3-0 in the MW, any way you slice it

You had to watch the Boise State-Fresno State game to understand it. If people simply checked out the box score of the Boise State-Fresno State game, they’d think, “Hmmm, 81-70, nice win by the Broncos, 50 percent shooting, 25 points from James Webb III, the train kept a-rollin’.” But you had to watch this one to understand it. Boise State could not have played much better in the first half, shooting 67 percent from the field and building a 19-point lead at the break. But then came the second half, when, after upping the margin to 21 points with just over 14 minutes left, the Broncos started tailspinning while the Bulldogs got hot. We’re talking 31 percent from the field, including a 1-for-14 nightmare from three-point range. While Boise State was missing 11 free throws in the final 6:09, Fresno State got the margin down to three points. A defensive clamp-down was the Broncos’ saving grace at the end.

It was surprising that Boise State didn’t dance with who brung ‘em in that weird second half against Fresno State. Instead of driving the hoop and crashing the boards, the Broncos started launching liberally from three-point land. That’s not exactly who they are this season. Maybe the Bulldogs suckered them into it, because there were lots of open looks. But you had Nick Duncan missing four treys and Webb, Mikey Thomson and Lonnie Jackson striking out on a pair apiece. The only successful three-pointer in the second half came from the guy who needed it most, Anthony Drmic, but he missed three others. Boise State is as good around the rim as it’s ever been—expect that to come to the fore again Wednesday at Nevada.

Boise State’s streaks may look like they’re teetering at times, but they’re impressive nonetheless. Since falling to Arizona 68-59 at the Wooden Classic on Thanksgiving weekend, the Broncos have won nine games in a row, equaling their longest streak in 24 years. The record is 10 straight in 1987-88, still arguably their best season ever. Boise State will aim for that mark in Reno. The Broncos also have their second-longest home winning streak in school history, as the win over Fresno State was their 17th straight in Taco Bell Arena, two short of the mark set from 1997-99.

The most significant score in the Mountain West Saturday was Wyoming 59, UNLV 57. Because that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Rebels. UNLV has fired coach Dave Rice (officially, he “resigned”) after an 0-3 conference start marked by meltdowns. Rice has lost the deep-pocketed portion of the fan base in Las Vegas, where hoops are king. He was 51-19 with two NCAA Tournament appearances in his first two seasons but has gone just 47-35—and 18-21 in Mountain West play—since. Assistant Todd Simon will take over on an interim basis.

In this case, the ties that bind for Pete Kwiatkowski go back to the Boise State coaching staff in 2006. That’s when Chris Petersen hired Kwiatkowski to be defensive line coach, eventually promoting him to defensive coordinator in 2010. Kwiatkowski followed Petersen to Washington two years ago. Oregon put out feelers last week to gauge Kwiatkowski’s interest in moving down I-5 to become D-coordinator for the Ducks, but his bond with Coach Pete is strong and will keep him in Seattle in 2016. Despite losing three All-Americans off their 2014 unit, the Huskies led the Pac-12 in total defense and scoring defense this season. Kwiatkowski’s rejection appears to leave the guy he replaced at BSU, Justin Wilcox, in the mix for the DC post at Oregon.

George Iloka and Jeron Johnson have seen their NFL seasons come to an end after Wild Card Weekend. Johnson didn’t have much of a role in Washington’s 35-18 loss to Green Bay (maybe it should have been larger, all things considered). Iloka had a good game in Cincinnati’s wrenching 18-16 loss to Pittsburgh, recording five tackles, one for loss, and a fumble recovery. But his defensive teammates, Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones, handed the Steelers the game with personal fouls on the same play with 22 seconds left. It’s not like Iloka has ever been surprised by Burfict’s conduct, having been aware of his troubles in the weeks leading up to the 2011 Las Vegas Bowl when Iloka played for Boise State and Burfict for Arizona State.

Doug Martin is headed to his second Pro Bowl at the end of the month, but the AP first-team All-Pro honor he earned Friday was his first. The former Boise State star is only the second All-Pro running back in Tampa Bay history—and the first since James Wilder 31 years ago. Martin was second to Adrian Peterson in NFL rushing this season with 1,402 yards, but he was tops in the league with 650 yards after contact and 14 gains of 20 or more yards. The only oddity of Martin’s season was that he scored only six rushing touchdowns. He also caught 33 passes for 271 yards and one TD.

Troy Merritt’s new year started nicely at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua on Maui. After struggling to a 75 in the opening round, Merritt got off the mat with a five-under 68 on Friday. Then the former Boise State star shot 70-67 over the weekend, finishing in a tie for 18th at 12-under par and winning $90,000. It may have been just a 32-player field, but it was a great field, so give Merritt credit for a top 25 finish. Hey, he was only 18 shots behind Jordan Spieth.

The Utah Grizzlies figured out Idaho Steelheads goalie Jack Campbell in a 3-1 victory Saturday night, but that doesn’t diminish what happened the night before. On Friday at Utah, Campbell posted his second straight 1-0 shutout. I can’t imagine that has ever happened in Steelheads history. The Grizzlies entered the game as not only the ECHL West Division leader, but also the top team in the league in scoring at 3.28 goals per game. Campbell had his one-goal lead for most of the game Friday—Jefferson Dahl scored just two minutes and 20 seconds into the game on a power play goal, and Campbell and the Steelies’ defense made it stand up.

The Idaho Stampede earned a split at the D-League Showcase in Santa Cruz, holding off Fort Wayne on Saturday, 98-92. J.J. O’Brien and Bryce Dejean-Jones led the way with 22 points apiece, while Pierre Jackson marked his return to the Stampede with six points in 11 minutes. NBA scouts and executives got a good look at Jeff Ayres’ rebounding—he pulled down 10 boards in each game at the Showcase. O’Brien, the former San Diego State standout, got to go for a bit on Saturday against old Aztecs teammate Xavier Thames, who scored 10 points for Fort Wayne.

This Day In Sports…January 11, 1983:

Fickle New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hires Billy Martin as manager for the third time, saying, “I think this will be for a long time.” He would again fire Martin from baseball’s most perilous job on December 16 of that year. However, Steinbrenner’s revolving door continued to turn, and Martin would be back twice more as Yankees manager before the decade was over.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)