Boise State women’s basketball: The 13 seed that wasn’t

That No. 13 seed will stick in Boise State’s craw for a long, long time. The Bronco women proved the injustice when they could have—and probably should have—won their first-round NCAA Tournament game at Oregon State Saturday. A 36-28 deficit at halftime made a Boise State loss look like a foregone conclusion. It was anything but, however. The Broncos stormed into the lead in a dominant third quarter and held a four-point lead with 17 seconds left in the game. A questionable jump ball call helped the Beavers get the game to overtime, where they won 80-75. As Boise State coach Gordy Presnell said afterward, “We should be playing this game on Monday night.” The No. 12 seed, Little Rock, had been routed 68-51 earlier in the day by Gonzaga.

The indomitable spirit of this Boise State team is the main takeaway from the heartbreaker. Not once did the Broncos think they couldn’t win that game, and as the drama built in the fourth quarter, their confidence only soared. As one Scott Slant reader texted me, “They play defense like someone is trying to steal their lunch money.” What was, in effect, senior Marta Hermida’s on-court farewell said it all. Hermida, who led Boise State with 22 points, calmly nailed two free throws to give the Broncos that four-point lead with 17 seconds left in regulation. Then she winked at the basket. Only time will tell if Boise State women’s basketball is, at long last, securely fastened to the local sports map. But it certainly has that look.

MOUNTAIN WEST MEN:TWO-AND-DONE

The Mountain West exit was quick in the men’s NCAA Tournament after Utah State was pressured into a 78-61 loss to Washington. The Huskies smothered the Aggies with a 2-3 zone, forcing a staggering 21 turnovers and holding USU to 35 percent shooting from the field. Exhibit A in the frustrating day was Mountain West Player of the Year Sam Merrill, who came in averaging 21 points per game but hit just two of nine field goal attempts and scored 10 points. The Aggies fought—they trimmed a 14-point deficit down to just one midway through the second half, but UW left them in the dust from there. Make no mistake, though, it’s Utah State who has staying power in the MW now.

THE EXTRA LAYER OF BRONCO RUNNING GAME DEPTH

Spring break marked the traditional timeout for Boise State spring football, which means auditions to replace Alexander Mattison as the Broncos’ feature running back took the week off. Presumably progress has been made here at the halfway point of spring ball. “We’re not at Mattison’s status right now,” Harsin said at the outset of spring drills. While noting that Andrew Van Buren “needs to elevate his game,” Harsin felt Robert Mahone “has done really well” academically and in the weight room and Danny Smith “has improved.” And we won’t know for five months or so how true freshmen George Holani and Keegan Duncan will figure into the picture.

We shouldn’t forget about wide receiver Khalil Shakir’s possible contributions to the running game. Shakir was the top recruit of Boise State’s 2018 class and was a natural to play as a true freshman. But his first touch as a Bronco was on a run, a reverse at Troy last September (albeit an 11-yard loss). The next week Shakir showed his Swiss Army knife tendencies by actually lining up at running back versus UConn and rushing twice for 39 yards. His first collegiate touchdown came via a two-yard run at Wyoming that ended in a spectacular dive to touch the cone. For the season, Shakir had 14 carries for 70 yards and the one TD. Spring would seem to be a good time to experiment with him.

AND THEN THERE WERE SIX

We did the Dallas Cowboys/Boise State census count Friday, and now George Iloka has indeed become the sixth former Bronco on the Cowboys roster. Iloka, who turns 29 this Sunday, was signed to a one-year contract after a visit in Dallas on Saturday. The Cowboys had been seeking a free agent safety and jumped on Iloka, who’s coming off a disappointing season at Minnesota. He should be rejuvenated with Dallas, the team he grew up rooting for in Sugar Land, TX. Iloka tweeted a photo of himself at about age eight, dressed in a cowboy hat and toy holster, and posted, “Once a Cowboy, always a Cowboy.”

SHOLL SHOWS HIS STEELIE STUFF AGAIN

Goalie Tomas Sholl dominates Rapid City the same way his Idaho Steelheads teammates do. Sholl has logged three shutouts this season, and all of them have come against the Rush, as he and the Idaho Steelheads rolled 4-0 Saturday night. Sholl is now 24-11-0 on the season. Ryan Faragher was between the pipes Friday night in a 3-1 victory for the Steelies, who have won 21 of their last 26 games against Rapid City. Idaho is in first place in the ECHL Mountain Division by one point over Tulsa with six games to go in the regular season.

IT’S A ‘FIVE-PEAT’

The Boise State women’s gymnastics team put two meets’ worth of effort into one Friday night, winning a fifth straight Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference championship in Provo. After a three-way meet was cancelled at Nebraska the previous Saturday, the 13th-ranked Broncos squared their focus on the conference finals, and they captured the crown by more than a point (that’s a lot in gymnastics). Even without injured star Shani Remme, Boise State posted a 196.950. The host school, 15th-ranked BYU, faltered and finished third despite having beaten the Broncos in Taco Bell Arena two weeks ago.

ON THE DIAMOND

The Mountain West will prove to be challenging, as the defending conference champion Boise State women’s softball team is 3-3 in the early stages of league play. But the Broncos took their weekend series against San Diego State with an exclamation point Saturday in a 16-1 win at Dona Larsen Park. Rebekah Cervantes broke the school record for RBI with eight—and she did it in only three at-bats, clubbing two home runs and a triple. And all is well between Boise State and the Boise Hawks, as the Broncos have struck a deal to play the first season of their baseball revival at Memorial Stadium in 2020. There’s a date now for Boise State’s first home game in 40 years: Friday, February 28, versus Northern Colorado.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by COMMERCIAL TIRE…keeping you and your family on the road.

March 25, 1972: UCLA captures its sixth straight national championship and completes a perfect season with an 81-76 win over Florida State at the L.A. Sports Arena. Bill Walton had 24 points and 20 rebounds, with Keith Wilkes adding 23 points and 10 boards for the invincible Bruins, who finished the season 30-0 with an NCAA record average scoring margin of 30.3 points. It was the last NCAA title game played in the afternoon. The tournament final would move to Monday night in 1973—and UCLA would win again.

(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.)