Going into Boise State’s game against Oregon 2½ weeks ago, I talked about the Broncos needing “all their turbines firing” to have any chance at an upset. They didn’t, and the Ducks won 62-50. Tonight No. 10 Nevada comes to town with a much stronger infrastructure than Oregon. So what does that say about the Broncos’ challenge this time? Their turbines have been a lot more consistent since the loss to the Ducks. If Alex Hobbs and Justinian Jessup can stay the course against the Wolf Pack, and Derrick Alston or Patrick Dembley can make a significant contribution, that leaves one wild card: RJ Williams. The junior college transfer with the high expectations has not hit double-figures the past four games. Williams was scoreless for the first 36 minutes at San Jose State. He’ll be needed tonight.
Games like this don’t come along very often in the City of Trees. Nevada, which stayed at No. 10 in the AP Poll Monday and rose one position to that spot in the Coaches Poll, will be only the sixth top 10 team ever to face Boise State at home. The Broncos are 0-5 in five previous games, but they have often played up in these situations. The only time they were blown out was 19 years ago versus Cincinnati 78-46. Boise State has lost three of these matchups by six points or less, falling to No. 5 San Diego State 67-65 in the latest one five years back. The other top 10 teams on the Broncos’ home court list: No. 9 Washington State, an 86-74 winner in 2007, No. 5 Wyoming, who won in the classic 55-51 game in 1987 before 12,265 fans, and No. 9 Idaho, who survived 83-77 in 1982 in old Bronco Gym.
Coach Leon Rice and Zach Haney were handing out free donut holes on campus yesterday, trying to entice students to fill The Corral tonight. Boise State reported in the afternoon that about 8,000 tickets “are out” for the Nevada game. That doesn’t mean the attendance will be 8,000, because that number includes 6,000 season tickets, and—believe it or not—a good chunk of those won’t show up. Isn’t an event like this the reason you buy season tickets? For the Broncos this season, it’s a chicken-and-egg thing. They’re still just 8-8 overall, and the bandwagon fans have been a tough sell.
Nevada is seasoned and deep at every position, with five senior starters. The tale may me told tonight on the boards, where Boise State has an advantage on paper. The Broncos rebounding margin per game is plus-3.2, while the Wolf Pack’s is plus-1.7. But Nevada has caught fire on the offensive glass, pulling down a whopping 17 offensive boards in its 74-64 win at Fresno State Saturday night and obliterating the Bulldogs in second-chance points 27-3. This is an effort and toughness category, and Boise State must have a handle on it tonight. On another note, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year acted like it at Save Mart Center—the Pack’s Caleb Martin scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS IN 2019?
Boise State made it official yesterday, announcing the transfer of 6-6 forward Abu Kigab from Oregon. Kigab, a Canadian who finished his high school career at Prolific Prep Academy in Napa, CA, was a four-star recruit when he committed to the Ducks. He played 10 games and started three this season at UO. Because Kigab left school at Christmas break, he’ll be able to play for the Broncos around the start of Mountain West play next winter, with a year and a half of eligibility remaining.
LOOKING FOR THAT GAME-CHANGING TOE
There was a “Go Broncos” tweet Sunday night from Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin. It is presumed Harsin was talking about a kicker accepting an invitation as a preferred walk-on. Kyler Sentkowski comes from College of the Siskiyous in Northern California. Sentkowski is a client of Chris Sailer at Chris Sailer Kicking, a firm that works with kickers and punters. Sailer might be biased, but says, “Kyle is a big time junior college kicking prospect. A great looking athlete with an explosive leg. Field goals are outstanding off the ground. He hits a pure ball and has 55+ yard range. Kickoffs are an area of major strength, D1 ready.” Bronco Nation is hoping like heck that’s all true. One other Boise State football note: linebacker Will Heffner, the Bishop Kelly grad, has left the program and intends to transfer.
SHRINE GOING FINE SO FAR FOR RYPIEN
East-West Shrine Game week has begun, with Boise State’s Brett Rypien slinging it during workouts yesterday in St. Petersburg. Draft analyst Kyle Crabbs tweeted, “*Whispers* Rypien throws the best ball here.” At The Athletic.com, Dane Brugler posted “Key NFL prospects to watch at each position.” His “quarterback with the most to gain” is Rypien. “With split opinions across the league on his pro future, Rypien has a chance to sway evaluators with his play at this scouting event,” wrote Brugler. “He has only average physical traits, but he stays poised and works through his reads and NFL coaches will love his intangibles.”
GIVING THE GROUP OF 5 ITS DUE
The Athletic.com, an increasingly popular bugle for national sports, has unveiled “The Athletic 130” for the end of the 2018 college football season. What’s different about this ranking of all the FBS schools is the attention it pays to the Group of 5. Chris Vannini puts UCF at No. 9. Then down the line in the top 25 there are six more Group of 5 schools: Fresno State at No. 17, Boise State No. 18, Army No. 19, Utah State No. 20, Cincinnati No. 22 and Appalachian State No. 24. That’s healthy representation, and it comes from a credible source.
PATIENCE IS THE POTION FOR HUTCHISON
KTIK’s Mike Prater was in Salt Lake City Saturday night to take in former Boise State star Chandler Hutchison’s game with the Bulls against the Utah Jazz. It was a lot better for Chicago than the 146-109 wipeout at Golden State the night before, as the Bulls fell 110-102. “I thought I came in and gave energy,” Hutchison told Prater. He went 4-for-7 from the field, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, and scored 11 points with seven rebounds. “The biggest thing I wanted to do was rebound and affect the game,” he said. As far as his lot in life as an NBA rookie goes, Hutchison was philosophical. “I understand that I’m a younger player,” he said. “Trust is earned, it’s not given. I’m not ‘entitled’ to be out there, and I understand that.”
This Day In Sports…brought to you by BBSI…partners in profitability!
January 15, 1967: The Green Bay Packers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10, in the first Super Bowl, called the AFL-NFL Championship Game. The unlikely hero was veteran Packers receiver Max McGee, who had caught only four passes all season but on this day had seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first official game between the two leagues and was telecast by both CBS (which held the NFL rights) and NBC (which had the AFL).
(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.)