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Scott Slant: Now for the vaunted visit to Viejas

Boise State struggled Tuesday at Clune Arena, as visiting teams often do. But the Broncos beat Air Force. Were they looking ahead to San Diego State? Now they can.
Credit: Boise State Athletics
Boise State players exit the floor at halftime after Tyson Degenhart’s buzzer-beating shot against Colorado State, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, at ExtraMile Arena. The Broncos won 80-59.

BOISE, Idaho — Wednesday Weekly: February 1, 2023.

San Diego State won there by 10 points. Nevada by six. And last night, Boise State won by seven at Air Force’s Clune Arena. The 59-52 win was a sigh of relief. The Falcons started the game like so many others — some back-cuts, some three-pointers, and some headaches on both ends of the floor for the opponent. Boise State fell behind 12-4 early and had scored just nine points midway through the first half when the switch went on. The Broncos ended the half on a 30-9 run and led by 13. But the switch flipped off again in the second half. Over the first eight minutes, Boise State scored only four points as Air Force chipped away. The Falcons actually took the lead with seven minutes left, but they wouldn’t lead again. A Pavle Kuzmanovic three-pointer with a minute and a half left finally gave the Broncos separation.

While Max Rice was saving the day Tuesday night with 22 points and seven rebounds, Naje Smith and Marcus Shaver Jr. were watching from the bench. Boise State hopes like heck that won’t be the case at San Diego State Friday night. Smith left the game in the first half with a knee injury, and Shaver appeared to aggravate his tender ankle with less than three minutes left. The Broncos missed those guys at Air Force, and they would really miss them against the Aztecs. The second half was bad enough: 27 percent shooting before they hit their final three shots, and 1-for-10 from three-point range. Imagine a whole game without Smith and Shaver — from a team whose bench has not yet emerged. Who would Boise State go to? Outside for Shaver, maybe some combination of Kuzmanovic and Whiting. Inside? Good question.


Now there’s nothing sitting between Boise State and the showdown with San Diego State Friday night at Viejas Arena. The Aztecs, ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll, are coming off a 75-66 loss at Nevada Tuesday night and are now 17-5 on the season. Which means SDSU and Boise State are now in a tie for first in the Mountain West. Sticking in the Aztecs’ craw — in addition to the defeat in Reno — are the three losses the Broncos handed them last season, including the 53-52 decision in the Mountain West Tournament championship game.

It’s personal for Matt Bradley, who transferred from Cal before last season. Bradley had a chance to win the title game last March but missed a layup with eight seconds left against Boise State. He grabbed the offensive rebound, but Trey Pulliam’s desperation jumper missed, too. The Aztecs watched a wild celebration on the floor of the Thomas & Mack Center. Bad memories indeed.


I don’t want to dwell on Boise State’s bench, but is it an issue or is it not? The Broncos are winning, whether it’s there or not. Tuesday night at Air Force, coach Leon Rice went to the backups a lot. It helped on defense, but in the end, there were just six points — all from Kuzmanovic. Boise State has achieved combined double-figures off the bench just once in the past six games. The last reserve to score in double-figures individually was Jace Whiting with 10 at UNLV three weeks ago. San Diego State, on the other hand, brings depth Friday night. Nine Aztecs average at least 15 minutes per game, and none of them average 30. And they get a lot of scoring off the bench. Case in point: Adam Seiko, who went 7-for-9 from three-point range and scored 25 points against Utah State last week.


Can’t let today go without mentioning Tyson Degenhart going all pinball on Colorado State last Saturday night. Most of his shots went in cleanly. But the ones that didn’t boinged off the rim and the backboard — and still found a way. Degenhart’s first shot of the night, a three-pointer, seemed like it took five minutes before deciding to drop. But it was Degenhart’s pure skill that won the night for Boise State, recognizing gaps in the Rams defense and making them pay. Had his layup gone down with about three minutes remaining, he would have set a new Broncos record with 11 makes without a miss, breaking a 32-year-old record held by the team’s career scoring leader, Tanoka Beard. Degenhart moved into the top 10 in the Mountain West in scoring at 14.6 points per game and is third in shooting percentage at 53 percent.


