On the ropes, the Broncos rally back big

Boise State has played some close games during the Mountain West season, but nothing as dramatic as this. Anything can happen during the rigors of an 18-game conference slate. Last night there was a Bronco team that trailed New Mexico by 13 points late in the first half, 11 at halftime, and 13 again with eight minutes left in the game. Boise State started whittling but was still down by six with a minute remaining. Then came a Chris Sengfelder three-pointer, a Chandler Hutchison steal and dunk, another Hutchison steal with a layin, and the Broncos exited with an unbelievable 73-71 win. The exit wasn’t pretty. When the Broncos’ Marcus Dickinson grabbed the final rebound, he was shoved to the floor by the Lobos’ Joe Furstinger, and it took a little while to restore order to the court. No handshake line in this one.

You could point to the 5,300-foot elevation at The Pit to explain Boise State’s earlier struggles, but New Mexico’s relentless press had an effect on the Broncos long before the altitude could. Baseline-to-baseline defensive pressure wears on opponents’ legs, and last night the Lobos had a full bench for the first time in weeks. The thin air didn’t bother Chris Sengfelder, though. The German senior played like he was from the Alps, scoring 24 points and amassing a monstrous seven offensive rebounds among his eight boards. Rebounding saved Boise State on a night when it shot 43 percent and made only four three-balls. The Broncos outrebounded the Lobos by 15.

When the smoke cleared (and the teams were finally separated), the realization set in that Boise State is now 20-4. It’s the Broncos’ sixth straight 20-win season, and their seventh in eight years under coach Leon Rice. Boise State had just seven 20-win campaigns combined in 40 Division I seasons before Rice arrived. The Broncos’ current six-season streak is the longest in the Mountain West.

Hutchison was a force for Boise State yet again last night, racking up another double-double with 23 points and 12 rebounds. That comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement that Hutchison is one of 10 candidates, essentially semifinalists, for the 2018 Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award (although “shooting wing” would be a more apt description of Hutchison). Others on the list include Duke’s Grayson Allen and Arizona’s Allonzo Trier. Hutchison, who is averaging 19.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, is the only candidate who leads his team in all three categories. The list will be further narrowed to five finalists next month , with the award announced at ESPN’s College Basketball Awards in Los Angeles on April 6.

It’ll be a rather calm National Letter of Intent Day at Boise State today, as most of the flurry came during the new early signing day on December 20. Coach Bryan Harsin said four weeks ago on Idaho SportsTalk that “three or four” scholarships remained to be doled out today, identifying “quarterback, inside defensive lineman, tight end and offensive lineman” as being on the wish list. Well, the quarterback is taken care of with the commitment from Riley Smith of Jacksonville, FL, and the O-line bill is to be filled by Dallas Holliday of Westlake Village, CA, who flipped from Colorado State last week. Homedale defensive lineman Scott Matlock is expected to grayshirt. And 247 Sports reports this morning that the Broncos have landed Tyneil Hopper, a 6-2, 225-pound “stretch tight end” from Roswell, GA.

Former Boise State offensive coordinator and Mountain Home High grad Brent Pease has come full circle, joining Bobby Hauck’s new Montana staff as assistant head coach and wide receivers coach. Pease led Division I-AA in total offense as a senior quarterback for the Grizzlies in 1986. He was part of Don Read’s UM staff in the 1990’s, helping the Grizzlies to the 1996 I-AA national championship. After that he had stops at Northern Arizona, Kentucky and Baylor before joining Chris Petersen and the Broncos in 2006. In 2012 it was on to Florida, and then back with Coach Pete at Washington. Pease wasn’t retained by the Huskies after the 2015 season and most recently coached at UTEP.

I’ve been thinking about this. Leighton Vander Esch coming out of nowhere at Boise State—and leaving school early for the NFL Draft—is kind of like what James Webb III did three years ago with the Broncos. A year ago, Vander Esch wasn’t even projected as a starting linebacker for the 2017 season. Rewind to the 2014-15 basketball season. Webb had redshirted the season before after transferring from North Idaho College. No one suspected he would be an All-Mountain West forward less than a year and a half later.

In November of his sophomore year, Webb played sparingly. In fact, the last time Boise State played Idaho in CenturyLink Arena, an 86-75 win, Leon Rice didn’t so much as put Webb in the game. He hadn’t scored a point for the Broncos until being inserted for the final 14 minutes of a 60-54 loss at North Carolina State on Thanksgiving weekend, when he went 5-for-5 from the field and scored 12 points. Webb averaged 15 points per game from there on out and was Mountain West Newcomer of the Year. Despite all the doubts surrounding the timing of his NBA declaration following his junior year, Webb has tenaciously stuck to his dream and is playing in the league now. In his sixth game with Brooklyn last night, Webb scored six points on a pair of three-pointers and had six rebounds in a 123-113 loss to Houston.

The Idaho Steelheads begin a challenging week tonight as they open a three-game series against the ECHL Mountain Division-leading Colorado Eagles. It’s the second time in three weeks the Steelheads have been in Loveland—the last trip saw them swept in three games by the Eagles, who turn around and visit CenturyLink Arena next week. The Steelies will be wary of “slew foot” infractions, a new area of emphasis in the ECHL. That occurs when a player comes up behind or alongside an opponent and uses his foot to knock the legs out from under an opponent. Idaho’s Steven McParland, Justin Parizek and Corbin Baldwin were all fined an undisclosed amount by the league for slew foot violations last Friday against Utah.

This Day In Sports…February 7, 2003, 15 years ago today:

One year after the Opening Ceremonies of the Salt Lake Winter Games, a committee commissioned by Governor Dirk Kempthorne announces it’s exploring the possibility of an Idaho bid for the Winter Olympics. Kempthorne predicted the state would host an Olympiad by the year 2040, a dream that at first is seen as pie-in-the-sky—but later viewed as not impossible. It’s been pretty quiet on that front since, although a Washington Post report last week called Coeur d’Alene the closest match to Pyeongchang, South Korea.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)