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Boise State basketball: Early litmus test ahead

A year ago right now, Nevada was the Mountain West men’s hoops heavyweight. Now Boise State gets to see if the playing field has leveled.
Credit: Marco Garcia
Boise State's Derrick Alston and Georgia Tech's Khalid Moore fight for a loose ball during the Diamond Head Classic Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Honolulu. Georgia Tech won 74-60.

BOISE, Idaho — Friday, January 3, 2020.  

Certainly the Boise State men weren’t looking ahead on New Year’s Day.  Now they can, and they’d best not look back on their plodding 65-54 win over Wyoming.  The Broncos get a good idea of where they are in the Mountain West picture Saturday when they visit Nevada.  The Wolf Pack is 2-0 in conference play, which sounds about right based on the past couple of years.  But this Pack is all new, with former New Mexico and UCLA coach Steve Alford now calling the shots for a team that doesn’t have twins Cody and Caleb Martin nor Jordan Caroline anymore.  Nevada beat Colorado State 67-61 Wednesday night behind 20 points from Jalen Harris, who represents the next wave of Wolf Pack Division I transfers.  Harris started his career with Louisiana Tech. 

D.A. UNCHARACTERISTICALLY M.I.A. 

Boise State will have to have its best player on point Saturday in Reno.  Make that “on points.”  Derrick Alston had a rough night against Wyoming.  It was a bad omen for Alston when he was whistled for a foul just 17 seconds into the game.  Foul trouble dogged him from there.  He scored the Broncos’ first two points on free throws but didn’t hit a field goal until 6½ minutes remained in the game.  And that was it—four points—his lowest output since a two-point night at Fresno State last February.  Alston’s teammates did just enough to compensate against the methodical Cowboys, Justinian Jessup in particular.  Jessup led the Broncos with 20 points and connected on their only three makes from three-point range. 

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THERE ARE NOW OFFICIAL RENDERINGS

We don’t know how much Bryan Harsin’s recent strong hints that plans for Albertsons Stadium’s east side renovation need to get off the ground influenced this, but Boise State intends to move forward with them.  The university announced Thursday that there’ll be an exterior facelift, expanded concourse, upgraded amenities (read: bathrooms), premium seating, a brand-new academic center and a dedicated home for BroncoLife.  The premium seating will include loge boxes and club seats in a reconfigured lower deck.  There’s no timeline until “necessary revenue streams” are generated.  If they were able to break ground after the final game of next season, it could conceivably be ready for the 2021 campaign.

RELATED: Boise State announces plans to remodel the east side of Albertsons Stadium

FORECAST: SUNNY…AND HISTORIC? 

The weather forecast has improved to the point that it’s supposed to be sunny and 49 today for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl between Nevada and Ohio.  In my mind, that’s the best it has been since it hit 50 for Idaho and Southern Miss in 1998.  This is only the second time in the bowl’s 23-year history the game has been played in January.  The other time produced some bowl history.  Sixteen years ago, Georgia Tech’s P.J. Daniels rushed for 307 yards, still the most ever in a bowl game, in a 52-10 Yellowjackets rout of Tulsa.  The first time Ohio played in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl also made history.  Utah State led the Bobcats the entire way—until 13 seconds remained in the game.  That’s when Bobcats quarterback Tyler Tettleton ran in a four-yard keeper to give Ohio a 24-23 win, its first bowl victory ever. 

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl’s confluence of events does not favor Nevada today.  There’s a reason Ohio is favored by a touchdown.  The Wolf Pack’s topsy-turvy season resulted in coach Jay Norvell firing three defensive coaches, and three replacements are on the staff for today’s game on the blue turf.  The Pack is also without three defensive players (with a fourth missing today’s first half) after they were suspended by the Mountain West for their roles in the brawl at the end of the season finale against UNLV.  Bad timing for the Nevada defense, as the Bobcats finished the regular season by topping 600 yards of total offense in each of their final two games and scoring a combined 118 points.  