I tweeted Sunday night: “There WILL be a place that appreciates Kellen Moore.” He has found one after mutually parting ways with the Dallas Cowboys Sunday. The “mutually agreed upon” part came into focus Monday, when the L.A. Chargers scooped him up less than 24 hours after he departed the Cowboys. Moore will be working with talent that’s already close enough to what he had in Dallas, including his TV commercial buddy, quarterback Justin Herbert. What he won’t have in L.A. are all the ancillary adventures like those in Dallas: Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and the fans. (Oh, those fans.) How will Moore’s relationship with his new head coach be? The Chargers’ Brandon Staley has been on the defensive side of the ball at every stop since he was a grad assistant at Northern Illinois 15 years ago. Staley will leave Kellen alone.


Boise State’s big-hitter, JL Skinner, is on the stage at Senior Bowl practices this week, and he’s already received props for “legitimately de-cleating” a wide receiver (reportedly BYU’s Puka Nacua, of all people). SI.com’s Andrew Harbaugh, an Arizona Cardinals beat writer for SI.com, can envision Skinner in the desert. “Skinner is a rangy safety who finds the ball well in the air or on the ground,” writes Harbaugh. “He produces plays when given the chance and would be a fun compliment next to Budda Baker if given the chance.” The actual Senior Bowl game is set for Saturday.


The East-West Shrine Bowl will be played at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas for the second consecutive year, and this time it’s on a Thursday, as in this Thursday night on NFL Network. After being called a “winner in the trenches” at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, Boise State’s Scott Matlock jumps into the East-West game, joining teammates Tyreque Jones and John Ojukwu. Matlock capped a great week of practice with three tackles in the game last Saturday, including the American team’s only sack. Meanwhile, Jones has become the second Bronco with an NFL Combine invitation, joining Skinner. And the Twitter account of EDGE rusher George Tarlas indicates he is the third.


Once upon a time, Boise State lost running backs coach Lee Marks to Fresno State. The Broncos got one back Tuesday, hiring away Bulldogs running backs coach and recruiting coordinator James Montgomery. He replaces Keith Bhonopha, who departed for Oregon State last week. Montgomery got the most out of Jordan Mims in Fresno State’s championship season — 1,372 yards, 18 touchdowns and a first-team All-Mountain West honor. Montgomery’s a veteran coach, too, entering his 10th season in the college game. Coach Andy Avalos also announced Tuesday that cornerbacks coach Demario Warren has added special teams coordinator to his duties.


Troy Merritt has to feel comfortable as he tees off Thursday morning at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the Monterey Peninsula. It was at the tournament we used to call the “Crosby Clambake” that Merritt turned in one of his two best performances at the 2021-22 season. The former Boise State star tied for fourth and was in contention until a double-bogey on the 17th hole in the final round, but he still made $391,000. Merritt also tied for fourth last April at the Valero Texas Open.


The Idaho Steelheads, with a commanding 16-point lead over the Wichita Thunder in the ECHL Mountain Division, hit the road for a three-game series against the last-place Tulsa Oilers beginning tonight. The Steelheads, now 32-7-1, are getting tremendous contributions both on the ice and behind the bench from captain A.J. White, who was named a player/assistant coach before the season by coach Everett Sheen. White, in his seventh professional season and his fifth with the Steelheads, is successfully transitioning to the coaching world without leaving the stat sheet behind. He scored his 100th pro goal last Saturday in the Steelies’ 3-1 win over Wichita.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…February 1, 1995:

In a 129-88 triumph over Denver, Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton sets the all-time NBA record for assists. Fittingly, it came on a pass to Karl Malone — Stockton’s 11th assist of the game (he would have 16 that night). The Gonzaga product broke Magic Johnson’s standard of 9,921 — at that point he had played 14 fewer career games than Johnson in eclipsing the record. Five more have passed Magic since: Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson and LeBron James. Stockton finished his career with an incredible 15,806 assists.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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