Is there value in the NIT? Yesss…

Utah was a double-digit favorite in its first round NIT game against Boise State last night in Salt Lake City. And when Gabe Bealer drained back-to-back three-pointers early in the second half to give the Utes an 11-point lead, the game appeared to be following the script. The Broncos had not made a three at the point. Then Chandler Hutchison, who had single-handedly kept Boise State in the game, hit the team’s first trey. The Utah lead was down to eight, and the whittling began. The Broncos went on an amazing 16-1 run down the stretch and surprised the Utes 73-68. Utah won the NIT in 1947 and was determined to celebrate the 70th anniversary of that title by making a run to Madison Square Garden. Instead, it’s Boise State headed for a second-round matchup at Illinois, who destroyed Valparaiso 82-57 last night.

Hutchison scored 10 points in the first eight minutes, more than he had all game in the loss to San Diego State last Thursday. He had 10 of the Broncos’ first 12 points, netted 16 in the first half, and finished with a career-high 34. After that first three-pointer, though, Hutchison started to get some help, particularly from Zach Haney and Marcus Dickinson. Haney began the night with a travel on his first touch—then a couple fouls. He ended with five rebounds, three blocks, two steals and seven points, two of them on a magnificent reverse layin plus a free throw to put Boise State up by nine points with a minute left. Dickinson scored a career-high 12 points, six of them on three consecutive lay-ins midway through the second half and three on a huge hit from beyond the arc that tied the game at 61-61 with 4:55 left.

This was a big win. Boise State notched its 20th victory of the season with a triumph on the road over a 20-win Pac-12 team with a gutty rally at crunch time. The Broncos got 34 points, the most by a player in school history in postseason play, from Hutchison, a great table-setter for his senior year no matter what happens against the Fighting Illini. They could have checked out after losing by 19 in Las Vegas to San Diego State—and after they started last night’s game 0-for-10 from beyond the arc while Utah was on a roll. You get the sense that a young team turned a corner.

Notes on the Boise State women’s berth in the NCAA Tournament: Have you noticed who would be awaiting should Boise State pull off a surprising Cinderella run to the Sweet 16? UConn. So anyway…here’s a little-known fact. In 1994, the Big Sky was like all the other mid-major conferences, branded as a one-bid league. But the Broncos’ first NCAA Women’s Tournament appearance actually came via an at-large berth that year. That’s when coach June Daugherty’s team fell at Washington 89-61. Two years later, Daugherty would leave Boise State to take over the Huskies.

Other doings in tournaments: Colorado State topped College of Charleston 81-74 last night in a first-round NIT game in Fort Collins. Gian Clavell logged 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the Rams. Fresno State takes on TCU in the NIT tonight in Fort Worth, while in the CBI, Wyoming hosts Eastern Washington in Laramie. One of the reasons Idaho is playing its CIT game against Stephen F. Austin in Memorial Gym tonight is that the Kibbie Dome is configured for spring football. Another is that it’s spring break in Moscow, and they won’t need much room for the crowd. I know that because, well, my son’s in Cancun right now.

Don’t look now, but former Idaho coach Kermit Davis is in his 15th season leading the Middle Tennessee program, and his Blue Raiders are a trendy pick for a No. 12-over-No. 5 upset versus Minnesota tomorrow. The MTSU job was Davis’ first as a head coach since a one-year return to the Vandals in 1996-97. He was the youngest coach in Division I when he took over at Idaho in 1988 at the age of 28. Davis departed from Moscow after two seasons for Texas A&M, but he resigned a year later after committing rules violations that resulted in two years probation for the Aggies and a show-cause order against the coach. His career has rebounded at Middle Tennessee, and last year the Blue Raiders stunned No. 2 seed Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA’s. More on his last game at UI, Part I, in “This Day In Sports” below.

There’ll be a lot more pomp and circumstance surrounding the opening of Colorado State’s sparkling new football stadium now. Instead of debuting September 9 with an FCS opponent, Abilene Christian, CSU will christen the facility with a matchup against Oregon State on August 26. The OSU game was moved up four weeks, not just because of the stadium hoopla, but to create a bye for the Rams. They had been without one after the Mountain West schedule was announced—now they’ll have a week off in September between a road test at Alabama and their conference opener versus Hawaii in Fort Collins. Boise State will get a look at the new place when it visits Colorado State November 11.

The Rapid City Rush are prepared to play spoiler as they come into CenturyLink Arena tonight to face the Idaho Steelheads. Rapid City is in last place in the ECHL Mountain Division and is out of the running for the Kelly Cup Playoffs, while the Steelheads are jockeying for seeding in the postseason (both teams have 12 games left). The Steelies are 7-3 this season against the Rush, and they’ve won five straight in the series. Idaho has also won nine of its last 11 games. One Steelhead to watch this week is Aaron Harstad, who’s been a solid addition since being acquired last month in a trade with Norfolk. Harstad has logged nine points (two goals, seven assists) in his eight games with the Steelies.

Rankings can be fickle in women’s gymnastics, but it’s all about the end result for Boise State. Coming off an all-time record score of 197.675 in last Friday’s win over Denver, the Broncos actually dropped a spot to No. 11 on the new Road To Nationals team list. Michigan leapfrogged Boise State to No. 10 this week. The Broncos’ RQS (regional qualifying score) has improved to 196.835. Next stop is the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference Championships Saturday night in Logan. Also, Boise State will be represented by seven swimmers and a diver as the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships unfold today in Indianapolis.

This Day In Sports…March 15, 1990:

The last trip to the NCAA Tournament for the University of Idaho basketball team, five days after beating Eastern Washington in the Big Sky championship game at the Boise State Pavilion. The opponent was Louisville, who cruised past the Vandals, 78-59, in Salt Lake City. It would be the final game in the career of Big Sky Player of the Year Riley Smith, and the final game at Idaho for coach Kermit Davis (until his one-year return seven seasons later).

(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.)