Considering the hype and Bronco Nation buy-in surrounding this Boise State men’s basketball team, I cannot think of a more disappointing finish to a season than the Broncos’ one-and-done showing in the Mountain West Tournament Thursday. Of course, it might not be over—there might be an NIT bid late Sunday—but it feels that way. Nevada’s offense embarrassed Boise State in the 89-82 defeat, setting the naysayers on fire. And there’s not really an answer for them. The Wolf Pack shot 56 percent and rolled up 51 points in the first half. And after connecting for 70 percent in the first half themselves, the Broncos embarrassingly went more than eight minutes in the second half without a basket when the outcome was in the balance. Just over two weeks ago they were leading the Mountain West. What a way to go.
After pointing to the NCAA Tournament all season and intending to win a game there, those dreams are shattered. There will be no dancin’ for Boise State after it failed to buck history. The best the Broncos can hope for now is the NIT—and keep in mind that the field in that event is only 16 teams this year. What’s painful is the pattern. Boise State is now 5-10 all-time in the Mountain West Tournament, with five of the losses to lesser seeds. There have been only three trips to the semifinals, and none to the title game.
KIGAB HAS TO WATCH FROM A CHAIR
Boise State was without Abu Kigab and his injured shoulder. Sure, the Broncos missed him on defense. But just like when they did haveh Kigab in the lineup, they could not stop the Wolf Pack’s Desmond Cambridge and Grant Sherfield. Cambridge poured in 31 points and Sherfield 26 as they and their teammates played with their hair on fire. Boise State, frankly, did not. Offensive rebounds can be a measure of that. The Pack had 11 and scored 11 points off of them while outrebounding the Broncos overall by seven. Emmanuel Akot started for Kigab, and Devonaire Doutrive was a surprise starter in place of RayJ Dennis. Doutrive led Boise State with 17 points, with Derrick Alston Jr. adding 16 and Akot 15.
Spring football begins today at Boise State, and coach Andy Avalos stressed one of his primary goals Thursday during a blue turf press conference. “Spring ball has always been designed to build depth—not just depth, but dependable depth,” Avalos said. He feels that the Broncos already have it at safety, on the defensive line, and at wide receiver. “No question, we’ll have a six-deep (at wideout),” said Avalos. And he’s most excited about Scott Matlock and Scale Igiehon on the interior of the D-line. Where does Boise State need to develop “dependable” depth? First off, running back. “George (Holani) is an elite player and an elite young man,” Avalos said, but the Broncos need more. That will be an interesting position to dissect. Other areas of focus are tight end, offensive line and cornerback.
SHAKIR ON A TEMPORARY SHELF
There’ll be opportunities for up-and-coming Boise State wide receivers to shine initially this spring, as All-Mountain West first-teamer Khalil Shakir is still recovering from a winter surgical procedure. Avalos said Shakir had a “lower-half injury that we needed to clean up coming out of the season.” Shakir had six catches for 85 yards in the Mountain West championship game before leaving the field in the third quarter of the loss to San Jose State. It “pained him” to watch winter conditioning from the sidelines, according to Avalos. “He’ll be out here before you know it.”
PROBLEMATIC FIRST ROUND AT THE PLAYERS
It would be easy to say it was rust, but Troy Merritt, playing his first PGA Tour in three weeks, struggled to a two-over 74 Thursday in the first round of The Players Championship. Merritt had one of the shots of the day, chipping in from the fringe for a beautiful birdie on No. 12. But three bogeys surrounded that on the back nine. The former Boise State star was tied for 85th when play was suspended—it’ll be tough to make the cut today.
MIDWAY BETWEEN MOSCOW AND POCATELLO
Idaho State and Idaho, as the top two seeds, have stuck to the script and will play for the Big Sky women’s championship today at noon on an in-state neutral court in Idaho Central Arena. This is the game the Vandals were supposed to be in one year ago right now—until the coronavirus shutdown abruptly wiped it out. This will be the Bengals’ first title game since 2017. In the men’s bracket, ISU was eliminated by Montana State Thursday 71-63. Tonight’s semifinals feature the Bobcats against Southern Utah and Eastern Washington versus Montana. The Big Sky, by the way, has signed a five-year extension to keep its hoops tournaments in Boise through 2026.
NNU’S NCAA TOURNAMENT DEBUT
Seven years ago, Paul Rush was coaching Capital High to the first undefeated season in Idaho 5A basketball in 19 years (the Eagles finished 26-0). Northwest Nazarene hired Rush three years later for moments like tonight, as he has guided the Nighthawks into the first NCAA Division II Tourament in their history. NNU had their season pushed back twice this winter. When the Nighthawks finally took the court January 9, they upset Division I Portland State on the road, and the table was set for something special. NNU will have to be on point if it’s going to last more than one game, though, as the opponent tonight is Point Loma, which beat the Nighthawks 87-57 six days after the upset of the Vikings.
This Day In Sports…brought to you by ZAMZOWS…Nobody Knows Like Zamzows!
March 12, 1996, 25 years ago today: The College of Idaho, then known as Albertson College, beats Whitworth in overtime, 81-72, to win the NAIA Division II national basketball championship at Montgomery Fieldhouse in Nampa. Boise State transfer Damon Archibald scored 23 of his game-high 29 points in the second half to help give Albertson coach Marty Holly the crown jewel of his 19-year stint leading the Yotes. Holly, who would later become athletic director in 2000, is now retired. But he’s a C of I fixture to this day.
(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.)