If you believe sports are cyclical, then Boise State hoops is in one of those cycles. The winning season issue is now real for the Broncos, as the loss at Air Force Tuesday night changed the dynamic. Boise State is currently 8-11 with 12 games remaining in the regular season, starting with Saturday’s home date against Wyoming. The Broncos would have to go 9-3—yes, 9-3—the rest of the way to finish 17-15 before the Mountain West Tournament and not sweat needing a win in Las Vegas to ensure a winning campaign. Coach Leon Rice is redshirting six players this winter, but it’s too late to burn a redshirt now. And Rice doesn’t want to sacrifice that for what he sees as an extremely bright future, as five of the six guys sitting out are true freshmen.
Boise State has a chance to get well against Wyoming, which is 1-5 in Mountain West play. But the Broncos can take nothing for granted right now. They’ll be facing a motivated Justin James in Taco Bell Arena. James is still the leading scorer in the conference—by almost two points per game. He’s averaging 20.5, no thanks to the game he had against Boise State at the beginning of the month. The Broncos’ defensive effort against him, primarily from Marcus Dickinson, was stellar. James went 1-for-14 from the field and scored seven points in the 69-55 loss to Boise State. It’s something that has to be remembered about Dickinson. He’s shooting less than 50 percent from the field and is averaging 6.2 points, but he’s the Broncos’ top on-ball defender.
THE SCENE OF LAST SEASON’S DRAMA
The Boise State women are at the other end of the cycle—in the midst of their best season (to this point) in four decades. They play Wyoming on the road Saturday. The first matchup with the Cowgirls was a grind, with the Broncos winning 72-64. Riley Lupfer’s been a bit quiet lately in the scoring column, but she poured in 22 points in that first meeting. Of course, it was on that floor in Laramie that Boise State rallied to capture a winner-take-all game for the Mountain West regular season championship last March. They had trailed by eight points with less than seven minutes to play before winning 67-63. This’ll be a tussle Saturday.
LVE LIVIN’ LARGE IN ORLANDO
Sunday will mark the first time Boise State has ever had three players suit up in a Pro Bowl. The Cowboys’ Leighton Vander Esch and DeMarcus Lawrence and the Bears’ Charles Leno Jr. bring the Broncos’ all-time Pro Bowl count to seven, as that trio joins Jay Ajayi, Doug Martin, Ryan Clady and Quintin Mikell. Vander Esch has been a center of attention in Orlando. He has surely gone through a lot of Sharpies signing autographs. Fans love Leighton—and his story. “It’s a pretty crazy journey huh,” said Vander Esch in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after practice this week. “I don’t know if I expected it to come this fast. I always expected myself to be in the shoes that I am in now. One way or another, I knew I was going to get here. I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me that I couldn’t do it.”
For Lawrence, this is quite the culmination of his contract year. He’s one of the premiere names in the NFL’s free agency class. As if the $17.1 million he got with the Cowboys’ franchise tag this season isn’t enough, his next deal could exceed $20 million per year. Will that be in Dallas, or somewhere else? Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, Jerry’s son, says that the team has seen enough from Lawrence to warrant a long-term contract. Do you think? He just logged double-digit sacks for the second straight year. Tank wants to be a Cowboy. “I don’t feel like they’re going to make a big change by letting me go or releasing me,” Lawrence said. “I feel like the organization does care or does love me to the extent that they know I’m going to be one of those players for them, to go to war with them.”
AN OPINION ON KELLEN THAT COUNTS
Forget all the NFL beat reporters, although they’ve been mostly positive about Kellen Moore’s worthiness as offensive coordinator in Dallas. How about a guy who theoretically has the ear of the Cowboys’ brass? Dak Prescott endorses Moore. From NBCSports.com: “Many Cowboys fans are unhappy with the possibility Moore could take over as offensive coordinator. But Prescott is on Moore’s list of references, which might prove the deciding factor. ‘You look at Kellen—people say he can’t do this or can’t do that,’ Prescott said. ‘He is the winningest quarterback in college football history. He made a career for himself in the NFL for a long time because of how he knows the game, how quick he is in processing the information, seeing defenses, learning what is happening offensively and defensively. He has got the mind for it.’”
NEW PLATEAU FOR BRONCO RECRUITING
According to 247Sports, Boise State has a top 50 recruiting class for the first time with the commitment of linebacker Lolani Langi of South Jordan, UT. The Utah Utes had long been the favorites to land Langi, but he tweeted last night that he’s headed to the blue turf. He’s a 6-2, 223-pounder who’s the No. 3 prospect in the Beehive State and the No. 40 outside linebacker in the country. “Boise State needs linebackers in this class, and I know I could be a key player for them in the future,” said Langi, who wants to push for playing time as a true freshman this fall. His interest in Utah faded, he said, when Gary Andersen left the Utes staff to become head coach at Utah State.
STEELIES PROTECTING THE PEAK
The Idaho Steelheads, winners of 11 of their last 13 games, are now the targeted team in the ECHL Mountain Division. The Steelheads have a three-point lead in the standings going into Saturday night’s game at Wichita, their first against the Thunder since Opening Night. Forward Brad McClure has been one of the hottest Steelies since returning last week from a brief stint in the AHL. McClure earned his first four-point game of the season in the Martin Luther King Day rout of the Utah Grizzlies on Monday. He now leads the team with 16 goals and 34 points.
HOOPS SOUTH AND NORTH
This is about as good as it has been for Northwest Nazarene since the university moved to NCAA Division II nearly 20 years ago. The NNU men are contending in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and they beat Concordia 82-73 Thursday night at the Johnson Sports Center. The Nighthawks are 12-3 overall and 7-2 in conference. The undefeated NNU women, the No. 1 team in NCAA Division II, ground out an 86-73 victory Thursday night at Western Washington. The Nighthawk women improve to 17-0, and 9-0 in league play. One of the teams the NNU men took down in November, Idaho, has been in a rut all season. The Vandals fell 69-48 Thursday night at Sacramento State, dropping to 4-14 on the season and 1-6 in the Big Sky. Idaho travels to Portland State Saturday night.
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January 25, 1971: Boise State turns in its highest-scoring game ever in a 118-96 win over Portland State in Bronco Gym. Bronco scoring leader Ron Austin led the way with 41 points, still one of only four 40-point games in Boise State history. In fact, the Broncos at one point went 39 years without one—until Chandler Hutchison’s record 44 points against San Diego State last year. Austin would go on to average 24½ points a game in 1970-71, still a school record.
(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.)