BOISE, Idaho — Thursday, February 18, 2021.
Can they do it again Friday? Well, Boise State will take this one for now. The Broncos rallied for a 79-70 win over Utah State Wednesday night in ExtraMile Arena to retake first place in the Mountain West. USU led by two at the half and twice took four-point leads in the second, with chances to build on them. But Boise State stayed the course and took the lead for good with 7:45 left on a RayJ Dennis three-pointer. There was a lot of playmaking going on. A key sequence with just over four minutes left came after the Aggies were called for a travel. Marcus Shaver Jr. converted a three-point play at the other end to put the Broncos up by seven. Utah State 7-footer Neemias Queta picked up his fourth foul on the play.
But oh that Queta. While Derrick Alston Jr. was producing another monster game for the Broncos with 26 points, Queta was pouring in a career-high 32. He picked up his first foul 14 seconds into the game, but he wasn’t whistled for another until late in the half, and in between, he was a dunkaholic. Mladen Armus did a good job against him early, but Queta ultimately asserted himself, scoring a career-high 32 points. When Armus was out with foul trouble, Queta mostly had his way against game but overmatched junior Lukas Milner. But Milner did contest two key Queta misses down the stretch (and he dropped in a huge layin with a minute and a half left in the game that gave Boise State an all-but-insurmountable eight-point advantage). I sense some double teams on the horizon Friday night.
THE ‘D’ AND THE FREEBIES
Two facets of Boise State’s game that had suffered breakdowns in recent weeks were solid in the win over Utah State. The Broncos looked like they had it going when they built a 20-12 lead midway through the first half, but the Aggies went on a 10-2 run to tie it. USU picked on the Boise State defense the rest of the half and led 39-37 at the break after shooting 51 percent. But the Broncos clamped down defensively in the second half and USU cooled. The Aggies made only three three-pointers all night. Maybe the energy from the 679 fans allowed in had something to do with it. They did their part. And there was this: Broncos didn’t leave points on the free throw line, going 15-for-17 at the stripe.
BOISE STATE’S CHEMISTRY MESH
Some of Boise State’s “super seniors” are meeting with the media this week, and one of them Wednesday was wide receiver C.T. Thomas. If you sense that there’s a rejuvenation inside the Broncos locker room, Thomas will reinforce that with his views on coach Andy Avalos. "He's a big time player's coach, every player in the locker room already loves him,” said Thomas. “He's always checking in on me, asking me how my daughter is doing, not even asking me about football."
The football is fine, too, though. How will it be playing for offensive coordinator Tim Plough? "If you're a receiver, you should be smiling from cheek to cheek,” Thomas said of the unabashed fan of the forward pass, newly arrived from UC Davis. Thomas was surprisingly quiet last season, making 20 catches for 347 yards and two touchdowns in seven games.
MALZAHN WILL BE UNFAZED
I found Andy Staples’ take on Gus Malzahn’s hiring at UCF interesting at The Athletic. Here it is in a nutshell from the veteran writer. He mentions this from Malzahn’s press conference: “’You’ve dealt with fanatic fans, obviously, at Auburn, but do you have a good grasp of the pressure cooker you’re walking into here?’ That was a real question asked Monday of Malzahn. In terms of fan/donor pressure, this is akin to asking someone who cooked at The French Laundry if he can handle the pressure of working the line at Chili’s. No, nothing about the fan pressure at UCF will bother Malzahn, because only a few jobs in sports—Tennessee football coach, Ohio State football coach, Alabama football coach, Lakers coach, Yankees manager—are in the same vicinity as Auburn when it comes to pressure.”
Then, however, Staples comes back the other way: “For Malzahn, this is a chance to prove he’s better than his ouster at Auburn suggests. His excitement for the job is palpable. He knows there aren’t many situations better positioned for success than UCF’s program right now. And that, not the expectations of the fans, is what will generate the real pressure. He’ll be expected to win in the same way he was expected to win at Auburn. The difference now is the playing field will be tilted far more in his favor.”
RELOADING VERSUS REBUILDING
As the season has progressed, it has become more of a rebuilding year than a reloading one for Boise State women’s basketball. After all, the team that has won four straight Mountain West tournament championships is working with 10 freshmen among its 13 active players. Hence the 10-7 overall record and 7-7 mark in conference. But it’ll be interesting to check in on players like Abby Muse and Alexis Mark three years from now. Muse is second in the Mountain West in blocked shots at 1.6 per game, and Mark would be second in field goal percentage if she had enough attempts. She’s hitting 48.6 percent from the field. The Broncos, meanwhile, look for consistency as they open a two-game series at Utah State tonight.
THIS DAY IN SPORTS…February 18, 2016, five years ago today:
Jared Allen posts a video of himself on a horse, riding off into the sunset. And with that, Allen retired after a stellar 12-year NFL career that saw him record 136 sacks, the ninth-most in league history, with Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago and Carolina. As an Idaho State senior in 2003, Allen was the Buck Buchanan Award winner as Division I-AA’s best defensive player before being drafted in the fourth round by the Chiefs. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and was NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
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