A Saturday night chess match is set for ESPNU. Boise State and Nevada meet in Reno in a battle for first place in the Mountain West, and the game-planning will be intriguing on both sides. I’ve been saving this for two weeks, because it really struck me at the time. After Nevada throttled Wyoming standout Hayden Dalton, holding him to five points in a 92-83 Wolf Pack victory, coach Eric Musselman said, “Our big thing, and we don’t hide it, is to shut down their star.” Well, you know what that means. Utah State tried that Wednesday night, and it mainly worked, as Chandler Hutchison was held to five points through the first 33 minutes of the game. Hutchison was money down the stretch, but the Broncos won by only four points, and the Pack is a far more talented team than the Aggies. Nevada beat USU last week by 26.
The game plan for Boise State tomorrow? Playing all-out hard for 40 minutes would not be a bad idea. Nevada’s starting five is uber-talented, but its bench is not very deep. With Cody Martin sitting out with an Achilles strain, Musselman used only seven players in Wednesday night’s 71-54 win at San Jose State. Martin, the Wolf Pack’s top defender and the player who would have been assigned to Hutchison, is reportedly doubtful for the Boise State game. Coach Leon Rice has the opportunity to keep a fresh five on the floor—he played nine guys against Utah State and can go deeper than that if he chooses to. The key for the Broncos and their depth is the different looks they can give the Pack. Alex Hobbs in particular can change a game coming off the bench.
Nevada has a 12-game winning streak in Mountain West play, and has won 15 in a row when you include the three victories in the conference tournament last March. Musselman instituted an instant rebuild two seasons ago when he took over a Wolf Pack team that had lost 22 games in David Carter’s final season. Musselman now goes for his 70th win tomorrow night in his third season at Nevada. The Pack swept Boise State a year ago, with Hutchison scoring 23 and 19 points.
Basketball is king in Reno. It has been for most of this century, because Nevada has had a lot more success in hoops than in football. Whereas Mackay Stadium has been plagued by empty seats for years, a sellout is expected tomorrow night in Lawlor Events Center, which seats 11,536. The Wolf Pack has drawn more than 9,000 fans for each of its three Mountain West home games. It might not get loud enough in there to shake the rim, but consider this: earthquake-detecting instruments have picked up almost 250 small temblors just south of Reno since last Thursday. The largest swarm hit Tuesday afternoon and reached 2.5 on the Richter scale, not strong enough to sway a basketball standard, but enough to raise eyebrows.
Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson will be wearing No. 11 for the North squad at the Senior Bowl a week from tomorrow, and the quarterbacks who may be throwing to the All-Mountain West wide receiver include Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Washington State’s Luke Falk and Nebraska’s Tanner Lee. How about Allen? He’s back at the top of Mel Kiper Jr.’s mock draft board at ESPN.com, projected to be the No. 1 overall pick, going to the Cleveland Browns. “His numbers aren’t impressive, I know,” writes Kiper. “But the NFL is all about projection, and he has a high ceiling. Coaches want to work with the 6-foot-5 Allen because he has all of the tools.” Okay, but his lack of accuracy is maddening.
The way Jay Ajayi’s season unfolded still sticks in the former Boise State star’s craw. Ajayi feels he got a bad rap from the Miami Dolphins, who traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles in October. Among the murmers that came from the Dolphins: Ajayi was a cancer in the locker room. It bugs the heck out of the Jay-Train (the Eagles have said no such thing). “I don’t think it will be redemption until I win the Super Bowl,” said Ajayi. And that’s the task at hand. Philly is one win away from the Super Bowl as they host Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. The thing that rankles Ajayi and all of his teammates: the top-seeded Eagles are three-point underdogs against the Vikings. He’ll have to come up big if Philly’s going to prove that wrong.
After a positive experience at the ECHL All-Star Classic in Indianapolis Monday, Justin Parizek has settled back in with the Idaho Steelheads as they open a two-game series tonight at Tulsa. Parizek scored a goal for the Mountain Division in its 5-2 win over the Central in the semifinals in Indy—then contributed two assists in the championship game, a 6-5 decision over the South Division in a shootout. As for the Steelheads, they’ll be seeking to rebound from a pair of 3-2 losses to Kalamazoo in Boise last weekend.
Around the horn: Troy Merritt got off to a much better start this week at the CareerBuilders Challenge in La Quinta, CA. Merritt fired a four-under-68 in the first round yesterday and is tied for 42nd. In women’s gymnastics, No. 8 Boise State has a top 10 matchup with No. 7 Denver tonight in Taco Bell Arena, part of a quad meet that also includes Illinois-Chicago and Seattle Pacific. And Boise State men’s tennis opens its 2018 dual-match season Sunday and Monday against two Big Ten powers. Northwestern visits Sunday at the Boise Racquet & Swim Club, followed by No. 17 Michigan on Monday.
In hoops, Idaho won yet another close game last night, beating Southern Utah 80-76 to improve to 4-2 in the Big Sky. The Vandals trailed only once, 2½ minutes into the game, but had to hold off a Thunderbirds rally down the stretch. College of Idaho, ranked eighth in the nation in NAIA Division II, is on the road tonight at defending Cascade Conference champion Northwest Christian. The Coyotes visit Corban tomorrow night. NNU picked up a 69-64 win at Concordia in Portland last night and travels to Western Oregon tomorrow. And the Boise State women go for their fourth win in a row when they host Nevada tomorrow afternoon.
This Day In Sports…January 19, 1952:
The PGA, finally following the lead of major professional team sports, approves allowing black participants on the pro tour. But it would be nine more years before Charlie Sifford would become the first black player to earn a PGA Tour card. And the Masters was a holdout—it would be 1975 before Lee Elder became the first African-American to play in the fabled tournament in Augusta.
(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.)