Lacking and wanted: some shutdown defense

Defense has been a focal point of Boise State basketball this season. Never more than now. Defense has been a focal point of Boise State basketball this season. Never more than now. The Broncos were sliced and diced by New Mexico, absorbing an 88-83 loss and conceding second place in the Mountain West to the Lobos Saturday at Taco Bell Arena. New Mexico shot a deadly 56 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range, and 86 percent from the free throw line. Many of the Lobos’ treys were contested, but there were far too many layups that weren’t. They drove to the hoop like they were in the car pool lane. Coach Leon Rice did not question the Broncos’ heart after the game, but he did challenge their defensive grit. “We’ve had some guys in the past where they would say ‘let me guard that guy. I’ll do it, I’ll do it,’” said Rice. “I’m not sure we got a team full of those guys right now. So we’re going to have to change our mindset.”

The second half Saturday was defined by three big runs. Unfortunately for Boise State, two of them belonged to New Mexico. The Lobos answered the Broncos biggest lead, 50-45, with a 14-0 run. Boise State got it back by out scoring New Mexico 15-2. A play in the middle of that stretch typified the Broncos’ angst, though. With about eight minutes left, Lonnie Jackson made a steal and fired to a streaking Mikey Thompson, who missed a layup that would have given BSU the lead. James Webb III fouled on the rebound, and UNM’s Elijah Brown, he of the 30-point game, canned a couple free throws at the other end. The Broncos would end up getting the lead back and were up 65-61, but that’s when the Lobos peeled off a 15-2 run that essentially ended it.

We talked about the curiosity that is Boise State’s three-point shooting going into the weekend. What a difference a year makes. The treys ruled the day in the Broncos’ sweep of the Lobos last season. In Albuquerque, Webb set a school record when he went 7-for-7 from beyond the arc. In Boise, Nick Duncan hit a career-high eight triples. On Saturday, Webb was 0-for-3 from deep while Duncan was a respectable 3-for-7—the Broncos were just 11-for-33 overall. You have to hand it to Duncan’s play at clutch moments, though. Boise State was able to gain the lead four times on the afternoon, and three of them were courtesy of Duncan. He hit all three free throws after drawing a foul with his patented pump fake for the first lead near the end of the first half. Duncan also put BSU ahead with two more free throws and again with a three-pointer in the second half.

There’s clarity on Boise State’s offensive staff now, as newly-hired Zak Hill has officially been named co-offensive coordinator with offensive line coach Scott Huff. More importantly, coach Bryan Harsin has revealed that he’ll be calling plays for the Broncos, reprising the role he served as O-coordinator under Chris Petersen from 2006-10. It has worked that way before at Boise State, and Harsin was there to see it. He was a backup quarterback during Dirk Koetter’s first two years when the now-Tampa Bay coach called his own plays for the Broncos from 1998-2000. Koetter didn’t have an offensive coordinator designated—his righthand man on offense was quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrich, now the head coach at Oregon.

Boise State’s 2016 recruiting class has reached 25 commits two days ahead of National Letter of Intent Day. The Broncos should be just about done, as they mined Oregon for Kayode Rufai and Jordan Happle over the weekend. Rufai is a 6-4, 240-pound defensive end from Lincoln High in Portland (he transferred from Lake Oswego for his senior year), and Happle is a 6-1, 180-pound safety from Jesuit High in Portland. Also on the recruiting front, Ali’I Niumatalolo, the son of Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, tweeted that he’s decided to attend Boise State for a year before going on his LDS mission.

Darian Thompson is beginning to look like a solid second-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. The now-former Boise State star was the North team MVP at the Senior Bowl Saturday after posting five tackles and two pass breakups, one of which was a dandy in the end zone. After a fruitful week of practice and interviews in Mobile, a partial list of Thompson’s suitors includes Washington, Carolina, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, San Diego and the New York Giants. Elsewhere, Doug Martin ran seven times for 20 yards and a touchdown for Team Rice in its 49-27 loss to Team Irvin in the pickup game known as the Pro Bowl. Amazingly, Martin was Team Rice’s leading rusher. He was also the team’s top receiver with five catches.

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis visited Las Vegas Friday to scout out a possible new home for his team and meet with Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, who wants to build a $1 billion domed stadium on the UNLV campus. A new 65,000-seat facility would obviously be a plus for the Rebels, whose long-suffering football team has been stuck eight miles away in the desert at Sam Boyd Stadium for more than 40 years. But UNLV’s program would be dwarfed by Raider Nation and would still struggle to draw sufficient crowds. It’d be kind of like San Diego State Jr.

Let’s pass along some individual props for the Idaho Steelheads’ three-game sweep of Atlanta over the weekend. It was quite an accomplishment 1,835 miles from home (as the crow flies). Jack Campbell earned two of the victories in net, holding the Gladiators to one goal each night. Campbell has allowed one goal or fewer in seven of his 12 starts. Jefferson Dahl tallied once in each contest, getting the game-winner Friday night and scoring the Steelies’ only regulation goal Saturday. And in yesterday’s 5-2 triumph, goalie Brandon Komm notched his first win as a Steelhead, making 35 saves. The Steelheads return home Wednesday night against the rival Alaska Aces.

The Idaho Stampede suffered two more losses over the weekend, swept by the Austin Spurs in Texas’ capital city. The Friday loss was particularly frustrating, with the Stampede blowing a 22-point lead they had late in the first half—they were outscored 62-32 the rest of the way. The positive was Tibor Pleiss, who scored 19 points on 9-for-14 shooting Friday in his first game after a second assignment to Idaho by the Utah Jazz. The Stampede played without Jeff Ayres, who’s working with his 10-day contract with the L.A. Clippers. Ayres has scored two points in 10 minutes of floor time over three games with the Clips.

Following Allie Ostrander continues to be a fun ride. Boise State’s freshman phenom smashed the school and Mountain West 5,000-meter indoor record with a 15:21.85 at the UW Invitational Saturday in Seattle. Ostrander broke the old Boise State and MW marks, both held by former Bronco star Emma Bates, by a whopping 29 seconds. It was the fastest collegiate time this year in the 5,000 and one of the best in history. It also made Ostrander eligible for the U.S. Olympic Trials in July.

Other campus doings: the Idaho men earned a split of their Big Sky week in Cowan Spectrum, edging Portland State 56-55 on a pair of free throws with eight seconds left. The College of Idaho men split on the road after outgunning Evergreen State 100-85 Saturday night behind Aitor Zubizarreta’s 45 points, the most by a Yote in 25 years. The Boise State women got a big win at The Pit, routing New Mexico 81-60 in front of 5,517 fans on Saturday. Brooke Pahukoa led the Broncos with 25 points. The Boise State women’s gymnastics team defeated BYU Friday night as part of the 40th Gem State Invitational before 2,715 fans in CenturyLink Arena. The Broncos scored a 196.40—they would have tickled the 197 crest had they not had to count a fall on floor exercise. And the Boise State wrestlers were toppled by Northern Colorado Friday night, 22-15.

This Day In Sports…February 1, 2004:

The New England Patriots win their second Super Bowl in three years, beating the Carolina Panthers, 32-29, on Adam Vinatieri’s 41-yard field goal with four seconds left. The two teams combined for a record 37 points in a wild fourth quarter at Reliant Stadium in Houston. But the Patriots prevailed behind MVP Tom Brady, who was 32-of-42 for 354 yards and three touchdowns.

(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.)