RELATED: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Game Day Guide: Ohio Bobcats vs. Nevada Wolfpack

AWAITING WORD ON MR. MOORE 

After a series of meetings in Dallas, a conclusion has reportedly been reached. The Cowboys are indeed parting ways with coach Jason Garrett.  So the “Kellen Watch” resumes—what will happen to the Dallas offensive coordinator?  Mike Vorel of the Seattle Times tabbed Kellen Moore Thursday as the “frontrunner” for Washington’s O-coordinator post, thinking he’ll be tempted to leave the NFL and replace his former backup quarterback at Boise State, Bush Hamdan.  I still think that’s a long shot.  The longer this has taken to sink in, the more it seems Moore is destined to stay in the NFL.  It’s a life he’s lived for eight years now—six as a player and two as a coach. 

RELATED: Kellen Moore: Ah, to be a fly on the wall

MATTISON MOVES BACK IN 

We haven’t seen former Boise State star Alexander Mattison since his hurdle of two Detroit Lions four weeks ago went viral following a 20-7 Minnesota victory.  Mattison missed the final three games of the regular season with an ankle injury, but he returned to full practice drills on Wednesday and is expected to make his NFL Playoffs debut for the Vikings at New Orleans Sunday.  Reportedly, starting running back Dalvin Cook will also return from his shoulder injury, so the dynamic of this Wild Card weekend matchup could change.  Mattison played 15.4 snaps per game over his 13 appearances during his rookie season, finishing with 100 carries for 462 yards and a touchdown and 10 receptions for 82 yards on 12 targets. 

NO NEW YEAR’S REST 

This might be the most challenging weekend of the season for the Idaho Steelheads.  They start the new year with three games in three days, all on the road.  The series against the Tulsa Oilers opens tonight.  If the Steelheads have the stamina, they’d like defense and goaltending to play a key role in Oklahoma.  The Steelies have limited opponents to two goals or less in five of their last eight games.  But the last two games of 2019 did not fit that mold.  While splitting decisions with Allen—a 5-2 loss at home and a 6-5 overtime win on the road—Idaho netminders allowed 10 goals on just 41 shots.

COYOTES DRAW A CROWD IN CALDWELL

Back to the basketball court: The College of Idaho men, fifth-ranked in NAIA Division II, have been off for 13 days.  The Coyotes return to Cascade Conference action at home tonight against Corban and tomorrow night versus Northwest Christian.  When we left off, the Yotes were 11-3 and were riding a five-game winning streak.  C of I was also averaging 1,413 fans per game in the J.A. Albertson Activities Center and is rightfully proud of that number.  The Yotes average more fans than 117 NCAA Division I teams, including Idaho (949) and Idaho State (879). 

UNFAMILIAR FEELING FOR BRONCO WOMEN 

The Boise State women have to stare down some adversity now, as they host Nevada Saturday after letting a lead slip away at Wyoming on New Year’s evening in a 73-68 loss.  Coach Gordy Presnell would make no excuses even though he had some at his fingertips, such as trying to operate at 7,220 feet after a 10-day layoff—and a nerve-wracking, wind-whipped bus ride into Laramie.  The Broncos led by 15 points in the second quarter and by six at the end of the third, but they shot just 4-for-16 in the fourth quarter.  "Whether that is a character flaw right now, or if that is fatigue, whatever it was we quit setting screens, we got beat off the dribble, we missed layups,” said Presnell.  “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  We gotta learn from it and get better or it’s gonna be a tough year.” 

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…January 3, 1920, 100 years ago today:

Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, needing quick cash to continue producing his Broadway plays, sells Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 and a $300,000 loan.  The BoSox had won five of the sixteen World Series held before the deal—and didn’t win another until 2004.  The Yankees turned The Babe into a position player, and he changed baseball forever in his first season—socking an unthinkable 54 home runs (more than the total of most major league teams).

(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.)