Reversed roles on Senior Night

Watching the opening minutes of the Boise State-Wyoming game, I wondered what it was telling us. There was a ticky-tack foul called on Justinian Jessup 40 seconds into the game. That told us a lot. There were a staggering 54 fouls in all in the Broncos’ 95-87 win over the Cowboys. When Chandler Hutchison drained a three-pointer with less than three minutes elapsed, did that tell us his Senior Night would equate to a blaze of glory? Well, Hutchison got caught up in the foul-fest, scoring just 11 points in 21 minutes before fouling out with just over three minutes left in the game. What a way for it to end for Hutchison in Taco Bell Arena. He was called for another ticky-tack foul, bring an extended chorus of boos that effectively pre-empted a proper sendoff for the best player in Boise State history.

Boise State’s other two seniors made up for Hutchison’s s trials and tribulations. The one-year graduate transfers, Chris Sengfelder and Lexus Williams, shook off the emotion of their Senior Night ceremony to score 24 and 21 points, respectively. Williams was nails, playing with as much confidence as he has all season and cooly making all 12 of his free throw attempts. Sengfelder was, as usual, sneaky good, creating havoc inside with rebounds and putbacks and stepping outside for three makes from beyond the arc. And it was revealed after the game that Sengfelder did it all on a sprained ankle suffered in practice Friday. Hutchison, by the way, has been named Mountain West Player of the Year by a vote of conference media. The official MW awards determined by coaches’ voting are imminent.

This is how Boise State needed to finish the regular season. A loss to Wyoming, coupled with the defeat last Tuesday at San Diego State, would have sent the Broncos skidding into the Mountain West Tournament this week. In Laramie two months ago, Boise State led by 16 points at halftime and lost by one in overtime. Saturday night, the Broncos were up by 13 points at halftime, and—despite the Cowboys getting hot in the second half—kept the pedal to the metal and answered every charge by the Pokes. Wyo scored just five points over the first 8½ minutes of the game and shot just 41 percent in the first half. The Cowboys hit 63 percent from the field in the second half, corralled nine three-pointers and scored 53 points, yet they were unable to get the margin down to single-digits until the final minute.

The Mountain West Tournament now takes Boise State into the unknown. The Broncos are seeded second and will begin play Thursday night in Las Vegas. That has folks scrutinizing the brackets and handicapping Boise State’s route to the title game and a possible showdown against top-seeded Nevada. But the Broncos best not be sucked into that. Three years ago, when they won their first and only Mountain West regular season championship and earned the tournament’s No. 1 seed, they were ushered out in the semifinals in an overtime loss to Wyoming. Boise State plays the winner of Wednesday’s game between Utah State and Colorado State. Let’s say USU wins. The Broncos’ home win over the Aggies in January was a struggle—and, of course, Boise State lost in Logan last month. It’ll be all hands on deck.

Gonzaga’s possible discussions with the Mountain West regarding expansion was the biggest story while I was away last week. We all know what’s happened with the Bulldogs over the past 19 years. But did you know that there’s one Mountain West school that was once a conference mate of Gonzaga? The Zags were charter members of the Big Sky as a non-football school in 1963 and competed against Boise State from 1970 to 1979. They essentially traded places with Nevada in 1979, moving to the West Coast Conference as the Wolf Pack left the WCC (and independent football) for the Big Sky. With that bit of history said, I really hope this new Gonzaga move comes to pass.

Leighton Vander Esch was everything scouts and front office personnel could have hoped for at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. The now former Boise State star weighed in at 256 pounds, 61 pounds heavier than he was when he came out of Salmon River High in Riggins as a wiry walk-on four years ago. Aside from his 4.65-second time in the 40-yard dash, Vander Esch’s results in Combine drills were all in the top five among linebackers. NFL Network gives him a draft grade of 6.18, which translates into “should become an instant starter.” What we don’t know is how Vander Esch fared in interviews. But is there any doubt that his passion and enthusiasm blew NFL team’s away?

Cedrick Wilson’s Draft prospects aren’t as clear as Vander Esch’s. The fellow former Bronco bench-pressed only nine reps on Friday, and his 40 time of 4.55 seconds was in the lower third among wide receivers. But his results in drills were all upper middle-of-the-pack. Thing is, there aren’t tests at the NFL Combine for making clutch catches or difficult catches. That’s all Wilson did the past two seasons at Boise State. He and Colorado State wide receiver Michael Gallup have had to try to prove to skeptics that their impressive numbers weren’t inflated due to Group of 5 competition.

Right back to hoops, the Boise State women are turning their attention from savoring their first regular-season Mountain West Championship to the task of defending their conference tournament title. The Broncos upended Wyoming 67-63 Friday night in a winner-take-all game for the No. 1 seed Friday night, with Braydey Hodgins nailing a trio of three-pointers in less than 2½ minutes of the fourth quarter to key the victory. Boise State faces the winner of today’s Air Force-Utah State game tomorrow in Las Vegas. And the Idaho men, having secured the No. 2 seed in the Big Sky Tournament, will meet the winner of tomorrow’s Idaho State-Southern Utah game Thursday in Reno. Both teams have the Vandals’ attention—they beat the Thunderbirds by just two points Saturday and lost to the Bengals two weeks ago.

And the rest of the weekend wrap: the 14th-ranked Boise State women’s gymnastics team downed Sacramento State Friday night, recording another solid team score of 196.725. The Broncos’ Shani Remme won the all-around in the meet for the seventh time this season. The Idaho Steelheads split two games in Wichita over the weekend, routing the Thunder 5-2 Friday night before Wichita snapped a six-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory yesterday. Justin Parizek scores two goals Friday and leads the current Steelies roster with 23 goals. Finally, congrats to Rocky Mountain for its second straight state 5A hoops championship—and to Fruitland for capturing its first state 3A title since 2012.

This Day In Sports…March 5, 2011:

After 10 years in the league, Boise State plays its final men’s basketball conference game in the WAC, beating San Jose State, 66-51. It was the Taco Bell Arena finale for seven seniors, including All-WAC guard La’Shard Anderson and one of the school’s top all-time three-point shooters, Paul Noonan. Fittingly, the final basket of the night was a Noonan three. The Broncos capped their first regular season under coach Leon Rice with a seven-game winning streak to secure the No. 2 seed in the WAC Tournament the following week.

(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.)