A low point becomes a semi-high point

Give Boise State credit for not folding last night, because man it could have. It was a courageous effort after the team’s darkest hour (literally). But in the end, Washington generally smothered every Bronco not named Chandler Hutchison in a 77-74 win in the first round of the NIT in Seattle. It doesn’t get much worse than the way Boise State shot the ball in the first half—how about 5-for-28 from the field? Let that sink in. That’s 18 percent. The Broncos went more than 11 minutes without a field goal and trailed by 15 at the break. That they got back into the game was nothing short of amazing considering that level of futility. Hutchison took over, keying a 10-0 run at the end of the third quarter to pull Boise State within three points. And another flurry in the final 45 seconds made three the final margin.

So here’s the sayonara recap for Hutchison. He couldn’t have gone out more impressively. Hutchison scored 39 points, tied for the fifth-most in a single game in school history. He also pulled down 14 rebounds, making it his 14th career 20/10 performance. Coach Leon Rice saluted Hutchison for being there for his teammates. “You’ve got people who are sitting out NIT games because they’re pro prospects,” said Rice on his KBOI post game show. “And you’ve got our guy, who competed in his final game for Boise State. Played all 40 minutes.” Hutchison wouldn’t have missed it. “I’m just blessed with everything and the guys I’ve had with me,” he said. “It’s been a heckuva ride.”

Fellow senior Chris Sengfelder, after sharing in the misery of that first half, ended his one Boise State season with 15 points and 14 rebounds. A lot of his boards came during the Broncos’ steely comeback. The team’s other graduate transfer, Lexus Williams, didn’t fare well, going 0-for-7 from the field and scoring two points. Washington stifled Williams and the rest of Boise State’s perimeter players. Aside from Hutchison, they went 5-for-24 from three-point range. Was it the extra 1¾ feet added as an experiment during the NIT, or was it just one of those nights? There’s an offseason now to ponder it.

This is not an isolated opinion out there as the NCAA Tournament tips off today. Jeff Borzello of ESPN.com writes, “Out west, Boise is your spot. You have two potential 12 vs. 5 upsets with Kentucky vs. Davidson and Ohio State vs. South Dakota State. You have a potential Kentucky vs. Arizona second-round game.” Those upsets Borzello mentions wouldn’t be of the magnitude of Hampton’s legendary night in 2001, but it’s great to have solid mid-major underdogs coming through. And then you have the individual talent here, starting with Arizona center Deandre Ayton, who stands 7-1 but runs like a deer. Try to put aside the controversy over that reported $100,000 payment and appreciate a guy who is poised to be the NBA’s top overall draft pick.

It’s really Gonzaga, though, who’s kicks the Boise bracket to another level. The Bulldogs made a Session I ticket in Taco Bell Arena today one of the hottest in the NCAA Tournament. It’s been just another season of the office for Gonzaga, with a record of 30-4. It’s hard not to like the Zags. We never see them live here, but they’re only 300 miles north. The Bulldogs are on TV all the time, and they’ve had local ties. Bishop Kelly’s Cory Violette and Skyview’s Kyle Dranginis both played there, and there’s coach Mark Few—his wife’s side of the family is from the Treasure Valley. Julian Laca, Marcy’s father, died last summer. He was a long-time athletic director at Parma High and a great guy.

The underdogs flying under the radar in the Boise bracket are UNC-Greensboro, who faces Gonzaga today, and Buffalo, who takes on Arizona tonight. The Spartans and Bulls are both No. 13 seeds facing uphill battles. Buffalo is in the Dance for the third time in four years and came close to upsets of Virginia and Miami in its previous two trips. The Bulls, who are seventh in the nation in scoring at 85 points per game, won’t be awed by this stage. UNC-Greensboro is one of the best defensive teams in the country and dares you to shoot from three-point range. UNCG forces opponents to shoot 41 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc—and then holds them to 32.5 percent shooting from distance.

San Diego State learned how to defend big-time scorers as the season progressed. A case in point was Hutchison, who put up a Boise State record 44 on the Aztecs in January and scored a more pedestrian 18 two weeks ago. SDSU would take that latter number this evening against Houston’s Rob Gray, who has three 30-point games in the past month and five for the season. The Aztecs have rediscovered their trademark defense during a nine-game winning streak that included last Saturday’s Mountain West title. As for San Diego State stars Trey Kell and Malik Pope, well, let’s just say they aren’t underachieving anymore. Still, the Aztecs are definitive underdogs against the Cougars.

Spring football is underway for Boise State, as you know, which means winter conditioning is over. Coach Bryan Harsin says that, pound-for-pound, the strongest Bronco in final testing was cornerback Avery Williams. That’s kind of ironic, as last spring Williams was the poster player for walk-ons who go out and make it happen. He was named a captain for the spring game, before he was even awarded a scholarship. The first time he touched the ball in a real game last September, he returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown against Troy. And a month later, he had worked his way into the starting lineup on defense.

As the Boise State women look ahead to tomorrow morning’s NCAA Tournament matchup at Louisville, a former Bronco coach is out of a job in Pullman. June Daugherty, who led Boise State to its first NCAA appearance in 1994 (an at-large bid, no less) has been fired after 11 seasons with the Cougars. Daugherty, now 61, was 130-218 at WSU, the place she landed after being fired at Washington. She took an indefinite leave of absence in January due to an undisclosed medical issue. Daugherty was 123-74 at Boise State from 1989-96.

This Day In Sports…March 15, 2001:

One of Boise’s finest sports day ever, as the Pavilion hosts the closest first round bracket in the history of the NCAA Tournament. First, Georgia State upset Wisconsin by one…then Maryland held off George Mason by three…then Georgetown beat Arkansas by two at the buzzer. But the last game was one for March Madness lore, with Hampton becoming only the fourth No. 15 seed to ever upset a No. 2, bringing the house down by rallying for a 59-58 upset of Iowa State and former Idaho coach (and now former Colorado State coach) Larry Eustachy.

(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.)