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Boise State basketball: Not a time for underdog-boosting

The Broncos continue to practice, hoping there’s more hoops to come while they watch the scoreboard. That’s life on the NIT bubble.
Credit: Isaac Brekken
The Boise State bench watches during the final moments of a Mountain West Tournament game against San Diego State, Friday, March 6, 2020, in Las Vegas. San Diego State won 81-68.

BOISE, Idaho — Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

We’ve been following the bouncing ball on the NIT as it pertains to Boise State.  It’s a 32-team field, and it’s tough to land an at-large spot.  About 20 or so will be available, and that will depend on what happens around the country this week.  A regular-season champion that gets knocked out of NCAA Tournament consideration in its conference tournament gets an automatic berth in the NIT.  So, even though it’s always more fun to root for the underdog in March, Bronco Nation needs the top seeds in those tourneys to win titles so they don’t swipe an NIT spot.  There were three such games last night, and Boise State theoretically benefitted, as regular-season champs Hofstra, Robert Morris and North Dakota State all punched their NCAA Tournament tickets.

VANDALS, BENGALS SET TO DEBUT DOWNTOWN 

Just about every conference other than the Mountain West is deciding things this week, and the Big Sky Men’s and Women’s Tournaments have taken over CenturyLink Arena.  The men’s event begins today, and Idaho and Idaho State have back-to-back first-round games this afternoon.  The 10th-seeded Vandals face Southern Utah and have an All-District VIII player they can hang their hats on.  Lapwai’s Trevon Allen was honored Tuesday with nine other regional standouts, including Player of the Year Sam Merrill of Utah State and Jalen Harris of Nevada.  Allen is averaging 21.1 points per game this season.  The 11th-seeded Bengals take on Northern Arizona. 

FOR THE VANDAL WOMEN, JUST A SCARE THIS TIME

On the women’s side, Idaho scored the first six points of the game against Portland State Tuesday night.  That would be the Vandals’ largest lead of the evening, but there would be no repeat of the Vikings’ stunning upset of U of I in last year’s tournament.  Despite going 1-for-17 from three-point range, Idaho squeezed out a 56-54 victory and will face Idaho State in tonight’s semifinals.  The Bengals defeated Southern Utah 70-63.  Northern Arizona and Montana State meet in the other semi.  MSU got past Northern Colorado 67-62 Tuesday behind 19 points from Mountain View grad Darian White.

YOTES YEARN FOR THE ULTIMATE RING

College of Idaho has made the past two semifinal rounds of the NAIA Division II Championships.  The quest for a third—and more—begins tonight when the top-seeded Coyotes face Northwestern of Iowa.  The Red Raiders aren’t just any No. 32 seed—they’re the host team (although their campus is 90 miles away from Sioux Falls, SD).  A win would send the Yotes into the second round on Friday against either Madonna of Michigan or Indiana University-Kokomo.  Having tasted the semis, C of I is determined to get all the way to the winner’s circle this year.  The Yotes certainly have the momentum, as they’ve won 24 games in a row. 

ANCHORS IN THE ‘BACKERS STABLE 

I hear a lot of concern about the linebacker position at Boise State this year.  I don’t necessarily share that sentiment.  Spring football won’t tell the tale, as Zeke Noa is still out while rehabbing his knee and wrist injuries, and Benton Wickersham is sidelined with a shoulder problem.  Noa has been out since the win over Air Force in Week 4 last season, but do not forget how good Noa was—and will be.  He already had 28 tackles and a sack at that point and will come back with around 239 pounds on his 5-11 frame.  Wickersham essentially replaced Noa for the final two-thirds of the 2019 season and piled up 63 tackles, with a sack, an interception, four pass breakups and a forced fumble.  The Broncos do have Riley Whimpey this spring, though.  Whimpey was still rehabbing a torn ACL during spring a year ago. 

C OF I FOOTBALL ALREADY DEEP FOR 2020 

College of Idaho spring football opened Monday, and the Coyotes have never had anything better to build on.  They’re coming off an epic undefeated regular season that took them all the way to the quarterfinals of the NAIA Playoffs.  The Yotes have a record 96 players out for spring ball, including five Division I mid-year transfers.  One is Allamar Alexander, who comes to Caldwell after a redshirt year at Boise State.  Alexander led Columbia High to the state 4A quarterfinals in 2018 while rushing for 2,147 yards and 31 touchdowns.  Seems like a fitting complement to C of I 1,000-yard rusher Nick Calzarretta. 

BRONCOS EVEN IT UP WITH NIAGARA

Boise State starter Stu Flesland got out of the gate with 6 1/3 shutout innings Tuesday night, leading the Broncos to a 7-1 win over Niagara at Memorial Stadium.  Wesley Harper finished the game and got the save—the Purple Eagles didn’t score until there were two outs in the ninth.  Boise State unleashed a balanced attack at the plate, with four different players collecting two hits apiece.  The rubber match of the three-game series is tonight, marking the end of the Broncos’ 11-game homestand.

HARWELL MISSES SOME BIG WEST WEIRDNESS

From the “whatever happened to” file, former Boise State guard Malek Harwell finished his college career at Cal Poly last week.  The Mustangs didn’t make the Big West Tournament, but—as much as he’d like to be playing—Harwell won’t be missing much.  The Big West is not allowing any “non-essential” people to attend the event this week at the Honda Center in Anaheim due to coronavirus cencerns.  That means no fans, no bands and no cheerleaders.  Harwell, a graduate transfer, averaged 7.5 points in 24 games for Cal Poly this season.  The Pocatello native finished the season with back-to-back 11-point games against Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara.  

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…March 11, 1995, 25 years ago today: 

Sun Valley legend Picabo Street wins her fourth straight World Cup downhill and fifth overall to become the first American woman to clinch a World Cup downhill season championship, a title she would repeat the following year.  Picabo had won a silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics at Lillehammer but had never won a World Cup race until that season.  The pinnacle of Picabo’s career would be her gold medal in the super G in the 1998 Winter Games at Nagano.

(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.)