A wellness check on Bronco hoops

Wellness check—meaning, what does Boise State’s 76-52 rout of Air Force mean going into the final three games of the regular season? What kind of a bounce-back was it from the Broncos’ two-game losing streak? These are the same Falcons that had scored 100 points against New Mexico the previous weekend and had lost by just eight points at UNLV last Wednesday. In Taco Bell Arena Saturday, Air Force didn’t so much as hit the 30-point mark until less than 12 minutes remained in the game. Boise State was locked in defensively, and that’s definitely a good sign moving forward. The Broncos also rained 14 three-pointers on the Academy, but we don’t really know what that means. They’ve been so wildly inconsistent from three-point range. They’re like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.

Let’s delve more deeply into the Boise State three-point performance. Going 8-for-47 in two games against Nevada could have gotten into the Broncos’ heads, but they were undeterred and continued to let it fly against Air Force. Boise State didn’t put up a three until four minutes had elapsed, and Chris Sengfelder’s shot was, shall we say, off to the left. But the rest of the day, the Broncos were 14-for-27 (Sengfelder missed only one other try from deep). The guy who really had to get going again—just in time for a homecoming tomorrow night at Colorado State—was Justinian Jessup. The hot-and-cold sophomore went 5-for-8 on three-point attempts against the Falcons. He went 1-for-8 in Boise State’s first game against CSU, the 93-71 win in Taco Bell Arena back on December 27.

Boise State fans—or at least one bad apple—rightfully took some grief for the “I hope it’s broke” comment directed at Nevada’s Lindsey Drew last Wednesday as he was being helped off the floor in Taco Bell Arena. Well, that script was flipped when fans gave Air Force players a prolonged ovation saluting their service before the national anthem Saturday. “It was an honor,” Air Force sophomore Lavelle Scottie said in the Colorado Springs Gazette. “We don’t really get that going into other places. It’s the first time actually this year that has happened to us. It was just an honor to be in the presence of people who respect us and wish the best for us and support us and what we do off the court.”

Tracking Boise State’s “Iron Men of the Week” during winter conditioning has been a good way of identifying players ready to make a—or, in some cases, another—leap in 2018. The Week 4 honorees were defensive tackle Sonatane Lui and tight end John Bates. Lui is poised for a breakout junior year after recording 18 tackles and two fumble recoveries last season. Bates is a player to watch this year. He had only three catches for 34 yards last fall, but all of it came in the Broncos’ two games against Fresno State as he filled in for hobbled star Jake Roh. The Iron Men in Week 5 were defensive end Jabril Frazier and offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland. Frazier’s coming off his most consistent year as a Bronco, with one more to go. Cleveland settled in at left tackle as a redshirt freshman. Talk about a bright future.

This is an interesting time in BYU’s athletic history. The Cougars were 4-9 in football last season, and with the gap between the Power 5 and Group of 5 ballooning, it’s a bad time for BYU’s aspirations of joining that first group. Coach Kilani Sitake has gutted his staff, and after a dismal recruiting class (at least in terms of national ranking), recruiting coordinator Tevita Ofahengaue announced via Twitter late last week he is no longer with the program. The Cougars post-National Letter of Intent Day class was rated No. 83 by 247Sports and No. 90 by Rivals.com. That’s down from No. 66 and No. 63, respectively, last year. Independence is hard enough to recruit to, with no championship at stake and no postseason honors to play for. Almost seven years after leaving the Mountain West, it looks like no-man’s land for BYU.

There are still Idaho ties to go as the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang enter the home stretch. Victor’s Breezy Johnson has earned a spot in the Women’s Downhill tonight (tomorrow, Korean time). Johnson made her Olympic debut last Saturday in the Super-G, finishing 14th. She was the second-fastest American behind Lindsay Vonn. Former Boise State sprinter Nick Cunningham and teammate Hakeem Abdul-Saboor wrapped up competition in the two-man bobsled early yesterday, recording a disappointing 22nd-place finish. Cunningham still has the four-man event ahead this weekend, when he’ll be joined by former Idaho sprinter Sam Michener.

Snowboarder Jessika Jenson of Rigby made Friday’s finals of the Women’s Big Air after nabbing the 12th and final qualifying spot over the weekend. And last but certainly not least as it pertains to Idaho is the gold medal game in women’s hockey, as the U.S. and Canada face off Thursday. Sun Valley’s Hilary Knight scored her first goal of these Olympics yesterday in the Americans’ 5-0 win over Finland in the semifinals. This will be Knight’s third try at gold—the Canadians won the previous two in Sochi and Vancouver (and in Torino and Salt Lake before Knight was around).

Idaho Steelheads are in the midst of a stretch of seven games in 11 days, President’s Day included. The last four are on the road, and the Steelheads kicked off that portion of the hectic slate with a 4-3 loss to Utah yesterday in West Valley City. Idaho started newcomer Carmine Guerriero in goal, but he was pulled in favor of Philippe Desrosiers midway through the game after yielding all four Grizzlies goals. The feature footnote from the Steelies’ two wins over Colorado during the weekend came between the pipes Friday night. As solid a season as Desrosiers has had, the 3-0 shutout of the Eagles was his first of the season. The Steelheads now head to Rapid City to begin a three-game series tomorrow night.

Campus catch-up after President’s Day weekend: Idaho has won six games in a row after dispatching first-place Montana in overtime Saturday, matching its longest conference streak in 36 years. The Vandals go to Pocatello to face Idaho State on Thursday. College of Idaho’s surprising loss to Oregon Tech Saturday may have been a good thing to get out of the Coyotes’ system. It ended the Yotes’ 14-game winning streak, but it doesn’t affect their status as the top seed in the Cascade Conference tournament starting tomorrow. And Boise State’s Riley Lupfer has her third Mountain West Women’s Player of the Week honor. The highlight of Lupfer’s week was a seven-pack of three-pointers in the Broncos’ win at Nevada last Wednesday. She now has exactly 100 treys this season as her school record continues to soar.

This Day In Sports…February 20, 1998, 20 years ago today:

At the age of 15, Tara Lipinski becomes the youngest Winter Olympics figure skating gold medalist in history when she wins the ladies singles competition at Nagano. Lipinski had finished second to Michelle Kwan in the short program but produced a flawless long program that was more than enough to overtake Kwan for the gold. It would be Lipinski’s only Olympics, as she would turn pro in April of that year. Her milestone would be eclipsed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics by Russia’s 15-year-old team gold medalist, Julia Lipnitskaya.

(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.)