’s Joe Martarano announced he was leaving the Bronco football program to concentrate full-time on his baseball career. Vander Esch had a strong finish to an injury-plagued 2016 season, and his potential was clear. But he was still working his way up when Martarano’s move opened a big door for him. Now, after taking the NFL Combine by storm, Vander Esch is a first-round selection in most mock drafts you see. He was asked Tuesday on Idaho SportsTalk if he feels he’s a first-round NFL Draft pick. “Absolutely,” Vander Esch replied. “I’m completely confident in that.” It’s all still such a head-spinner.
Two other notes—Troy Merritt was an alternate in the Valspar Championship this week and was playing in the Monday qualifier when he got some good news. “I received word that I got into the field while walking onto my 17th green,” tweeted the former Boise State star. “I putted out, and I played the final hole. They didn’t post my score. It didn’t matter. Excited to tee it up.” Merritt has made three straight cuts, including a tie for eighth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. And the Idaho Steelheads lost to Allen 2-1 in a shootout last night in CenturyLink Arena. The Americans are backed into a corner—they have two Kelly Cups and a second-round playoff exit in their three ECHL seasons, but currently sit in fifth in the Mountain Division, chasing Tulsa for the final playoff spot.
This Day In Sports…March 8, 1976:
In the championship game of the first-ever Big Sky Tournament in Ogden, Boise State stuns Weber State 77-70 in double-overtime on the Wildcats’ home floor to earn its first conference title and first trip to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Bus Connor had only one senior to work with, Pat Hoke, as the Broncos were sparked by a trio of sophomores: Connor’s sharp-shooting son, Steve, future Nevada, Stanford, LSU and TCU head coach Trent Johnson, and Danny Jones.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)