Rice puts it in the basketball blender

Boise State gets its dry-run tonight in Taco Bell Arena. So do the facility’s new video boards. Boise State gets its dry-run tonight in Taco Bell Arena. That goes for the women’s and men’s basketball teams, as well as the new video boards above the floor. The Bronco men play their one-and-only exhibition game against Northwest University—that’ll start about 30 minutes following the end of the women’s exhibition against Southern Oregon. For men’s coach Leon Rice, it’s all about getting different combinations working on the floor, and he’ll be the first to tell you that injuries are delaying it. “As a coach, it’s the most frustrating thing,” said Rice. “You want everything clicking right away on the first night.” Rice says point guard Montigo Alford is definitely out tonight and hinted that Mikey Thompson will be limited at best. “We need to get everyone healthy and on the same page and practicing together,” Rice said. “There’s value in that.”

If the team isn’t at full strength, the arena will be. The new big screens are noticeable. “It changes the feel of this building, and I think it’s going to change the fan experience,” said Rice. What’s the biggest difference? “It felt like an old arena (in recent years),” he said. There will be other newness tonight, like a 30-second shot clock, a reduction in timeouts, and changes in rules during pregame drills that will, let’s say, create new energy. As Bronco assistant Danny Henderson pointed out on the Bob & Chris Show this week, it’s a whole new ballgame for fans. “There’s the new video board, and James Webb can dunk in warmups!” he said.

Rice is as anxious as anybody to see Boise State’s big men on the floor when the popcorn’s poppin’. “We’ve got a good group of big guys—they’re all skilled,” said Rice. The familiar ones are Webb and Nick Duncan. Zach Haney is 6-11 and is coming off his redshirt year. And 6-10 Robin Jorch, the recent arrival from Germany, is the wild card. “With big guys you start with the hands and the feet, and he’s very skilled,” said Rice of Jorch. The apparent depth inside has provided the Broncos with some flexibility regarding sophomore David Wacker, who was affected by a shoulder injury last season. “We’re still trying to make a decision about redshirting David,” Rice said. “That’s still up in the air.”

Boise State’s Tyler Rausa has been named one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award that goes to college football’s best placekicker. Rausa is the only semifinalist from the Mountain West and is the fourth Bronco to make it this far in the new century, joining Nick Calaycay, Tyler Jones (a 2004 finalist) and Kyle Brotzman. Rausa is 17-of-20 on field goal attempts, including a perfect 16-of-16 from inside 50 yards. He’s in a four-way tie for the national lead with 17 field goals and a three-way tie for highest field goal percentage (85 percent) among the guys with that many makes. Idaho’s Austin Rehkow also has 17 field goals and has made 85 percent of his attempts—and he is also is Groza semifinalist.

Boise State’s practices during this bye week can probably take on the look of rehearsals for stage plays, at least for quarterback Brett Rypien. Because one of the things that makes Rypien look older than his years is his execution—specifically, his selling of play-fakes. He’s Leonardo DiCaprio out there, totally in character as he pretends to hand off while peeking downfield. The best example from his 469-yard day at UNLV was on his 44-yard touchdown pass to Jake Hardee in the second quarter last Saturday. Rypien sent Jeremy McNichols into the line on fourth-and-one, stood almost motionless with the ball hidden behind his hip, and then launched it to the wide-open Hardee. For Halloween, Rypien dressed up as a fifth-year senior.

Nevada and Fresno State got this week’s Mountain West schedule underway last night, with the Wolf Pack outlasting the Bulldogs and their anemic offense, 30-14. The rest of the conference slate is more interesting than usual. Tonight San Jose State hosts BYU in what has all the markings of a trap game for the Cougars. They’ll have to tame Spartan superstar running back Tyler Ervin, just like Boise State will three weeks from today. Tomorrow Utah State tries to avoid an ambush at New Mexico (and the Aggies probably will), Air Force tries to build on its surging momentum when it hosts service academy rival Army, Colorado State and Wyoming play the 107th Border War in Laramie, and interim coach Chris Naeole tries to light a fire under the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at UNLV.

What mental state is Idaho in after its collapse at New Mexico State last week? The Vandals will find out tomorrow at South Alabama, where they’ll be 9½-point underdogs against the 3-4 Jaguars. One constant for the Idaho offense is senior running back Elijhaa Penny, whose rushing average is now up over 100 yards per game (102.3, fourth-best in the Sun Belt). Penny, the imposing 6-2, 234-pounder, has rushed for 376 yards the past two games and has 814 for the season, 186 yards away from becoming Idaho’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Doente Jackson back in 2007. Penny also has 20 catches for 167 yards this year.

The College of Idaho plays at Eastern Oregon tomorrow, with both squads coming in at 3-6. The Coyotes lost their shot at a winning season last week, but they can still match their win total from their 2014 rebirth by beating the Mountaineers. The Yotes continue to sport a decidedly local flavor, and that’s very evident in the secondary. Former Mountain View Maverick Nate Moore leads the Frontier Conference in interceptions after picking off his sixth of the season last week, and Bishop Kelly grad Cory Brady nabbed his ninth career interception last Saturday. While the Coyote football team is in LaGrande, the College of Idaho men’s basketball team will be home at the J.A. Albertson Events Center hosting the Taco Bell Shoot-Out. The Yotes gun for their 35th consecutive home victory tonight against Montana Western.

Local fans are as familiar with J.J. O’Brien as anybody on the Idaho Stampede’s training camp roster. O’Brien just finished a productive three-season career at San Diego State, which engaged Boise State in a series of nailbiters during that period. In six career games against the Broncos, O’Brien averaged nine points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He was pretty good in his last trip to Boise in February, when he scored 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in Taco Bell Arena. His SDSU teammates struggled, though, as the Aztecs lost to Boise State, 61-46. The 6-7 forward was San Diego State’s third-leading scorer last season with 10.3 points per game. Tomorrow evening the Stampede will hold an open intra-squad scrimmage at Centennial High.

The Idaho Steelheads are looking to get that CenturyLink Arena magic back as they face two more games against the Atlanta Gladiators this weekend. The Steelheads have been victorious in just one of four games on home ice this season. The Steelies’ special teams are a paradox. Idaho polished off all five Atlanta power plays Wednesday night and is third in the ECHL on the penalty kill at 91 percent. But it has converted only two of its last 36 power play opportunities. One of them came in the 5-4 loss to the Gladiators, but that was offset by two short-handed goals against the Steelheads’ power play unit. And Idaho was unable to cash in on a 5-on-3 advantage in the final minute of the game.

This Day In Sports…November 6, 2010, five years ago today:

A record-breaking day as Boise State routs Hawaii, 42-7, ending the Warriors’ six-game winning streak before a sellout crowd in Bronco Stadium. Three of the Broncos’ most coveted all-time records fell, as Kellen Moore became the career leader in touchdown passes with 85 and Austin Pettis grabbed the career lead in receptions with 196. The team broke the third, amassing 737 yards in total offensive se for the game, with Moore throwing for a career-high 507 yards, third-most ever at Boise State. The Broncos also tied their record for longest winning streak with their 22nd victory in a row.

(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.)