Come back soon, Zags

The Gonzaga rumors persist. So what’s the No. 1 reason the Bulldogs would leave the West Coast Conference for the Mountain West? That would be money, and the Zags’ ability to negotiate their fair share. But No. 2 would be attendance. The Bulldogs’ McCarthey Center seats only 6,000—and average attendance there this season was…6,000. But Gonzaga has grown weary of playing before tiny crowds in other WCC facilities, many of which are merely gyms. Outside of BYU’s average of 14,231 fans per game, the next best behind Gonzaga in the league is Saint Mary’s at just 3,020. The average home crowd in the WCC this season was 3,452. Take away BYU (and we must to get a clear picture), and it’s only 2,351.

Let’s go here now. The Mountain West’s attendance average this season was 6,651 fans per game. Two teams were above the 10,000 mark: San Diego State and New Mexico. And two more topped the 9,000 plateau: UNLV and Nevada. Boise State was middle of the pack in the MW as usual, averaging 6,747 per game—although the Broncos were at 8,614 in conference play. If we’re going to take BYU’s total out of the West Coast Conference, we should check out the Mountain West without San Jose State’s woeful attendance average of 1,676 (more on the Spartans below). The MW would be at 7,117 without San Jose State. Again, that’s versus 2,351 without BYU in the WCC.

BYU would be left hangin’ in the WCC if Gonzaga left and has been prominently mentioned as another addition to the Mountain West—in basketball only, at least. Pride may prevent the Cougars from returning in football, but they’d be foolish not to at this point. Commissioner Craig Thompson might have BYU over a barrel if Gonzaga bolts. That’s another story, though. The Cougars should also be tired of these tiny throngs on the road in the WCC. They’ve been a fish out of water in that league for seven years now. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned (much, anyway) is the fate of San Jose State should Gonzaga and BYU both join the Mountain West. The Spartans just might be forced out. They cannot get any traction in the Bay Area, and they never will.

Don’t look now, but Kentucky is the trendy pick to get to the national championship game a week from Monday after its run through the Boise bracket—and the carnage elsewhere in the NCAA Tournament. USA Today gives the Wildcats the second-best chance (behind Duke) of taking the title. Love him or hate him—and he was booed both days at Taco Bell Arena last week—coach John Calipari has welded UK together this month. It’s hard to take guys who are regularly distracted by the NBA and make them play defense, but it was defense that drove Buffalo nuts last Saturday. The Wildcats play ninth-seeded Kansas State in the Sweet 16 Thursday night. If they win, they face Nevada or Loyola-Chicago.

Nevada’s run in the NCAA Tournament is the best thing that could happen to the Mountain West. Each conference team receives a financial share (a “unit”) depending on how many games its members play in the tournament. The past two years, Mountain West schools have received one unit, as it was a one-bid league that was one-and-done in March Madness. This year, the Wolf Pack and San Diego State made it in. Including Nevada’s Sweet 16 game tomorrow night, the MW now has four units. The current amount per unit is $273,000, paid out on a six-year basis. Divide that by 11 teams, and that means Boise State is due $99,273 this year—and about $600,000 over the life of the payout.

The reps are accumulating for running backs not named Alexander Mattison during Boise State spring football. Robert Mahone got a lot of them last spring as Mattison was sidelined, like he is now. It didn’t translate into a successful redshirt freshman year for Mahone, but coach Bryan Harsin indicates that slate is wiped clean. A rejuvenated Mahone is much more comfortable this spring after another season soaking up the offense. He rushed 23 times for 81 yards and a touchdown last year. Mattison is doing limited drills during spring ball as he continues to recover from a left ankle injury suffered in the Broncos’ Mountain West championship game win over Fresno State in December.

The intriguing story in the backfield is that of Drake Beasley. Early last season Boise State had plays designed for Beasley and came close to using him, but he was able to redshirt. That’s really what he needed. “Drake hasn’t played football in a long time,” said Harsin, noting that Beasley still has a bit of a learning curve. “My message to him is, your opportunity to play is coming. Nobody is holding you back.” Beasley’s last game action came in 2015, as he missed his senior year when he was ruled ineligible by the CIF in California due to “undue influence” surrounding his transfer to La Canada High. He had rushed for 1,647 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior at his former school, Loyola in L.A.

The last homestand of the regular season lies ahead for the Idaho Steelheads, who host Rapid City in a three-game series starting tonight in CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads will be without two players who have been suspended by the ECHL. Brady Basssart will sit out the second of a two-game ban for a slew-footing infraction last Thursday at South Carolina. And the Steelies’ Jack Nevins has been slapped with a five-game suspension for leaving the bench during a fight last Friday versus the Stingrays. Nevins won’t be back with the team until April. Tomas Sholl will be between the pipes, though. Yesterday, Sholl became the first ECHL netminder this season to earn back-to-back league Goaltender of the Week honors after posting back-to-back shutouts at South Carolina.

The US Alpine Ski Championships begin today at Sun Valley with the Men’s Alpine Combined event on the Warm Springs side. Entry lists are hard to come by, so we don’t know how many Olympians out of the Pyeongchang Games have elected to race. The Women’s Alpine Combined is set for tomorrow, followed by both Super G events Friday, and both Slalom competitions on Saturday. The Men’s Giant Slalom runs Sunday, and the Women’s GS wraps things up on Monday.

This Day In Sports…March 21, 1992:

LSU sophomore center Shaquille O’Neal plays his final collegiate game in an 89-79 second round loss to Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers in the NCAA Tournament in Boise. (That was three years before Knight’s famous post-game tirade.) Alonzo Mourning’s college career also ended that day when Georgetown fell to Florida State and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward. Last week’s Boise bracket was great, but the 1992 lineup is still considered to be the best of the nine NCAA Tournament fields in what is now Taco Bell Arena.

(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.)