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Boise State basketball: Just like old times, unfortunately

The departure of Eric Musselman hasn’t changed the handle the Nevada basketball program has on Boise State. It was a long afternoon in Reno.
Credit: Isaac Brekken
The Nevada bench reacts after Jazz Johnson sunk a 3-point shot during a Mountain West Tournament game against Boise State Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Las Vegas. Nevada won 77-69.

BOISE, Idaho — Monday, January 6, 2020. 

The Nevada Wolf Pack did not come back to the pack Saturday.  Pun intended.  That Pack beat Boise State for the eighth consecutive time, winning 83-66 in Reno.  Yes, Jazz Johnson was unconscious, scoring 34 points with an 8-for-12 day from beyond the arc.  And Nevada’s 14 total treys equaled the most by a Broncos opponent in the Leon Rice era.  But it was all too familiar.  The Wolf Pack won by 20 points last year in Lawlor Events Center and drained 13 three-pointers.  At the other end, it looked like Boise State would be off and running when Justinian Jessup canned two early three-pointers to tie Anthony Drmic’s school career record of 275.  But the faucet turned off—Jessup did not make a basket after halftime. 

Boise State answered Nevada’s three-point assault by going an anemic 5-for-26 from deep.  Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford attributed the Broncos’ cold hand to his team’s perimeter defense.  “We’ve got to be top 10 in the country in 3-point percentage defense," Alford said.  (They are, sitting at No. 9, allowing just 26 percent of opponents treys to connect.)  "That was 40 minutes of, we had energy, we had enthusiasm, and that was good,” added Alford.  “And it was great to see, because we beat a really good team that was playing at a high level, that was senior-laden."  That senior-laden leadership now has to pull the Broncos up by their bootstraps. 

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KELLEN’S STOCK STILL STRONG? 

It was a foregone conclusion, but it didn’t happen until Sunday.  The Cowboys will not renew coach Jason Garrett’s contract.  And breaking news this morning says Mike McCarthy has been hired to replace Garrett.  Opinions that count in Dallas are advocating for the team to keep offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.  Level heads note that the former Boise State great, in his first season as O-coordinator, crafted an attack that led the NFL in total offense (431.5 yards per game).  The Cowboys also ranked second in passing offense, second in completions of 40 yards or more, tied for second in third-down conversions, fifth in rushing offense and sixth in scoring offense (27.1 points per game).  That last number was a problem—431.5 yards per game should produce more points.  But overall it was a stellar debut for Kellen. 

THE BRONCOS’ MOST DRAFTABLE TRIO 

Following up on my Sunday Sports Extra segment last night, it’s likely Boise State will have three players selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.  Curtis Weaver and Ezra Cleveland are layups, and I’d be very surprised if John Hightower doesn’t join them.  He has the height, speed, hands and playmaking ability the NFL covets.  Hightower ended with 82 receptions for 1,447 yards and 14 touchdowns in just two seasons.  In an offense without as many weapons as Boise State, he could have had half-again more.  Hightower’s 17.6 yards per catch in his career were the seventh-most in Broncos history.  He also rushed for 317 yards and two TDs, and his 88-yard scoring dash at Nevada last year is tied for the longest run from scrimmage ever by a Bronco. 

RELATED: Boise State STUD Curtis Weaver is officially NFL-bound

RELATED: Boise State OL Ezra Cleveland declares for the NFL Draft, will forego his senior season

PACK FOOTBALL FALLS SHORT 

Nevada’s missing persons on defense—both on the field and in the coaches box—probably had something to do with Ohio rushing for 285 yards on the way to a 30-21 win Friday in the 23rd Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.  But the Bobcats were a deserving winner.  OU’s Nathan Rourke was the first quarterback ever to rush for 100 yards in the bowl, until he wasn’t.  Rourke had 105 yards at the end of the third quarter but fell below the threshold early in the fourth on a fumbled pitch and ended up with 87 yards on the ground.  It didn’t matter, as Rourke was the game’s MVP after directing a Bobcats attack that controlled the contest.  It was Ohio’s school-record third straight bowl victory. 

RELATED: Ohio beats Nevada 30-21 in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

ABSENTEE FANS 

The sun was out, and the temperature hit 50.  It was a perfect day for football in January, but the announced attendance for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was 13,611, the lowest number in the game’s history.  It didn’t look very good on TV.  But (cliché alert), it is what it is.  Nevada and Ohio supported the game as well as could be expected for a lower-tier bowl game.  There were actually more Wolf Pack fans than I thought there would be.  But there was clearly a lack of locals.  Boise is an event town, not a sports town.  The bowl is on solid ground, though, with good leadership, ESPN Events ownership and a strong title sponsor, the Idaho Potato Commission. 

STEELIES 1-FOR-3 IN THE NEW YEAR

The trip from Boise to Tulsa is technically southeast, but it went south to start the weekend for the Idaho Steelheads.  Tulsa rocked the Steelheads 4-1 Friday night and rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win 3-2 Saturday night.  But the Steelies salvaged a victory in the series Sunday with late-game heroics from newcomer Matt Ustaski.  The well-traveled forward broke a 1-1 deadlock on a goal with just 2½ minutes left in regulation, providing the ultimate game-winner.  Colton Saucerman added an empty-netter with just over a minute remaining to finish a 3-1 victory.  The Steelheads have now passed the halfway point of the 2019-20 season. 

FINISHING AROUND THE BASKET 

Usually when you shoot 23 percent in the first half and have 17 points at the intermission—and trail by six—it does not bode well for the win-loss column.  But the Boise State women made things even more miserable for Nevada in the second half Saturday in ExtraMile Arena.  The Broncos outscored the Wolf Pack 37-17 and limited the visitors to 7-for-33 shooting after the break, stifling the Pack in a 54-40 victory before a season-high 2,212 fans.  Nevada missed its final nine shots and didn’t score over the last five minutes of the game.  It was one of the best defensive performances in Gordy Presnell’s 15 years as head coach. 

The College of Idaho men are rolling like they always seem to do this time of year.  The Coyotes rallied from a 17-point first half deficit Friday night against Corban, shooting 61 percent in the second half and winning 77-67.  The Yotes followed with a 73-61 victory over Northwest Christian on Saturday, with Ivory Miles-Williams coming off the bench to score 29 points.  C of I has won seven games in a row. 

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…January 6, 1995, 25 years ago today:

With Atlanta’s 112-90 win over Washington, Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens becomes the NBA’s all-time leader in regular season victories to date.  His 939th win topped the mark set by Boston’s Red Auerbach.  Late in the game, with the Hawks safely in command, Wilkens paid tribute to a legendary Auerbach tradition and lit up a victory cigar.  He ended up with 1,332 wins, three fewer than current career leader Don Nelson.  Wilkens was the coach who led the Seattle SuperSonics to their only NBA championship in 1979. 

(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.)