May all the calls be good ones tonight in The Pit. At least as good as humanly possible. May all the calls be good ones tonight in The Pit. At least as good as humanly possible (emphasis on “human”). Because Boise State and New Mexico have certainly seen the other side of the coin. In the last two weeks, no less. The Lobos lost a chance to knock off San Diego State at Viejas Arena February 6 when officials erroneously ruled that UNM didn’t legally execute an inbounds play that included an out-of-bounds pass on the baseline. The Mountain West issued a statement admitting the mistake. It came with 13 seconds left in the game and New Mexico leading by five points—the Aztecs went on to win in overtime. We all know about the series of statements last week when the Broncos had a win taken away at Colorado State. Any sympathy BSU and the Lobos have for each other will disappear at tipoff tonight.
There has been some sympathy in Albuquerque for Cullen Neal, the son of New Mexico coach Craig Neal. Better late than never. Craig Neal said last Thursday his polarizing son had been receiving “excessive harassment and even threats” this season. “Enough is enough,” said Craig Neal. Well, a loud crowd of 13,411 in The Pit turned the tables in support of Cullen last Saturday as the Lobos dominated San Jose State 74-58. There were “Go Cullen” signs dotting the arena. We’ll see if the second honeymoon of sorts continues tonight.
Neal and Elijah Brown played big parts in New Mexico’s 88-83 takedown of Boise State last month in Taco Bell Arena. Both have struggled from the field since then. Neal and Brown have combined to shoot just 29 percent so far in February (Neal with 22.5 percent on 40 field goal attempts and Brown 32.8 percent on 67 tries). Neal, he of the demoralizing three with 4½ minutes to go last month in Boise, has made just one of his last 18 attempts from beyond the arc. The Broncos know that defense played a big part in their slump, just as they know it was key to their big win over Wyoming last Saturday. We’ll see if they can coax some “D” versus Brown and Neal tonight.
As much as Lonnie Jackson’s been playing lately, he’ll be assigned a leading role in taming New Mexico’s backcourt. The graduate transfer from Boston College has sure seen his offense take root. In the past seven games, starting with his barrage of seven three-pointers at Wyoming, Jackson has averaged more than 30 minutes and 13.1 points per game. Over that stretch he’s gone 25-for-52 from beyond the arc. To be sure, Boise State has found the three-point line to be fickle. The Broncos hope to ride their current wave, though. They’ve gone 28-for-59 from deep the past two games after going just 27-for-106 in the previous four contests.
The Mountain West is destined to be a one-bid league in the NCAA Tournament, whether San Diego State wins the Mountain West tournament or not. Even the Aztecs are seen as on the outside looking in now—not strong enough for an at-large berth. Bracketologist Jerry Palm was on Idaho SportsTalk yesterday and had SDSU, the MW’s best team, as a No. 13 seed. That’s Big Sky territory.
Catching up on one particular Mountain West note from the weekend: UNLV assistant Stacey Augmon, one of the Rebels’ all-time greats and a key piece of their 1990 national championship team, wants to be their head coach. Augmon is on the UNLV staff currently headed by interim coach Todd Simon. “I want this job,” Augmon said in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I don’t want it because I’m Stacey Augmon. I don’t want a token interview. I want it because I am qualified, have the experience and would be the best choice. This is my school. This is my program. I love it more than anything. I have so much love for this university. I know that I’m going to be a college head coach, and I want it to be here.” Rebels fans, who love Augmon anyway, are lovin’ this. They’re not lovin’ UNLV’s 79-74 loss at Air Force last night.
Here’s a surprise. After a litany of injuries, Taysom Hill is returning to BYU for one more season. The quarterback out of Highland High in Pocatello has seen his season end three straight years due to various leg maladies. Hill didn’t get through the season opener at Nebraska last September before suffering a Lisfranc injury. If he can last until late October, Hill will suit up again on the blue turf when the Cougars visit Boise State. It was there Hill made his first memorable mark on the BYU program back in 2012 when, as a redshirt freshman, he relieved struggling starter Riley Nelson and led the Cougars on a 95-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive he capped himself with a four-yard scoring run. Hill’s pass attempt for a two-point conversion was broken up, though, preserving a 7-6 Bronco win.
How awkward will this be for Tanner Mangum? The Eagle High grad took over for Hill at Nebraska and threw a game-winning Hail Mary—then did the same thing against Boise State in Provo the next week. Now Mangum is clearly the incumbent starter after throwing for 3,377 yards and 24 touchdowns against 10 interceptions as a true freshman. There’ll be new faces navigating the situation, namely new coach Kalani Sitake and new offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. Both feel it’s a nice problem to have. Hill, incidentally, will turn 26 in August.
The Idaho Steelheads try to keep this train a-rollin’ tonight when they host the Rapid City Rush in CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads are riding a four-game winning streak for the third time this season. They’ve also been resilient—the Steelies have won four consecutive games in which they trailed first. Then there’s goaltender Jack Campbell. I talked about him plenty yesterday, but now he’s the ECHL Goaltender of the Week for the second time this season. The big picture for Campbell: despite playing in only 17 games with Idaho, Campbell is tied for the league lead in shutouts with four. He has now appeared in 24 career games with the Steelheads over two seasons, posting an overall record of 18-6 with five shutouts, a 1.62 goals-against average and a save percentage of .947.
More campus things: the Boise State women have suffered two lopsided losses on the heels on an eight-game winning streak. The Broncos are home tonight against New Mexico, which they dispatched 81-60 last month in Albuquerque. And the Mountain West Swimming & Diving Championships open today at the Texas A&M Natatorium in College Station. Boise State is gunning for its third MW title and fifth conference crown overall.
This Day In Sports…February 17, 1936:
The birth date of a player some will still argue as the greatest running back in NFL history. Jim Brown played for the Cleveland Browns from 1957-65, retiring in his prime. Brown was the Brown’s first round pick in the 1956 NFL Draft and held every major NFL rushing record at the time of his departure. The Pro Football Hall of Famer is still the only player in NFL history to average over 100 yards rushing per game over his entire career. He later went into acting, highlighted by a starring role in “The Dirty Dozen.” Jim Brown…80 years old today.
(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.)