“D” school in session tonight

Defense often decides minutes these days at Boise State, and so it is with Paris Austin and Lonnie Jackson. Defense often decides minutes these days at Boise State, and that’s where graduate transfer Lonnie Jackson’s experience gives him an advantage over Paris Austin, the true freshman. The Broncos host Loyola Marymount tonight in Taco Bell Arena, and if you look away from the ball handler when the Lions have possession, you can see that Austin’s trying to progress as a student of the defensive game. He started at Portland last Saturday and was “schooled” early by Portland star Alec Wintering, according to coach Leon Rice after the 81-71 win. Austin was pulled by Rice after only three minutes. Wintering scored a game-high 26 points but slowed down a bit after Jackson entered the game.

Rice isn’t worried about Austin, though, noting that adjusting to Division I basketball takes some time. Austin is performing offensively so far, hitting 54 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range. It’s also an adjustment for Jackson, who’s in his first and only season as a Bronco. “Defensively, it’s a huge difference,” Jackson said yesterday on KTIK’s Bob & Chris Show. “Being in your gaps more instead of sticking on your man like at Boston College.” Jackson is getting it, though. “Being in college basketball for four seasons, I can pick things up more easily,” he said. “I have a high basketball IQ.”

Loyola Marymount comes into the game at 5-3 and gave Colorado State a good go three weeks ago before falling 83-75 in Fort Collins. Boise State’s game last year against LMU was much like its win at Portland. The Broncos pulled away from the Lions with a 12-0 run down the stretch and won 77-69. Nick Duncan scored all 15 of his points from the three-point line in that one. For Boise State’s sake, this game best not be decided from the free throw line. Loyola Marymount is shooting 78 percent from the charity stripe, the eighth-best mark in the nation.

Boise State coaches are balancing Poinsettia Bowl practices with recruiting, and the Bronco staffers have already pounced on the junior college ranks to replenish their defensive line. BSU got a commitment yesterday from Daniel Auelua, a tackle from Mesa Community College in the Phoenix area. The 6-2, 285-pounder, originally a Utah State commit, didn’t receive any offers out of high school in Lone Peak, UT, according to Scout.com. But he honed his skills at Mesa and says he is “thankful for the struggle” of going the JC route. Auelua is the 17th current commitment in Boise State’s 2016 recruiting class.

More catchup from the Boise State team banquet last Sunday The guys you want to file away are the ones named Scout Team Players of the Year, because more often than not they become Bronco mainstays. The offensive award went to a do-it-all guy who actually did get playing time this year, sophomore running back Ryan Wolpin. The transfer from Northern Colorado was a special teams regular and was trusted with some carries in prime time. Linebacker Marquis Hendrix, a freshman from Ocala, FL, earned the defensive scout honor. And the special teams award went to safety Evan Tyler, a freshman from Corona, CA. We’ll see what these guys are up to in 2017.

Akron coach Terry Bowden, now gearing his team up for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Utah State, has been to Boise during bowl week before—as a guest speaker. He was the headliner at the Humanitarian Awards banquet I emceed before Boise State faced Boston College in 2005 when the game was known as the MPC Computers Bowl. That was the infamous night that saw one of the game’s sponsors poke fun at the difficulty of pronouncing the name of Mathias Kiwanuka, Boston College’s star defensive end. An intensely awkward moment. BC didn’t take kindly to that and said after its 27-21 win over the Broncos that it was prime motivation. I don’t expect Bowden to remember that, but I sure do. The banquet is a much more streamlined affair these days.

One other bowl to check out: Washington is headed to the Heart Of Dallas Bowl to play Southern Miss the day after Christmas. The Huskies themselves have never faced the Golden Eagles, but Chris Petersen has, going 4-0 against USM during his head coaching days at Boise State. The last win came in Petersen’s final season with the Broncos, a 60-7 beatdown on the blue turf. Southern Miss coach Todd Monken remembers. “Wasn’t much fun, I can tell you that,” Monken said. “We got drilled pretty good. We weren’t nearly where we are today. So I owe (Petersen) one. They tried not to run it up, but we just couldn’t get out of our own way.” What Monken has done in Hattiesburg is amazing, though. He took a team that was 0-12 in 2012 and has gone 1-11, 3-9, and now 9-3 after winning the Conference USA Western Division title.

Twenty years ago, John L. Smith had just completed his first season at Utah State after leaving Idaho. That was the beginning of an upward trajectory that took the inimitable John L. to Louisville, Michigan State and Arkansas. He was the scotch-tape guy in 2012 with the Razorbacks after the Bobby Petrino scandal, and things haven’t been the same since that 4-8 season. Smith coached Fort Lewis the past three seasons and has now taken the top job at Division II Kentucky State. Enthusiastically, as always. He took Fort Lewis, also a D-II school, from 3-8 to 4-7 to 7-4 this year. Smith is the one who got the Louisville program kick-started in 1998, taking the Cardinals to five straight bowl games and a 41-21 record. He was 53-21 in six seasons with the Vandals.

The tracks got a bit gummed up for the Jay-Train last Sunday. Jay Ajayi had just four carries for 12 yards and wasn’t even targeted in the passing game in Miami’s 15-13 win over Baltimore. Dolphins running back Lamar Taylor may have been hearing the footsteps of the former Boise State star, as he rushed for 113 yards on a season-high 20 carries. But Ajayi is the one Miami turned to for the two-point conversion that gave the ‘Fins their ultimate margin of victory. That accounted for his first points in the NFL.

With Bakersfield, Ontario and Stockton having departed the ECHL for the AHL, the Idaho Steelheads are seeing a plethora of new teams this season. Tonight the Steelheads play the Allen Americans for the first time. And where is Allen? It’s in Texas. And who is its coach? It’s Steve Martinson, the crusty former head man for the San Diego Gulls, the Steelheads’ opponent in their very first game more than 18 years ago. And how is Allen doing? The club is 14-8 and is in second place in the ECHL’s Central Division. Allen hasn’t had a single game go to overtime yet this season. There is one former Steelhead on the Americans’ roster, Tristan King, who laced ‘em up for Idaho in three different seasons from 2010-13.

The Idaho Stampede will have a new look tonight—and, they hope, better luck as they host the Texas Legends in CenturyLink Arena. The two familiar names assigned to the Stampede Monday are set to make their Boise debuts. Phil Pressey was set to start the season with the Stamps but was called up by Philadelphia before Opening Night. He’s back now after averaging 3.9 and 3.3 points with the reeling Sixers. And the Most Outstanding Player of last April’s Final Four, former Duke star Tyus Jones, joins Idaho from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Former Stampede coach Bryan Gates, now a Minnesota staffer, reportedly helped make the Jones transaction happen. Those aren’t just your everyday D-League newcomers—they should create a bump at the box office.

This Day In Sports…December 9, 1965, 50 years ago today:

In one of the worst trades in baseball history, the Cincinnati Reds deal slugger Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. Robinson would go on to win baseball’s Triple Crown in 1966, leading the Orioles to their first world championship. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

(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.)