Regardless of whether attendance tonight tops 10,000 or not, it’s going to be a remarkable late-night crowd for Valentine’s Day—on a work and school night. Nevada is accustomed to playing before large throngs; the Wolf Pack is averaging just under 10,000 fans per game in Mountain West play. But Boise State has something in Taco Bell Arena that is lacking in Lawlor Events Center: noise. Early in the year I talked about the old Bobby Dye days, and the noise on every defensive possession. When conference games began, the Broncos’ home crowds grew, and so did the decibel meter. The first sellout versus San Diego State produced noise almost every time the Aztecs had the ball. It was even louder at the UNLV game. As well as Reno is supporting hoops right now, that’s something you don’t hear down there.
So what’s this Boise State-Nevada game going to be like? The last one in Reno started with a Wolf Pack dunk off the opening tip, three seconds into the game. That could have set the tone, but the Broncos were unfazed and dived into the fray, and before the 74-68 Pack win was in the books there were nine ties and 10 lead changes. What Boise State would like to forget most about that night last month is the three-point line. The Broncos were just 3-for-21 (14 percent) from beyond the arc. In a six-point game, you know how important that stat is. On the other side is Nevada, which was a poor three-point shooting team just two years ago at 30 percent for the season. Now the Wolf Pack is a shade under 40 percent from deep, in the top 25 in that category in Division I. There’s one of your keys to the game.
The silver lining in Boise State’s disappointing 71-65 loss at Utah State last Saturday was rebounding, where the Broncos had a 35-25 advantage over the Aggies with 11 offensive boards. They continue to lead the nation in defensive rebounding, grabbing 84 percent of opponents’ missed shots. And Boise State has moved up to No. 9 in the country in rebounding margin at a plus 7.7 per game. Holding serve on the defensive end and sneaking away with their complement of offensive rebounds will go a long way in taking down Nevada and taking back first place in the Mountain West. After all the talk about a conference championship, it has to be “go” time tonight.
Mock drafts are rolling out—you have to sort them out to find credible ones. At NFL.com, Chad Reuter’s initial list goes three rounds deep, and he has Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch going in the third round, No. 73 overall, to Miami. Then there’s Matt Miller of Bleacher Report. Miller has the pride of Riggins as the final pick of the first round to the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. The synopsis of what Miller wrote: “I’m predicting a slight reach to draft Vander Esch. A junior entry into the class, Vander Esch is one of my favorite players in the draft. He’s a physical, athletic linebacker with the tools to be a three-down player. Getting a rock-solid linebacker would take an already great defense to a pretty awesome place.”
Longtime NFL Draft researcher Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com has the most glowing prediction for Vander Esch. How about No. 17 overall to the L.A. Chargers? “The Chargers need multiple linebackers, and Vander Esch can play multiple spots,” writes Pauline. “He’s a terrific player and the talk of the scouting community, and mark my words—Vander Esch will blow up the Combine.” We have a few more weeks to find out. Pauline, by the way, has Wyoming’s Josh Allen going No. 2 overall to the New York Giants.
One of the trending sports stories yesterday was the drop in college football attendance last season. FBS games dropped by 1,409 fans per game, the largest percentage drop since 1983. Interestingly, only the Big Ten and Mountain West had increases, the latter due mainly to Fresno State coming back from the abyss and Colorado State opening its new stadium.
Boise State is pretty much in line with what’s happening nationally. The Broncos averaged 32,228 fans per game last season. (That’s not counting the Mountain West championship game—and you can’t count that, because the entire stadium has to be sold from zero.) The average in 2016 was 34,273. I was just talking yesterday to a decades-long Boise State season ticket holder who is on the fence about the 2018 season. Her issues: 1) kickoff times, 2) parking, and 3) “watching it at home is so much fun.” All three items wrap into convenience, and for many across the country, it’s just more convenient not to go.
Chase Josey contended for a podium spot in the men’s halfpipe at the Winter Olympics last night (again, it was today Pyeongchang time). The Sun Valley snowboarder scored a solid 88.00 on his third run and hung onto third place for awhile. Were it not for a hand-touch at the end of his final trick, Josey may have had a shot at the bronze medal. He ended up finishing sixth, a fine result for his first Olympiad. And he got to watch emotional gold medalist Shaun White make history. Also, Hilary Knight and the USA women’s hockey team are 2-0 in pool play after a 5-0 rout of OAR, the “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” Knight didn’t score, but hey—she did log six minutes in the penalty box.
The Idaho Steelheads resume what they’re calling their six-game “super series” against Colorado in CenturyLink Arena tonight after winning three in Loveland, Co, last week. Another sweep of the Eagles would be a lot to ask for, but if it happened in regulation, the Steelheads would move past Colorado into first place in the ECHL Mountain Division (they trail Colorado by five points). The Steelies will have to do it without their second-leading scorer and one of their goalies, who are both off to the AHL. Forward Henrik Samuelsson has been loaned to Rockford, and goalie Ryan Faragher has joined Stockton, both on “professional tryout agreements.”
This Day In Sports…February 14, 2013, five years ago today:
The Middleton girls basketball team sees its 72-game winning streak, the longest in the nation, come to an end in the first round of the Idaho 4A Tournament. The Vikings, who hadn’t lost since November of 2010, were upended by Twin Falls, 42-36. Middleton’s streak included two state championships and an undefeated 2011-12 season.
(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.)