The Broncos’ task at hand

Instead of concentrating on chasing first place, Boise State’s focus should be on hanging onto second. Instead of concentrating on chasing San Diego State for first place, Boise State’s focus should be on hanging onto second. New Mexico comes into Taco Bell Arena tomorrow afternoon needing a win to tie the Broncos for second behind the Aztecs. The Lobos, coming off a 29-point blowout of Air Force in which they held the Falcons to 28 percent shooting from the field, feel like they’ve found their identity. And, much like the UNLV team that stopped the Broncos Wednesday, when New Mexico’s hot, it’s really hot. Boise State was not in the Thomas & Mack Center. Coach Leon Rice knows tomorrow’s game is pivotal. Forget about NCAA Tournament talk; the Broncos need to be all about the Mountain West. “Let’s see if we really are a contender—how fast we can bounce back from this,” said Rice after the loss. “This is going to test our mettle.”

One Bronco to watch tomorrow is Anthony Drmic, who was resurgent in last Saturday’s win at Wyoming but lukewarm at UNLV as he continues to deal with nerve damage from his year-old ankle surgery. Drmic scored 15 points with seven rebounds and two steals while not committing a turnover in 35 minutes at Wyoming. In Las Vegas, he logged seven points on 2-for-7 shooting. The hope here is, with just five home games remaining, fans appreciate the time Drmic has left. At UNLV he broke a school-record with his 119th career start—and the one three-pointer he made was the 253rd of his career, tying Abe Jackson for No. 2 all-time at Boise State.

The alarming thing about Boise State basketball this season, though, is that three-point shooting. The Broncos are more versatile this year and have cleaned up around the rim, but they’d be so much more difficult to beat if they had it together from beyond the arc. They’re connecting on less than 34 percent of their threes for the season after shooting 39 percent in 2014-15, and they’ve topped 35 percent just twice in the past 10 games. Tomorrow Boise State faces one of the best defenders of the three-pointers in the Mountain West, as New Mexico allows just 27.5 percent accuracy from deep in conference play.

Believe it or not, the Scott Slant has its own sports reporter in Adams County, which is really cool, because we get some great nuggets on former Boise State star Matt Paradis, Denver’s starting center, going into the 50th Super Bowl. Matt’s parents from Council, Mike and Janice, were indeed at Sports Authority Field last Sunday and did go down on the field for the postgame celebration. Players’ families have passes that let them into the tunnel to wait outside the locker room for the guys to shower so players can leave with their families. Mike’s and Janice’s ears were still ringing, as during the game, the Mile High decibel level hit 115.

On the way to the airport Monday, Mike told Matt, “Well, Matt, you’ve arrived.” And Matt said, “No, I haven’t. Not until I win a Super Bowl ring.” Are Matt’s feet even touching the ground right now? “He has a certain mindset and some goals, so he’s pretty grounded and focused,” said Mike. “He feels like he has a job to do.” Well, Mike’s feet haven’t touched the pavement yet. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever attend a Super Bowl—much less get to watch my son play in one,” he said. Each player is allotted 15 Super Bowl tickets, but they’re not free. Cost is $1800 each. Mike said Matt’s whole immediate family and a few close friends will be able to go, including J.C. Percy, with whom Matt has stayed close since their Boise State playing days. Percy’s entire family will be going, too.

“This whole thing has folks up here pretty danged excited,” says the Scott Slant’s Adams County reporter. “I was in the county courthouse last week, and the whole crew was decked out in Denver Broncos apparel.” But life goes on for the Paradis family. Matt’s mom is a long-time fourth-grade teacher in Council. And Matt? He’s still driving the little Toyota Tacoma pickup he bought in high school. His teammates tease him about being too big to get in and out of it. He just tells ‘em he worked hard to earn the money to buy that truck. And he didn’t weigh 300 pounds back then. Matt told his dad he’s going to treat himself to a new full-size pickup after the season. In fact, he’s already put in an order for a shiny new 2016 Dodge Cummins.

Tomorrow Darian Thompson becomes the ninth player to represent Boise State in the Senior Bowl, joining current and former NFL standouts Kyle Wilson (2009), Austin Pettis and Titus Young (2010), Doug Martin, Shea McClellin, Kellen Moore and Billy Winn (2011) and Jamar Taylor (2012). The game will be televised on NFL Network. Thompson has had a good week of practice, which is what really matters to NFL scouts. Everything is timing out well for the Mountain West career interceptions leader. “I do think I’ve improved since this time last year when I sent in for the (NFL) evaluation,” Thompson said in the days leading up to the Poinsettia Bowl. He’s happy he stayed for his senior year. “I don’t have to finish here at Boise State and come back and think, ‘What if I had stayed one more year?’”

The Idaho Steelheads try to summon what remaining energy they have as they begin a three-game set tonight in Atlanta. It’s the third period when this travel ordeal can catch up to them, but the Steelheads have been pretty good in the final stanza. They’re 16-1-1 this season when leading after two periods. The Gladiators will present one opponent who’s especially formidable—and familiar. Derek Nesbitt, who played in Boise the last time the Steelheads won the Kelly Cup in 2006-07, leads the ECHL with 22 goals and seven game-winning goals. Nesbitt is also in a five-way tie that includes the Steelies’ Jefferson Dahl for most power-play goals in the ECHL with nine.

There’s one local in the danger zone and another with little hope of making the cut after the first day of the Farmers Insurance Open. Graham DeLaet managed an even-par 72 after rallying with three birdies in his final five holes and is tied for 76th. Torrey Pines gave Tyler Aldridge all kinds of trouble, as the Nampa golfer labored to a seven-over 79 in a round that included eight bogeys.

The Idaho Stampede will have a reinforcement tonight when they open a two-game road series against the Austin Toros. The Utah Jazz have assigned center Tibor Pleiss to the Stampede, his second stint in the D-League this season. Pleiss was previously assigned to Idaho from November 29-December 16. In seven games, all starts, the 7-1 center from Germany averaged 11.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game for the Stamps. Elsewhere in hoops, Idaho spent all of the second half clawing back from a 16-point halftime deficit before coming up short against Sacramento State, 65-63. And the Boise State women gun for their sixth straight win tomorrow, but it’ll be a heckuva plum if they can get it. The Broncos face New Mexico in The Pit, where the Lobos average 6,000 fans per game.

There’s no Beauty & The Beast this year for the Boise State gymnastics and wrestling teams, but it’s only because they couldn’t sync their schedules, and they’re hopeful it’ll return next year. This kind of fills the void for the gymnasts: a “neutral floor” meet tonight against BYU in CenturyLink Arena. It’s the feature event of the 40th Gem State Invitational, the boys and girls gymnastics extravaganza that this year has attracted more than 1,000 competitors and 30 teams from five states. The Boise State wrestlers are home tonight for their first-ever “Pink-Out Night” for cancer awareness in Bronco Gym versus Northern Colorado. BSU is led by Geordan Martinez, ranked 19th in the country at 149 pounds.

This Day In Sports…January 29, 1974:

History would prove the Pittsburgh Steelers to be brilliant with their picks in the NFL Draft. The Steelers’ first four choices were wide receiver Lynn Swann, linebacker Jack Lambert, wide receiver John Stallworth, and center Mike Webster. They would become key components of the Pittsburgh dynasty that would win four of the next six Super Bowls. All four were eventually voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Webster’s story has become tragic since his death, as he is a central figure in the motion picture “Concussion.”

(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.)