Close games, a horse, and a piano player

So here we go. Boise State is 18-4 overall and 8-2 in the Mountain West. The Broncos have been occasionally dominant—and occasionally not. Outside of a blowout win over San Jose State last week, Boise State’s other six games over the past month have been decided by six points or less. All this as bubble talk continues regarding the NCAA Tournament (Joe Lunardi’s updated bracket projection has the Broncos as one of the last four teams in). The bottom line: championship teams win. It’s as simple as that. But then, it’s not so simple. Boise State does have one win even before tomorrow night’s game against UNLV, though. With only 150 tickets left in Taco Bell Arena, the Broncos are assuming a sellout, and coach Leon Rice will hop on a horse and ride across campus late this morning.

In a feature by Ed Graney in the Las Vegas Review-Journal during Christmas break, we learned that a 7-foot McDonald’s All-American and surefire NBA Draft pick is more than just a possible one-and-done true freshman at UNLV. Pay attention to Brandon McCoy tomorrow night in Taco Bell Arena, because the next time you see him might be on TV in an NBA uniform—or in concert. McCoy’s mom, a retired master sergeant in the U.S. Army, introduced McCoy to music, and he took to it. “I went to YouTube and self-taught myself the piano,” he said. “I fell in love with the piano.” McCoy also plays guitar, drums, trombone and marimba. “I hate when people judge the book by its cover,” he said. “I feel that I am way more than just a basketball player.”

It’s a very accomplished basketball player that fans will see against Boise State, though. The Rebels attacked San Jose State inside with a purpose in their 76-67 win Wednesday night, and McCoy was the focus. He scored 21 points, blocked three shots and was a brute on the boards, pulling down 17 rebounds. “(Opponents) are throwing everything and the kitchen sink at that kid,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. The Broncos will throw Zach Haney, Robin Jorch and David Wacker at McCoy, with a little help from Chris Sengfelder. McCoy scored 16 points with 10 rebounds in the first meeting between these teams, an 83-74 Boise State win in Las Vegas last month. Haney held his own with a double-double (11 points and 11 rebounds).

Sengfelder may be precoccupied by UNLV’s other inside force, 6-7 forward Shakur Juiston, who poured in 25 points in the first matchup against Boise State. Consequently, Sengfelder’s defense may be a little more important than his offense. The graduate transfer’s offense has been an interesting study. Sengfelder has been in double figures just three times in the past nine games, but one of those was his 31-point outburst against San Jose State. He followed that with just four points in 14 minutes at Air Force last Saturday night. Split the difference between the two games and that’s a 17.5-point average. That would be fine.

A story at talks about how ironic it is that Jay Ajayi is about to hit the biggest stage in sports Sunday, Super Bowl LII between Philadelphia and New England. “He spent his first two NFL seasons in Miami, where he enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2016 that included 1,272 rushing yards and a Pro Bowl nod,” notes columnist Jeffri Chadiha. “It was those very feats that had many people scratching their heads when Philly acquired Ajayi for a fourth-round pick on Halloween.” The Dolphins had soured on the former Boise State star and intimated that he was cancerous to the team. Ajayi’s attitude has done a 180 with the Eagles. “He’s a great locker room presence,” said Philadelphia wide receiver Torrey Smith in Chadiha’s story. “He’s full of energy and he’s fit in since he got here. He’s just a ball of light.”

Ajayi has been bothered by an ankle injury, but he’s been a full participant in Eagles practices the past two days. Philadelphia can’t expect quarterback Nick Foles to bomb away the way he did in the NFC Championship Game rout of the Vikings. Fellow running back LeGarrette Blount can be a short-yardage guy, but not a big yardage guy. So a lot is going to fall on Ajayi’s shoulders to make things happen offensively. If he’s not breaking off any chunk yardage, then the result about 90 percent of America dreads will likely come to fruition.

There are two Idahoans in Minneapolis with very different itineraries this weekend. Shea McClellin will spend the day Sunday alongside his fellow Patriots on injured reserved, watching teammates play in Super Bowl LII and wishing he was one of them. Jerry Kramer, a senior finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will know by then whether he made it, as the 2018 class will be announced tomorrow night. Kramer played 11 NFL seasons with Green Bay, won the first two Super Bowls, was a five-time All-Pro selection, and is the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team in 1969 who is not a Hall of Famer. Among senior finalists, 29 of the last 31 have been elected to the Hall. Fingers are crossed…from Green Bay to Sandpoint to Parma.

The difference between the Idaho Steelheads and other minor league teams in Boise is that their players often stick around for multiple seasons. That’s how guys like Scott Burt become ingrained into the community and develop long-lasting relationships with fans. It’ll come full-circle for Burt when his No. 12 jersey is retired tomorrow night during the first intermission of the Steelheads’ game against Utah in CenturyLink Arena. Burt served as an assistant captain and co-captain during a seven-year tenure that spanned the Steelies’ WCHL and ECHL eras in Boise. He led the club to Kelly Cup championships in 2004 and 2007 while scoring 111 goals and 250 points in 403 regular season games. Burt was involved in numerous community projects during his years in the Treasure Valley.

Back to hoops—Idaho got it done last night, shooting 61 percent from the field to bring down unpredictable Portland State 97-88 on the road last night. The Vikings beat the Vandals 73-72 in Cowan Spectrum last month. College of Idaho goes for its 20th win of the season tonight when it hosts Evergreen State at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center. The Coyotes also look to create more separation in the Cascade Conference standings—they currently have a 2½-game lead on Southern Oregon. The Yotes face Northwest University tomorrow night. And NNU pulled away from Simon Fraser for an 82-69 victory last night at Johnson Sports Center. The Nighthawks hos Western Washington tomorrow night.

This Day In Sports…February 2, 2001:

Equaling her own outdoor world record in the women’s pole vault, Pocatello’s Stacy Dragila sets a new indoor record by clearing 15 feet, 2¼ inches at the Millrose Games in New York. Women’s pole vault had become an Olympic-sanctioned event the year before, and Dragila had won the first-ever gold medal in Sydney. She was at the peak of her career and was easily the sport’s most popular performer.

(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.)