For most of this season, playing smart, more disciplined basketball has paid off for Boise State. For most of this season, playing smart, more disciplined basketball has paid off for Boise State, especially in the turnover department. San Diego State, with better core talent, got the best of the Broncos earlier this month, but hey, it was a two-point game. Tonight the Broncos are on the road against a team that annually lures the top recruiting classes in the Mountain West, UNLV. Exhibit No. 1 will be James Webb III against Rebels’ seven-footer Stephen Zimmerman Jr. ESPN ranked Zimmerman, a McDonald’s High School All-American out of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, as the 10th-best player in the class of 2015. Webb is the Mountain West’s second-leading rebounder at 9.2 per game—Zimmerman is first at 9.3. Webb, however, is a fourth-year Bronco, while Zimmerman is a true freshman, and that’s important.
UNLV’s blue-chippers don’t always play well together. When they do, though, they’re a cut above. The Rebels have wins over Indiana and Oregon, but they’ve also let a lot of late leads slip away this season. There was a series of those earlier this month, leading to the firing of coach Dave Rice. In Vegas, they’re clamoring for a big name to replace him. In the meantime, interim coach Todd Simon is leading the team and was looking good doing it, with UNLV winning its first three games after the change.
But the bitter 65-63 defeat at Nevada last Saturday spurred Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal to write: “It’s always been evident, but this loss solidifies that UNLV needs to do a national coaching search. Simon got out-coached by (the Wolf Pack’s Eric) Musselman, and he’s still learning on the job. Maybe the Rebels get hot and Simon earns a serious look, but this job is too big to limit the field.” The latest name to surface is that of Arizona associate head coach Joe Pasternack.
It’ll be a homecoming for Boise State’s Mikey Thompson, who came north four years ago from Canyon Springs High in Las Vegas. Last year’s first-ever Bronco win at the Thomas & Mack Center would have been exhilarating for Thompson—if he was there. He was suspended for that 53-48 victory, so this last chance at a regular season win in his home town is big. It’ll be emotional, too, as before the game UNLV will honor Thompson’s late father Freddie, who played for the Rebels in the late 1970’s. He lost his battle with pancreatic cancer last April. Thompson has scored in double figures in eight of the last 10 games, including six of Boise State’s seven Mountain West games. He also leads the conference with a 2.08 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Last night, San Diego State had to rally past Nevada 57-54 in Reno. That allowed SDSU to hang onto first place in the Mountain West despite shooting just 29 percent from the field (the lowest percentage by a road team in a winning effort in Division I this season). The big picture: the Aztecs and Boise State are the conference’s only hope of getting two NCAA Tournament bids this season. NCAA.com’s RPI rankings show it to be more of a possibility than the widely respected Pomeroy College Basketball Rankings. The NCAA numbers have the Broncos at No. 59 and SDSU at No. 60, within shouting distance of at-large consideration. Pomeroy rates BSU 73rd and the Aztecs 79th.
Colorado State‘s Emmanuel Omogbo returned to the Rams yesterday following a trip to Maryland. The junior forward was there to grieve with his sisters and brother and make funeral arrangements after the death of his parents, niece and nephew in a house fire. Accompanied by a CSU assistant coach, Ogombo was trying to help his family get the bodies of his parents transported to their native Nigeria for funeral services. It hasn’t been easy, as all of the family’s birth certificates, Social Security cards and immigration documents were lost in the fire. A GoFundMe.com page has raised more than $95,000 for Ogombo, who’s expected to be in uniform for CSU tonight when it faces San Jose State.
There’s a flurry of activity at Boise State a week ahead of National Letter of Intent Day. Joshua Fatu, a 6-3, 270-pound defensive tackle from Long Beach City College, committed to the Broncos last night. Fatu played last year with Mat Boesen, the defensive end who was dismissed by Boise State at the end of the 2014 season and has signed with TCU. Also, Donte Harrington, a 6-2, 281-pound offensive guard/center from San Clemente, CA, has given the Broncos his verbal after reneging on Army, with whom he had just committed on Monday night.
Darian Thompson is plying his wares on the practice field in Mobile, AL, this week, preparing for Saturday’s Senior Bowl. What happens there is more important than the game itself to NFL evaluators. Thompson has been training in Phoenix since Boise State’s win at the Poinsettia Bowl. “Right now I’m working on my speed, as well as bursting in and out of my breaks to prevent the big plays,” Thompson said Monday on Idaho SportsTalk. Just like during his Bronco career, Thompson is taking it “one thing at a time.” After the Senior Bowl, he’ll concentrate on the NFL Combine next month—after that, it’ll be Boise State’s Pro Day in March.
It’s a pit stop tonight midway through the Idaho Steelheads’ cross-country junket. The Steelheads host Rapid City in CenturyLink Arena before continuing on to Atlanta, giving fans a chance to watch Jack Campbell. The 24-year-old Steelheads goalie is the ECHL Goaltender of the Week after winning both of his starts in Alaska, notching one shutout and posting a 0.50 goals-against average. Campbell made 81 saves over the two nights. In nine games for the Steelies this season, Campbell is 6-3 with a sterling 0.45 goals-against average. He hasn’t allowed more than one goal in five of his last seven starts.
I talked yesterday about balanced scoring from the Idaho Stampede. It hasn’t always translated into victories, but it did last night against the first-place Reno Bighorns in CenturyLink Arena. The Stampede had eight players hit double-figures, led by 21 from Phil Pressey, to key a 122-115 win. There was one double-double in the bunch, with Brandon Fields going for 15 and 10. And J.J. O’Brien, already back from his 10-day contract with the Utah Jazz, contributed 18 points. All that offset a big night from former Gonzaga guard David Stockton, John’s son, who put up 28 points for Reno.
This Day In Sports…January 27, 1991, 25 years ago today:
The New York Giants win their second Super Bowl title in five years with a nail-biting 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills. The Bills had a chance to win the game with only seconds remaining, but Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right. Giants running back Ottis Anderson was MVP with 102 yards rushing and a touchdown.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)