Into the unknown for the home stretch

Boise State is now halfway through the conference schedule in the Mountain West. Boise State is now halfway through the conference schedule in the Mountain West. The Broncos would like to divide the first half in half—and take the first part. Going into tonight’s annual Black-Out game against Utah State in Taco Bell Arena, Boise State is 6-3 in MW play. But the Broncos have lost three of their past five games, with the defense slipping and shots clanging. The season is at a crossroads. Coach Leon Rice said after the 88-83 loss to New Mexico Saturday that he doesn’t want to see his team lose its confidence, but that appears to be what’s happening. Defense was actually good in the loss to San Diego State 2½ weeks ago—that when offense was a letdown. That has essentially flipped the past two games, although shooting has inexplicably gone south.

Rice is also looking for leadership, and senior Mikey Thompson looks to be ready to provide it. “I feel like if we keep harping what we need to do on defense, everybody will come together,” said Thompson Saturday. “We just need to keep harping on it and holding guys accountable for their mistakes. We’re seniors and we got to lead. Once we get that group together, the sky is the limit.” Added Thompson, “I’ll say I got to step it up a little more and stop being quiet and hold guys accountable, too, to get better.” You can’t ask him to step it up much more on the floor. Against New Mexico Thompson posted 17 points and 10 assists, the first such double-double at Boise State in seven years. He also had five steals and no turnovers. It was the first game in which a Bronco dished out double-digit assists without a turnover in at least 30 years.

Rice waxed philosophical after the experience against the Lobos. “The thing I’m counting on and the thing I feel good about is we have kids that care, we kids that care about each other, they care about battling, they care about being Broncos, they care about doing it the right way, they’re going to show up to battle,” said Rice. “We just need to keep helping them as coaches and find a way to make them better. I think it’s a good place to start. If I had guys that pointed fingers and didn’t care or went ‘oh it’s not on us’ then I would be in trouble. I’d rather have them say ‘hey it was us, I can be better’ and that’s what they’re doing.”

At least the Boise State staff is trying to keep it loose. Assistant coach John Rillie has tweeted a pitch to vote for Montigo Alford in the Dark Horse Dunker competition. The accompanying video shows a series of nice dunks by the senior guard, with one graphic pointing out that he stands just 5-8 and another showing that he’s 165 pounds. Obviously, therefore, Alford has an awesome vertical leap. It’s pretty impressive. It hasn’t happened in a game yet, though. Reminds me of Washington’s Nate Robinson wowing the Taco Bell Arena crowd with a similar exhibition before the Huskies’ game against Montana in the 2005 NCAA Tournament. Robinson was 5-9.

Boise State’s 2016 recruiting list remains at 25 commits 24 hours before the fun begins. Barring any last-minute renegs, that number could inch up to 26 or 27. There have long been rumored to be a couple “silent commits” who plan to reveal themselves on National Letter of Intent Day. The chat boards have been busy trying to figure out who they are. Wide receiver Bubba Ogbebor? Defensive tackle Jabari Watson? Defensive end Curtis Weaver? Stay tuned.

Jared Allen aside, the best local Super Bowl tie in the Carolina Panthers organization is strength and conditioning coach Joe Kenn, who was with Boise State from 1991-98. Kenn’s nickname, “Big House,” immediately became his moniker around the Varsity Center. The late Pokey Allen became a big fan, and Kenn was elevated to head strength and conditioning coach in 1994. But House wasn’t just about football, and it wasn’t just football that supported his move up. “When House was hired as assistant strength coach, he walked over to my office and asked to borrow some videos of our gymnastics meets so he could help design a weight program for our gymnasts,” said former Boise State coach Sam Sandmire. “Our team got strong, got ranked in the top 20 nationally and loved lifting for House.”

Then, Sandmire said, she and June Daugherty, then the highly-successful Boise State women’s basketball coach, became huge advocates for Kenn’s promotion. “We had one stipulation—that -House would continue to work with our teams after he became head coach,” said Sandmire. “Then we all went to (athletic director) Gene (Bleymaier). House got promoted and our athletes still got to work with him.” After a stop at Utah, former Bronco coach Dirk Koetter took Kenn with him to Arizona State, and as Sandmire says, “he’s been a star in the strength and conditioning world ever since.” Kenn is finishing his fifth season with the Panthers. In 2013, he was named the first-ever Professional Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year.

Kenn’s roots are definitely at Boise State. It was he who changed the role of the strength and conditioning coach in all Bronco programs. If the Carolina dress code allows it this Sunday, you may spot House on the sideline in shorts, which wouldn’t be a big deal on a 65-degree day in Santa Clara. But, Sandmire remembers, “Even when Boise State was Division I-AA and we hosted playoff games into December, there was House and his bare legs standing on the sidelines in the snow.” Kenn was a fixture on the blue turf for the frigid playoff tilts against North Texas, Appalachian State and Marshall on consecutive Saturdays in December, 1994. “House often credits the coaches at Boise State for his success, but it really is the other way around,” Sandmire said.

Things are going swimmingly for Bryce Dejean-Jones, who was called up from the Idaho Stampede earlier this month by the New Orleans Pelicans on a 10-day NBA contract. Dejean-Jones has been signed to a second 10-day deal now. In five games for the Pelicans, he’s averaged 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game. Included was a 14-point performance in 35 minutes in a win over Sacramento last Thursday. The Stampede will be missing another of their top players long-term as well. L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers says the team will sign Jeff Ayres to a second 10-day deal when his first one expires.

On campus, Boise State’s Brooke Pahukoa has won her second straight Mountain West Player of the Week honor. Pahukoa averaged 22.5 points on 61 percent shooting (57 from three-point range) in wins over UNLV and New Mexico. Meanwhile, a No. 10 ranking was the highest in Boise State women’s gymnastics history. That was last week. Now No. 9 is the record. The Broncos remain the second-highest ranked team in the West with a season scoring average of 196.175, trailing only UCLA. Also, BSU’s Sandra Collantes was selected as the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference Gymnast of the Week and Maddie Krentz and Krystine Jacobsen earned MRGC Co-Specialists of the Week for their efforts in last Friday’s win over BYU..

This Day In Sports… February 2, 1876:

Baseball’s National League is born in a meeting at the Grand Central Hotel in New York City. There would be eight teams—in Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Hartford, Louisville, New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis. The only two clubs to operate continuously since that time have been the Cubs and the Braves, and only the Cubs have stayed in the same city all the way through.

(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.)