Boise State coach Leon Rice’s pledge to walk on water, er, across the Boise River if the Broncos fill Taco Bell Arena against San Diego State tomorrow night bring us to this. There hasn’t been a crowd of 10,000-plus in the facility in two years, since the Aztecs visited in 2016. There have been nine games that have topped 10,000 in the Rice era, four of them during the 2012-13 season. The largest was during his first year—Boise State’s final campaign in the WAC—when 12,193 turned out for a 69-63 win over Idaho. Moving forward this season? This Bronco team is better than any of those preceding it during the Rice years, and it’s led by a bonafide star, Chandler Hutchison. The rapidly-rising attendance average for the Broncos this season is 5,058, and another bump is coming.
When I saw this week’s edition of the “Bilas Index” at ESPN.com, where Jay Bilas predicts all 68 NCAA Tournament teams and ranks them, I started at the bottom and started scrolling up. I kept scrolling until I got halfway through, finding Boise State at No. 34. The longtime college basketball analyst’s synopsis: “The Bilas Index is very bullish on the Broncos. Chandler Hutchison, the Broncos’ best player, will be known by all before the NCAA tournament is over. Hutchison is a gamer who just glides out there. The Bilastrator saw Hutchison play several times early in his career and didn’t see greatness. However, this kid is a great player. He has clearly retooled his shot, his feet are terrific and he is incredibly confident. Watch this kid. He is an NBA player.” Hopefully tomorrow night won’t do anything to change his opinion.
There are two areas of Boise State’s game that San Diego State will likely target tomorrow night. One is turnovers. The Broncos improved a bit in their win at Fresno State, turning the ball over 11 times after having coughed it up at least 15 times in their previous three games. The Aztecs work on turnovers through a commitment to a full-court press. They forced a combined 37 turnovers in their last two home victories over San Jose State and Utah State and converted them into 41 points. The other area of focus is Boise State’s shooting from beyond the arc. With opposing defenses ganging up around the three-point line, the Broncos have been able to capitalize inside. But they’d like to get the deep ball back after making only eight treys in 36 tries the past two games.
There are San Diego State guys who seem like they’ve been around forever—Malik Pope, Trey Kell and Jeremy Hensley, for example. But the sparkplug for the Aztecs right now is Jalen McDaniels, a true freshman from Federal Way, WA, who has double-doubles in three of the past five games. McDaniels was all over the floor in the 36-point rout of San Jose State Tuesday night, scoring 13 points with seven rebounds, a team-high four steals and two blocked shots. McDaniels’ breakout game came in the upset of Gonzaga last month—15 points, 10 rebounds and no turnovers in 28 minutes. “All that from a 6-10, 195-pounder,” writes Bryce Miller of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “A swaying sapling refusing to bend in the Mountain West winds.”
Wednesday night an Arizona fan website reported that former Boise State quarterback and offensive coordinator and current Western Kentucky coach Mike Sanford Jr. was a finalist for the open Arizona job. However, WKU athletic director Todd Stewart told reporters yesterday that Sanford is is sticking with the Hilltoppers. As a 35-year-old with strong West Coast ties, Sanford would have been an intriguing choice at UA. We’ll never know if Sanford would have kept Marcel Yates aboard had he been hired in Tucson. Yates is the Wildcats interim coach, and Sanford and Yates were the coordinators at Boise State under Bryan Harsin in 2014.
Jay Ajayi has been a lot more productive in Philadelphia than he was in Miami. More explosive, anyway. The Eagles need the former Boise State star to be all that as they host Atlanta tomorrow in the NFL Playoffs Divisional Round. Philly is the first No. 1 seed to be slotted as an underdog since the NFL began basing home-field advantage in the playoffs on regular-season records in 1975. “That’s what’s wrong with America, I guess,” cracked Ajayi when someone mentioned the historic betting line. He played seven regular-season games apiece for the Dolphins and Eagles, rushing for 465 yards for the former and 408 for the latter. But he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry with a long run of 21 yards for Miami—then gained 5.8 per tote and peeled off a 71-yard run with Philadelphia.
On the pro front: Eric Sweetman has broken the ice, so to speak, after scoring his first professional goal in the Idaho Steelheads’ 6-2 win over Kalamazoo Wednesday night. We’ll see where Sweetman can take it from here as the Steelheads and Wings resume their three-game series tonight in CenturyLink Arena. Cole Ully added two goals of his own in the first game—both he and Sweetman posted three-point nights. And Troy Merritt had trouble shaking off the holiday rust yesterday at the Sony Open in Hawaii. The Boise State product carded a three-over 73 in the first round and will need a miracle Friday at Waialae to make the cut.
On the campus cruise: the Boise State women’s gymnastics season began last night, with the 13th-ranked Broncos downing Southern Utah with a record opening night score of 196.225. Boise State’s Shani Remme was the winner on bars, beam, floor and in the all-around. BSU cross country standout Emily Venters will represent the United States at the 2018 Great Edinburgh XCountry International Challenge in Scotland tomorrow. Venters will be one of three collegiate athletes competing for the junior women’s team as the Americans seek to defend their team title. Venters is the Broncos’ No. 2 cross country runner behind Allie Ostrander. And Boise State hosts the Ed Jacoby Invitational today and tomorrow at the Ford Idaho Center indoor track in Nampa.
It’s a pivotal weekend for College of Idaho—specifically a pivotal Friday. The eighth-ranked Coyotes host 16th-ranked Warner Pacific tonight in a battle for first place in the Cascade Conference in Caldwell. “These are the two most athletic teams in the conference going against each other,” said Yotes coach Scott Garson yesterday on Idaho SportsTalk. C of I is home versus Multnomah tomorrow night. And the University of Idaho has a single game this week, on the road tonight at Eastern Washington. The Vandals are 10-6 overall and 2-2 in the Big Sky.
This Day In Sports…January 12, 1975:
The Pittsburgh Steelers win the first of their six Super Bowl titles iwith a 16-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. In a battle between the NFL’s two best defenses, the Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” outdueled the Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters,” holding Fran Tarkenton and company to 119 yards of total offense and recording the first safety in Super Bowl history. The game’s Most Valuable Player was Pittsburgh running back Franco Harris, who rushed for 158 yards.
(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.)