Broncos attack, then coast

Was anyone comfortable when Boise State had an 18-point lead with 7½ minutes left in the game last night? Was anyone comfortable with 7½ minutes left in the game last night? Nick Duncan had just hit a layin to give Boise State an 18-point lead, its biggest of the game. Three minutes later, UNLV had the margin down to 11. But this time the Broncos had enough energy—and the Rebels’ gas gauge was down to reserve—and the home team won 81-69 in Taco Bell Arena. Boise State was favored by 8½ points against a UNLV team that brought only six scholarship players and two walk-ons due to a rash of injuries. The Broncos responded with aggressiveness, forcing 21 turnovers and pulling down 20 offensive rebounds, their most in more than three years.

Early on last night it looked like Boise State had lost its offensive mojo. The Broncos went through one of their dreaded lulls midway through the first half, watching the Rebels go on a 20-7 run while the threes were clanging and falling behind by eight points. BSU was just 5-for-21 from beyond the arc and shot 33 percent overall in the first 20 minutes. But Boise State ended the half on a 9-0 run of its own to lead 35-34 at halftime. It was an important win for the Broncos. Had the Rebels won, they’d have been half a game behind Boise State for the fifth and final bye in the Mountain West Tournament—and UNLV would have owned the tiebreaker with a season sweep. Instead, coupled with New Mexico’s 86-69 loss at Colorado State, the Broncos are tied for third with the Lobos for the moment.

We need a paragraph’s worth of player notes today. Anthony Drmic appears to have a second wind now that he’s coming off the bench. The senior led Boise State with 21 points last night and has now put up 51 in his last two games. Mikey Thompson, the most consistent Bronco this season, contributed 20 points. But then there’s James Webb III. “We’re crossing our fingers with James,” said coach Leon Rice on the KBOI postgame show. “They think he strained his meniscus a little bit.” Webb posted another double-double against UNLV with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Incredibly, seven of his boards were on the offensive end before he had to leave with the injury with 4½ minutes left in the game. Rice also said Duncan dislocated the thumb on his shooting hand in practice on Monday. Duncan scored seven points last night.

With Boise State spring football just 12 days away, coach Bryan Harsin was on Idaho SportsTalk yesterday to deliver a Bronco update. Nothing has changed in the quarterback scenario. “We’re going to compete,” said Harsin. Then again, “There’s a pecking order. As we start, Brett (Rypien) will come out and work with that first group. But those other guys, (Ryan) Finley and Tommy Stuart included, are going to have their opportunities to work with the ones.” Harsin specifically mentioned one guy the QBs are going to be throwing to. “I look at Ced Wilson at wide receiver, along with Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson—there’s going to be some competition there.” Wilson is the 6-3 junior college All-American who was third nationally last year with 116 receiving yards per game while scoring 17 touchdowns.

Harsin also spotlighted one new face more than any other on the defensive line, defensive end Sam Whitney, as Boise State rebuilds a unit that lost Kamalei Correa, Justin Taimatuia, Tyler Horn, Armand Nance, Duece Mataele and (by academic osmosis) Antoine Turner. Whitney is the All-NorCal redshirt freshman, a 6-1, 234-pounder from Folsom, CA. “Sam Whitney is going to be a guy on the edge for us who can rush the passer and brings speed to that position,” Harsin said. He also likes the emerging forces on the offensive line, pointing out John Molchon, Eric Quevedo, former Fruitland Grizzly Garrett Larson, and senior transfer Will Adams from Auburn.

Boise’s Andy Benoit, the NFL writer of renown for Sports Illustrated, has a list of “top 40 footballers for hire” in this week’s issue. One is an expected local name, another maybe not so. Benoit lists former Boise State star Doug Martin at No. 8, noting that “very few (running backs) have Martin’s ability to squeeze through small cracks inside.” Benoit feels Martin could remain with Tampa Bay, but that he’d also be a good match for Tennessee or Cleveland. The surprise is Benoit’s No. 10 free agent, former Bronco George Iloka. “Long and rangy—that’s a rare combination for the (strong safety) position,” writes Benoit. “With that kind of body, he’s a free agent on the rise at both free and strong safety.” Benoit sees Iloka as a fit to stay in Cincinnati, or to go to the Giants or the Jaguars.

It was a wild third period in Tulsa last night before the Idaho Steelheads prevailed over the Oilers, 5-3. The Steelheads led 2-1 after two periods before Tulsa clawed back to tie the game 3-3 with 3:46 left. Then the Steelies’ Rob Linsmayer potted the go-ahead goal with just over a minute left, and Kyle Jean finished with an empty-netter. Jack Campbell made 30 saves for Idaho to move to 14-5 on the season. The Steelheads now prepare for a pivotal two-game series against the Utah Grizzlies at CenturyLink Arena with first place in the ECHL West Division at stake (the Steelies currently lead by two points).

From the “where are they now” department, former Idaho Stampede standout Justin Harper, who’s been playing for the L.A. D-Fenders, has been signed to a 10-day contract by the Detroit Pistons. Ironically, he’s being brought aboard to help make up for the loss of former Stampede forward Anthony Tolliver, one of the top homegrown stories in Stamps history. Tolliver is out 2-4 weeks with a sprained right knee. Harper played in Boise three seasons ago, averaging 11.7 points and six rebounds in 48 games. He was a D-League All-Star for the D-Fenders this year.

A year ago, College of Idaho finished 30-6 and made it to the quarterfinals of the NAIA Division II National Tournament. The Coyotes will have to do it the hard way to return this season. The Yotes are 17-12 and are fourth-seeded in the Cascade Conference Tournament as they host fifth-seeded Oregon Tech tonight. And the Hustlin’ Owls have emotion on their side. It marks the final game in Caldwell for legendary OIT head coach Dan Miles, who is retiring at the end of the season after 45 years and is one of four collegiate coaches in the nation with over 1,000 career wins (1,037 currently). C of I narrowly swept its two-game series with Oregon Tech during the regular season.

Talk to 10 different people, and you’ll get 10 different opinions on how former Boise Hawk Jeff Samardzija will fare as a new San Francisco Giant this season. The Giants shelled out a five-year, $90 million contract for a guy who was 11-13 with a 4.76 ERA for the Chicago White Sox last season. But now he’s surrounded by Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Matt Cain and Jake Peavy, all pitchers with World Series experience. “When you have a starting rotation like this, for me, just as a fan of the game I enjoy it,” Samardzija told the San Francisco Examiner last weekend. “I love coming and watching guys pitch. Lefty, right, hard-thrower, location guy, to me it doesn’t matter. I just like to watch good baseball.” Ten years ago Samardzija pitched for the Hawks on his way back to his job as a senior Notre Dame wide receiver in fall camp.

This Day In Sports…February 24, 1980:

The Boys of Winter put an exclamation point on the “miracle on ice” and defeat Finland, 4-2, to give the United States the Olympic hockey gold medal at Lake Placid. It was two days after one of the biggest moments in American sports history, the 4-3 upset of the Soviet Union in the semi-finals. The USA had been seeded seventh but skated off with their first gold since the other “miracle” in 1960.

(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.)