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Boise State basketball: RJ’s upward climb in conference

One of the factors in Boise State’s first-ever 20-loss season last year was RJ Williams’ struggles in Mountain West play. That’s in the past now.

BOISE, Idaho — Tuesday, February 25, 2020.

As RJ Williams’ two-year Boise State career winds down, one of the stories that needs to be told is of his improvement in Mountain West play this year.  Last season, Williams got off to a solid start in non-conference play, averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds.  But in conference action last winter, he slipped to 6.3 points and 2.6 boards per game.  In the Mountain West this season, Williams is up to 11.1 points and an impressive 8.2 rebounds per outing.  He is, of course, coming off his 27-point, 17-board performance on Senior Day versus New Mexico.  And Williams’ improvement at the free throw line has made a big difference—from 62 percent in MW action a year ago to 75 percent this season.  All hail RJ.

UPS AND DOWNS AT THE TURNSTILES

There’s been some consternation over the crowd at Boise State’s Senior Day win over New Mexico Sunday.  Attendance was 5,809.  Could have been partly because it was such a nice day before the wind warnings came in.  Still below expectations, though.  It got me to thinking.  I was reading a Seattle Times story on new football coach Nick Rolovich’s first day on campus at Washington State a while back.  He and his wife attended the Cougars’ 70-61 basketball upset of No. 8 Oregon that evening in Beasley Coliseum.  “Rolovich pumped his fist whenever the Cougars got a defensive stop, he rose to his feet when they buried a three-pointer and, most of all, he blended in with the crowd of 3,082 like he was just another fan,” wrote Theo Lawson.  Wait—3,082?  For the No. 8 team in the country?  It’s all relative. 

RELATED: Boise State basketball: Senior of the Day on Senior Day

AZTECS CATCH A BREAK IN THE POLLS 

San Diego State didn’t pay too much of a penalty in the rankings for seeing its undefeated season torpedoed Saturday night.  The Aztecs dropped just one spot in both polls Monday after their 66-63 loss to UNLV, which came into the game 14-14.  Voters cut San Diego State some slack.  Should the NCAA Tournament committee take stock in the rankings, some would say SDSU is in a better position as a second seed in the NCAA Tournament, allowing them to avoid being shipped back East as a No. 1.  The Aztecs are right back in action tonight—and probably champing at the bit—hosting Colorado State in Viejas Arena.  An SDSU win guarantees Boise State a top five seed and a first-round bye in the Mountain West Tournament. 

RELATED: Boise State basketball: Senior Day already?

REFLECTING ON NOVEMBER 20 

Is there any doubt now that Boise State’s best win of the season was the 72-68 overtime victory over BYU in ExtraMile Arena back in November?  It was the Cougars who topped Gonzaga 91-78 Saturday night in Provo, and they’ve jumped to No. 17 in the AP Poll and No. 18 in the Coaches Poll.  True, BYU was without Yoeli Childs against the Broncos, but it was a quality win nonetheless.  And hey, Boise State didn’t have Abu Kigab available yet (not that he’s at Childs’ level, but he’s been a key addition).  One win does not a successful season make, though.  The next two weeks will tell the tale.

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SENIOR NIGHT ANNIHILATION

UNLV tried to stay with the Boise State women Monday on Senior Night in ExtraMile Arena, but it wasn’t to be.  The seniors went off, and the Broncos riddled the Rebels 81-52.  A’Shanti Coleman’s final home game marked her third straight 20-point performance—she matched her career-high with 22.  Coleman also pulled down 10 rebounds.  The other senior hot hand belonged to Riley Lupfer, whose 18 points included five more three-pointers.  Feeding the shooters, as usual, was Jayde Christopher with eight more assists.  With the victory, Boise State has clinched the No. 2 seed next week in the Mountain West Tournament.  The Broncos have won five games in a row and seven of their last eight.

CALHOUN STILL IN CHARGE IN COLORADO SPRINGS 

Boise State will have the pleasure of meeting Troy Calhoun again when the Broncos visit Air Force this fall.  Late last week Calhoun was mentioned as one of two finalists for the Colorado head coaching job (the other was former Wisconsin and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema).  But CU legend Eric Bieniemy and one-time USC and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian entered the conversation.  In the end, the Buffaloes settled on Karl Dorrell, the former UCLA coach who was on the Colorado staff two different times in the 1990’s.  Dorrell has spent the last five seasons as an assistant in the NFL.  Calhoun, meanwhile, has taken the Falcons to 10 bowl games in his 13 seasons, and famously beat the Broncos three straight times from 2014-16. 

RELATED: Boise State basketball: The need to pay attention

HIGHTOWER ON THE SCALES

The national story is that former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow’s hands measured only nine inches Monday at the NFL Combine.  The local story is that Boise State product John Hightower weighed in at 189 pounds, 17 pounds heavier than the 172 that showed on the official Broncos roster last season.  We can only assume that Hightower put the weight on in the right places.  Today it’ll be the offensive line’s turn to go through the “Underwear Olympics,” as measurements will be taken on former Broncos offensive linemen Ezra Cleveland and John Molchon.

JW III AND HIS FELLOW AMERICANS

James Webb III got good minutes off the bench for Team USA in a pair of 2020 FIBA AmeriCup Qualifying victories over Puerto Rico.  The Americans won 83-70 in San Juan last Thursday, with the former Boise State star logging 14 minutes and recording 13 points and four rebounds.  Team USA then raced past the Puerto Ricans 95-73 Sunday in Washington, D.C.  Webb was held to three points while going 0-for-6 from the field, but he pulled down 10 rebounds.  The series goes on hiatus until November, when the U.S. team will take on the Bahamas. 

RELATED: Kobe, Gianna Bryant honored with public memorial at Staples Center

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…February 25, 2010, 10 years ago today: 

Boise’s Jeret “Speedy” Peterson lands his famed Hurricane jump and wins a silver medal in the men’s aerials at the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Peterson had missed landing the Hurricane at Torino four years earlier, finishing seventh.  He was then sent home by the U.S. team after a drunken fight with a close friend.  Peterson’s life took many difficult turns after that, leading to a hiatus from competitive skiing.  But Speedy quit drinking, returned to the World Cup circuit, and made the U.S. squad for the Vancouver Games.  Then he stuck a jump with the highest degree of difficulty in Olympic aerials history.  Peterson’s story would end tragically exactly 17 months later, though, when he took his own life.

(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.)