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Boise State basketball: The narrative changes

When UNLV opened the game with a three-pointer 14 seconds into the game Thursday, would it be a “here we go again” moment for Boise State? No.
Credit: Isaac Brekken
The Boise State bench reacts during the second half of a Mountain West Conference tournament game against UNLV Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Las Vegas. Boise State defeated UNLV 67-61.

BOISE CITY, Okla. — Friday, March 6, 2020. 

Instead of being upset in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament like the past three years, Boise State upset somebody Thursday.  And it was the host school, as the Broncos avenged the pounding it took from UNLV the previous week in a 67-61 win over the Rebels.  RJ Williams, who fouled out versus UNLV the last time, scored 23 points with 15 rebounds.  Williams went for 15 points and 12 boards in the second half and delivered an all-timer of a bounce pass to Alex Hobbs for a layin with 25 seconds left.  This was just the tonic for a team that was staring at a disappointing end to the season.  Now, the Broncos have a 20-win campaign for the seventh time in the last eight years and move on to the MW semifinals tonight against San Diego State.  Big. 

There was a lot of talk after Boise State’s upset of UNLV about “packing the paint.”  That’s what it boiled down to.  The Rebels pillaged the Broncos with 42 points in the paint last week but could manage only 18 this time.  The Boise State defensive turnaround saw UNLV’s shooting percentage plummet from 51 percent to 32 percent in just over a week’s time, the lowest number by a Broncos opponent in two years.  Offensively, it was another day at the office for Justinian Jessup: 19 points, his 12th straight game with 15 or more.  Jessup hit Boise State’s only three three-pointers of the game and made all six of his free throws, including four pressure-packed ones in the final minute. 

THE ABILITY TO PLAY LOOSE 

Boise State has nothing to lose tonight in the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament against San Diego State.  The weight of pursuing their 20th win of the season is off the Broncos’ shoulders, and the Aztecs are wrapped up in trying to secure their 30th win.  Not much is expected of the Broncos versus the No. 5 team in the country—one that blitzed them twice earlier this season.  So, as coach Leon Rice would say, Boise State “can let the fur fly.”  Hey, the Broncos just beat the only team that beat SDSU this season.  It’s really hard to score points against the Aztecs; Boise State managed only 55 the last time it played them in ExtraMile Arena while losing by 17.  Key matchup: Williams against San Diego State’s Yanni Wetzell.  Williams scored only four points against the Aztecs on President’s Day weekend.

BACHMEIER’S LIST

Spring football opens tonight at Boise State with an open practice on the blue turf.  Coach Bryan Harsin gave a briefing on spring things Thursday.  Harsin confirmed that quarterback Chase Cord won’t be available as he rehabs his shoulder, ankle and knee issues.  So the next five weeks will be big for Hank Bachmeier.  I like Mike Prater’s tweeted synopsis: “Harsin on what he wants to see from Bachmeier this spring: Improved fundamentals, the way he carries the ball, footwork, delivery, accuracy, awareness/reads—and understanding why, decision-making, playing faster (mentally and physically).”  Uh, that’s all?  If Bachmeier can check all those boxes, he’ll be pretty darn good in 2020.

SAFETY SPOT STILL IN GOOD SHAPE

Life without D’Andre Pierce is here.  The Broncos will miss Pierce’s leadership and moxie, but they’re not without senior experience at safety.  Evan Tyler, thanks to multiple knee injuries, is in his sixth season with the program, and he has a chance to go out with a bang.  Tyler’s debut came all the way back in 2016, Brett Rypien’s sophomore year (for perspective’s sake), in the 45-10 win at Louisiana-Lafayette.  He made four tackles, including 1.5 for loss.  Don’t count him out.  Jordan Happle is also a senior now and has been a key role player the past three seasons.  Happle would like to top his current career highlight: the interception in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl win over Oregon.  He’s another guy with significant football smarts.

SHINY HOCKEY OBJECT AT CENTURYLINK ARENA

The timing is good for the 2020 Kelly Cup Tour stop in Boise.  The ECHL’s championship trophy will be on display Saturday night in CenturyLink Arena as the Idaho Steelheads wrap up their three-game series against the South Carolina Stingrays.  Both teams have legitimate dreams of the Cup.  The Steelheads have won seven games in a row, including the shutout of South Carolina Wednesday night.  They’ve now leapfogged Utah into second place in the ECHL Mountain Division.  The Stingrays still have the best record in the league at 43-12-4.  Steelies assistant coach Scott Burt is one of just six players to have their names engraved on the Kelly Cup three times.  Burt won titles with Idaho in 2004 and 2007 and picked up another with the Alaska Aces.

MORE GAMES ON GLENWOOD

Boise State baseball goes into a hectic stretch of seven games in six days beginning tonight versus Seattle University.  Fortunately, they’re all at home in Memorial Stadium.  The new Broncos have momentum after sweeping Northern Colorado in the first four home games in 40 years.  Boise State ace Travis Weston hopes to pick up where he left off in Game 1 against the Redhawks.  Weston threw seven shutout wins in the high-energy home opener a week ago.  Interestingly enough, it was against Seattle that the Broncos played their final games before the program was disbanded—a doubleheader sweep on May 9, 1980.

BIG SKY ON THE HORIZON

The women’s Big Sky Tournament is just three days away now at CenturyLink Arena.  The three first-round games will be played Monday, while both Idaho and Idaho State have byes into Tuesday’s quarterfinals.  That’s not the case on the men’s side.  The Bengals and Vandals have clinched the bottom two spots in the standings and will have first round games on Wednesday.  Idaho and ISU wrap up the regular season against each other Saturday night in Cowan Spectrum.  The Vandals are 3-16 in conference and 7-23 overall after a 72-64 home loss to Weber State Thursday night.  The Bengals are 4-15 in league and 7-21 overall after falling 100-75 at Eastern Washington.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…March 6, 2000, 20 years ago today: 

The highest-scoring game in the NBA career of Shaquille O’Neal, who put up 61 points and pulled down 23 rebounds in the L.A. Lakers’ 123-103 win over the L.A. Clippers.  And Shaq did it on his 28th birthday (that means he’s 48 years old today).  O’Neal was in his fourth season with the Lakers and would be named NBA Most Valuable Player and win his first NBA championship—and the Lakers repeated the following two seasons.

(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.)