Boise State fans have been fortunate with tipoff times during the 2015-16 basketball season. Boise State fans have been fortunate with tipoff times during the 2015-16 basketball season. Tonight is when they get their comeuppance. There have been lots of afternoons and early evenings, but now the Broncos get a 9 p.m. start on a weeknight for UNLV. What could have been one of the larger crowds of the season will be adversely affected. And all for the sake of meager national viewership on ESPNU. This is Boise State’s seventh Taco Bell Arena game on national TV this season (the three webcasts on ESPN3 don’t count). The closest the Broncos have come to a tip as late as tonight’s was the 8 p.m. time for San Diego State on January 16. And that was on ESPN2 on a Saturday night for two teams that were then unbeaten in Mountain West play. Attendance for that one was 10,421. A crowd of 7,000 would be good tonight.
Of course, it’s more than the late tipoff that could affect tonight’s turnstile. Boise State has lost five of its last seven games, including the deflating 80-78 loss at New Mexico the last time out. UNLV is not the marquee draw it once was, working under interim coach Todd Simon and coming in shorthanded tonight. Sparkplug forward Ben Carter was lost for the season with a torn ACL on January 30. Seven-foot freshman phenom Stephen Zimmerman Jr. is out with a sprained left knee suffered at Fresno State 2½ weeks ago. Zimmerman has been cleared to return to practice—but probably not to play tonight. And forward Dwayne Morgan separated his shoulder in the Rebels’ shootaround before last Saturday’s game against Nevada.
UNLV is the team with the momentum tonight, though, coming off a thrilling 102-91 overtime win versus the Wolf Pack. The Rebels still have Patrick McCaw, and he drained a miraculous three-pointer at the buzzer to save the day and send it into the OT. Nevada’s Marqueze Coleman had nailed a three of his own with 2.4 seconds left that gave the Pack an 80-77 lead. UNLV has won three of its last four and can move to within half a game of Boise State and that coveted No. 5 spot in the Mountain West with a win tonight. All this without a direction yet for the future of the program. Simon wants the permanent job with the Rebels—so does UNLV legend and current staff member Stacey Augmon. One writer in the Las Vegas Review-Journal suggested Rebels fans wouldn’t mind seeing Nevada’s Eric Musselman, a former NBA coach, desert Reno for Las Vegas.
If Boise State can get a consistent 40 minutes out of James Webb III tonight, the Broncos like their chances. Webb has been up-and-down lately, but the ups always produce a strong line in the box score. The junior forward has logged double-doubles in the last two games, giving him a Mountain West-leading 10 for the season. Six of them have come in conference play, and that also leads the league. Boise State is longing for this to be an omen: Webb has recorded a double-double in all three games against UNLV during his career.
Among the three Boise State Broncos at the NFL Combine this week, Darian Thompson and Kamalei Correa are getting all the ink. The wild card is offensive tackle Rees Odhiambo. He’s seeking to become the fifth straight starting left tackle out of Boise State to be drafted into the NFL, joining Daryn Colledge, Ryan Clady, Nate Potter and Charles Leno Jr. On the plus side: Odhiambo was a three-year starter and was All-Mountain West as a senior. On the minus side: he was never able to play a full season, thanks to injuries. That includes last fall, when he was out for the final five games of the season with a broken ankle. Remember how concerns over Jay Ajayi’s durability affected Jay Ajayi’s draft status last spring? Odhiambo will be dealing with that, and then some.
Going into the Combine, Thompson is the only Bronco that NFL.com draft expert Mike Mayock ranks in the top five at his position. Thompson is listed No. 3 at safety behind Karl Joseph of West Virginia and Vonn Bell of Ohio State. Correa is not in Mayock’s top five at either edge rusher or linebacker, even though ESPN.com’s Mel Kiper Jr. currently has Correa going in the first round (to the Arizona Cardinals). Odhiambo will be the first guy through this week, with media interviews tomorrow and on-field workouts Friday. Correa’s corresponding sessions are Friday and Sunday, and Thompson’s up Saturday and Monday.
“Big House” is the 2015 NFL Strength Coach of the Year. Joe Kenn of the Carolina Panthers, who was Boise State strength and conditioning coach in the 1990’s, was named for the honor yesterday and will receive the award this week in Indianapolis. San Francisco 49ers strength and conditioning coach Mark Uyeyama will present it to Kenn—he interned for House after he left BSU for Utah in 1999, and they’ve been close ever since. Kenn is seen as a key ingredient in the Panthers’ run that resulted in a 17-2 record and a trip to the Super Bowl.
The immediate picture for the Idaho Steelheads is the race in the ECHL West Division, where they’re currently tied for first place with the Utah Grizzlies. The bigger picture is the jockeying for playoff seeding in the Western Conference. Idaho is in fourth, one point ahead of the Tulsa Oilers, the team it faces on the road tonight. The Steelies and Tulsa have split the four games they’ve played this season. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, but the Steelheads could make a statement with a win this evening. One thing they’d like to clean up is special teams—they haven’t scored on the power play in their last 26 attempts, a stretch covering eight games.
How about the Chicago Cubs being established as 4-to-1 favorites to win the 2016 World Series? We’re talking about a team that hasn’t won it all since 1908. If you go by the Cubs’ latest depth chart (and that’s all we have to go by), five former Boise Hawks would be poised to make history. Three are starters, third baseman Kris Bryant, leftfielder Kyle Schwarber and pitcher John Lackey. There’s also Matt Szczur, who backs up all three outfield spots, and Javier Baez, No. 2 at second base. Not to forget starting pitcher Jason Hammel, the former Treasure Valley Community College Chukar.
The yo-yo strikes again. Tibor Pleiss has now finished a fourth assignment to the Idaho Stampede this season and is headed back to the Utah Jazz. The 7-3 German center has been getting valuable floor time with the Stampede, and sooner or later it should translate into more NBA minutes. Pleiss played his best game as a D-Leaguer last Friday against Grand Rapids, scoring 19 points and pulling down 17 rebounds. Who knows—he could be back with the Stamps again by the time they visit Bakersfield this Friday.
This Day In Sports…February 23, 2006, 10 years ago today:
At that point, the most anticipated Olympic day ever in Boise, as native son skier Jeret Peterson goes for a gold medal in freestyle aerials at the Winter Games in Torino. Speedy would unveil his signature “hurricane” jump, with the highest degree of difficulty in the history of the sport. It was awesome in the air, but Speedy would be late on his landing, dragging his right hand. The markdown cost him a medal, and he finished seventh. Peterson’s Olympic experience ended abruptly less than 24 hours later when he was asked to leave the Games after a public fistfight with a friend. And 5½ years later, his life would tragically end.
(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.)