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Boise State basketball: False hope in the first half

Shooting 58 percent in the first half against San Diego State is phenomenal. Sustaining it over 40 minutes is all but impossible.
Credit: Isaac Brekken
Boise State's Alex Hobbs reacts to a first-half basket against San Diego State during a Mountain West Tournament semifinal game Friday, March 6, 2020, in Las Vegas. SDSU won 81-68.

BOISE, Idaho — Monday, March 9, 2020.

Boise State played its best 11 minutes of basketball this season Friday night while building a 16-point lead over San Diego State in the Mountain West semifinals.  The rest of the game was below average for the Broncos (23 percent shooting in the second half would certainly qualify as that) in the 81-68 loss to the Aztecs.  It was tough for Boise State’s two big guns after that great start—Derrick Alston and Justinian Jessup combined to go just 7-for-27 from the field and 4-for-19 from three-point range for the game.  But hats off to senior Alex Hobbs: 21 points, including a trio of three-pointers, plus four assists in 28 minutes off the bench.

In hoops, you have all these inside-the-box-score stats, like points in the paint, points off the bench, second-chance points, and fast-break points.  Those were all reasonably balanced between Boise State and San Diego State.  Well, the difference in the game was “points off three-pointers.”  The Aztecs had 45 on 15 made threes, the most allowed by the Broncos in the 10-year Leon Rice era.  During Boise State’s 11-minute first-half blitz, SDSU went 1-for-9 from beyond the arc.  The rest of the game the Aztecs were 14-for-27.

ARE THE BRONCOS FINISHED?

A week’s worth of angst faces Boise State as it wonders whether its season is over.  Is a 20-12 record that includes wins over a current Top 25 team (BYU) and the newly-crowned Mountain West champion (Utah State) enough to get the Broncos into the NIT?  If the selection committee is looking at one team from the Mountain West, it would be between Boise State and Nevada.  The Wolf Pack is 19-12 and doesn’t really have a signature win.  Colorado State is, like the Broncos, 20-12 and beat Tulsa in triple-overtime on the road, but the Rams suffered that first-round exit last Wednesday in Las Vegas.  The NCAA’s latest NET rankings have Boise State at No. 90, Nevada at No. 91 and CSU at No. 106.

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RELATED: No. 5 San Diego State beats Boise State 81-68, advances to MWC title game

SAM MERRILL SENDS SDSU INTO LIMBO

There was plenty of irony in the Mountain West championship game Saturday.  Utah State was the preseason favorite to win the conference, and USU’s Sam Merrill was the preseason Player of the Year.  The Aggies (like everybody else in the Mountain West), were left in the dust by San Diego State’s 26-0 start.  But they worked their way into the title game, and they hoisted the trophy after a deep Merrill three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left gave Utah State a 59-56 victory.  The MW will be a two-bid league in the NCAA Tournament.  The question now: will the Aztecs be a No. 1 seed or a No. 2 next week?  If they’re a second-seed, it may be a blessing in disguise, as they’d likely end up in the Los Angeles regional.

WEAVER MAINTAINS, CLEVELAND CLIMBS

Curtis Weaver’s NFL Draft stock may be on the rebound.  Chris Trapasso’s post-combine mock draft at CBSSports.com leans that way, projecting Weaver as the 22nd overall pick to Buffalo.  But Trapasso already liked Weaver, writing, “Same pick as a week ago.  Weaver tested as one of the best athletes—who actually participated—at the edge position at the combine, and adds much-needed youth and pass-rush capabilities to the outside of Buffalo's defensive line.”

RELATED: Boise State starts spring practice with all eyes on sophomore Hank Bachmeier

There’s no question that fellow Boise State product Ezra Cleveland is on the rise after his jaw-dropping combine performance.  Trapasso has moved Cleveland into the first round, going to Seattle with the 27th overall pick.  “The Seahawks are enamored with high-caliber athletes,” writes Trapasso.  “And they finally address the offensive line early with Cleveland, the ultra-athletic pass-blocking specialist here.”  Trapasso, by the way, has Utah State quarterback Jordan Love all the way up at No. 6 overall, going to the L.A. Chargers.

BREAKING NEW (WET) GROUND

As we check off the “firsts” for Boise State’s revived baseball program this year, we can add “first rain delay.”  Fortunately, it wasn’t the first rainout as the Broncos and Seattle University got their doubleheader in on Saturday.  After an 11-5 loss Friday night, Boise State bounced back to sweep the twin bill 9-2 and 11-9.  Then the Broncos put up seven runs between the third and fourth innings on Sunday to break open an eventual 12-8 victory.  Kase Ogata began the surge with his second home run in two days.  Boise State, now 6-4, opens a three-game series against Niagara tonight at Memorial Stadium.

FEISTY STEELIES SPLIT THE WEEKEND

It was a chippy series between two teams that supposedly don’t know each other very well.  And it peaked (or valleyed) at the end of the second period Saturday night, when a combination of 11 Idaho Steelheads and South Carolina Stingrays got into a wild fracas, with helmets, gloves and sticks strewn across the ice.  Amazingly, only one player was ejected, South Carolina’s Jaynen Rissling.  After peace was restored, the Steelheads went on to a 4-1 victory, their eighth win in a row.  Tomas Sholl made 29 saves and picked up his 27th victory of the season.  Idaho’s streak finally ended Saturday night when the Stingrays edged the Steelies 5-4.

BIG SKY LANDS DOWNTOWN & NNU DANCES

The basketball court has been laid over the ice at CenturyLink Arena, and the Big Sky Women’s Tournament gets underway today in the second of a contracted three-year run in Boise.  The first-round games pit Northern Colorado against Sacramento State and Portland State against Eastern Washington.  Idaho and Idaho State begin play Tuesday in the quarterfinals.  The men’s tournament begins Wednesday.  Meanwhile, the Northwest Nazarene women have earned their third straight NCAA Division II Tournament berth.  The Nighthawks, 22-7 this season and the No. 6 seed in the West, will face No. 3 seed UC San Diego in Honolulu.  Date and time are being arranged as we speak.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…March 9, 2015, five years ago today:

Toward the end of its 47th season of four-year basketball, Boise State nabs the first Top 25 ranking in school history.  The Broncos made the AP Poll at No. 25 after capturing a share of the Mountain West regular season championship by winning 14 of its last 15 games following an 0-3 conference start.  The next day star senior Derrick Marks would be named Mountain West Player of the Year, Boise State’s first league MVP since Roberto Bergersen in 1999.  The Broncos’ Leon Rice would also nab Coach of the Year honors, and sophomore James Webb III would be MW Newcomer of the Year.

(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.)