Mind games on a late-season Saturday

Boise State is no doubt profoundly disappointed after its 85-77 loss at Nevada Wednesday night. The Broncos had ignored the noise and the naysayers and had traveled to Reno with one goal. “We came down here to win this game,” said coach Leon Rice, who sounded like he was battling a cold. Nick Duncan studded up as well against the Wolf Pack. His voice was hardly recognizable on the KBOI postgame show—that after a season-high 19 points with five three-pointers. Now Boise State has to dial in for San Jose State tomorrow in Taco Bell Arena. Sure, the Broncos are favored. But this is the Mountain West, 2017 style. The Spartans have defeated San Diego State and Fresno State this season—and New Mexico on the road. And what would a win in Boise mean to San Jose State coach Dave Wojcik?

Timing is important tomorrow. This is the time of year that a team has to peak, and Boise State is no different (Wednesday night’s loss notwithstanding). BSU beat San Jose State five weeks ago 75-65. But arguably the most devastating loss of last season came in March in the regular season finale, when the Broncos—coming off a miraculous win at San Diego State and a Senior Night searing of Nevada—looked past the Spartans and lost on the road 68-63. The Broncos shot 38 percent from the field, went 2-for-19 from three-point range, and missed 11 free throws. Those things have happened this season. And this year’s SJSU squad has a star, Brandon Clarke, fourth in the Mountain West in scoring at 17.8 points per game. Focus, focus, focus.

Boise State and San Diego State are among nine teams in the West with 20 wins in each of the last four seasons, joining Arizona, BYU, Gonzaga, New Mexico State, Oregon, Saint Mary’s and UC Irvine. The Broncos have four guaranteed games remaining to get the three wins they need to extend their streak. They lost one opportunity for a home win in December when the Portland game was cancelled after the Pilots couldn’t fly out of PDX due to weather. Four of the aforementioned teams, including Boise State, aren’t there yet. BYU is just one win away from 20. San Diego State and UC Irvine, with 16 victories apiece, have some work to do, extending into their conference tournaments.

Bishop Kelly linebacker Daniel Cantrell apparently will get his shot as a Bronco. The 6-1, 225-pounder tweeted Wednesday night, “Excited to officially commit to Boise State University.” Sounds like a preferred walk-on opportunity. Sometimes the local walk-ons don’t work out, but more often they do. Hey, that’s how the careers of two of this century’s FBS season scoring leaders started, Brock Forsey of Centennial and Tyler Jones of Borah.

The Idaho Steelheads have met the Missouri Mavericks twice before, in the final two games of last season at CenturyLink Arena (the teams split the series). But the Steelheads have never played in Independence, MO, and that’s where they face the Mavericks tonight and tomorrow night. The Steelies have been riding a really strong penalty kill unit over the past five games, during which they’ve overcome all 21 opposing power plays. In the last 13 games, Idaho has also produced five shorthanded goals. It also helps to have Landon Bow en fuego. The 21-year-old Albertan goaltender has won five of six starts since returning from the AHL and is now second in the ECHL with a 2.29 goals-against average.

The only pro sports franchise in the state of Alaska, a three-time winner of the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, is going away—and there’s no reason to believe it’ll come back. The Alaska Aces, rivals of the Steelheads, announced yesterday that they will cease operations after a combined 22 seasons in the WCHL and ECHL. According to the Anchorage Daily News, “The Aces said the decision stemmed from mounting financial losses triggered by plunging attendance, dwindling corporate sponsorships and Alaska’s recession-wracked economy.” What I didn’t realize is that the five current owners were part of a group that bought the Aces out of bankruptcy in 2002. They only have so much patience. The final game in Aces history will be April 8 in Anchorage versus the Steelheads.

It was a sterling start for Graham DeLaet yesterday in the Honda Classic. The former Boise State standout turned in a bogey-free round in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, shooting a four-under 66. DeLaet is tied for fifth, just two shots off the pace set by Cody Gribble and Wesley Bryan. This is his sixth appearance in the Honda Classic. In his five previous trips to PGA National, DeLaet opened with rounds of two-over 72 or worse in four of those years. The exception was 2013, when he sizzled with a five-under 65 on the first day and tied for ninth on Sunday.

Circling back to basketball: Idaho got another 30-point game from Ernest Sanders and beat Idaho State 69-61 last night. The Vandals have a showdown tomorrow night versus Weber State—that one, like last night’s game, is in Memorial Gym. College of Idaho is excited (and fortunate) to have another home game in the Cascade Conference Tournament tomorrow night, as the third-seeded Coyotes host fourth-seeded Oregon Tech in the semifinals. The Yotes lucked out Wednesday when top-seeded Northwest Christian was upset at home by Corban in a rout, 105-76. NNU fell at Alaska-Anchorage 81-73 last night in the Frozen North. The Crusaders play at Alaska-Fairbanks tomorrow for a spot in the GNAC Tournament. And the Boise State women gun for their 20th win of the season when they visit San Jose State tomorrow.

It’s hard to understand why the Boise State women’s gymnastics team would fall five spots in the Road To Nationals team rankings as it continues to register high scores on the road. The Broncos kind of knew it was coming, though, as the system shifted over to the Regional Qualifying Score criteria this week. Boise State’s RQS is only (“only”) 196.330, because the Broncos have competed in just six meets so far this winter, meaning they have to count their lowest score of the season, a 195.3 in the opener last month. Their hope is that they score high in their meet at No. 4 Alabama tonight, enabling them to throw out the 195.3 and make a jump back up in the rankings.

More campus cruise: Boise State’s strength is in the distances, and the Bronco women captured one title on the first day of the Mountain West Indoor Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque, the distance medley relay. The College of Idaho ski teams continue competition today in the USCSA Western Regional Championships at Brundage Mountain. The C of I women were sixth yesterday in the giant slalom. And it must have been pleasant at Wolfe Field yesterday. Yikes. At least College of Idaho and Saint Martin’s played a single game and not a twin bill. One thing we didn’t have during the record snow and ice in January was wind. They made up for it yesterday. The Saints beat the Yotes 10-8—the series resumes this afternoon.

This Day In Sports…February 24, 2002, 15 years ago today:

The Canadian men’s ice hockey team wins the Olympic gold medal for the first time in 50 years at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The Canadians beat the USA 5-2. But the celebration didn’t compare to the one eight years later, when Canada beat the Americans for the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympiad. Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan would become the second and third players ever to win Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup in the same year in June when the Detroit Red Wings won the 2002 NHL crown.

(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.)