Just like it is in football in non-New Year’s Six bowl games, motivation is a factor in the NIT. Boise State was thankful to play on last year, and the Broncos picked up their first-ever postseason road win in a 73-68 victory at Utah. This year the disappointment stemming from being ushered out of the Mountain West Tournament is palpable, and we’ll find out a lot about the team’s psychological state when it takes the floor against Washington tonight at Alaska Airlines Arena. On the surface, it looks like the Huskies are looking forward to this opportunity. An upset loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament was the final nail in the coffin for their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes, but UW bounced back nicely this season under new coach Mike Hopkins after going 9-22 in Lorenzo Romar’s final campaign.
Hard to believe Boise State and Washington haven’t met in men’s basketball in more than 18 years. It was December of 1999 when the Broncos lost 72-57 in what was then Hec Edmundson Pavilion. That was the back end of a home-and-home series, and the front end was memorable. Roberto Bergersen produced one of the best big-game performances in Boise State history, scoring 32 points to lead the Broncos past No. 15 Washington in the BSU Pavilion 69-61. Bergersen, who originally signed with UW out of high school, connected on 13 field goals while going up, over and around the Huskies. Washington was the highest-ranked team Boise State had ever defeated—and would remain so until the Broncos stunned No. 11 Creighton in November, 2012.
Prognosticators and bracket-buster hunters are liking this 12-versus-5 matchup between South Dakota State and Ohio State in the afternoon game at Taco Bell Arena tomorrow. The Jackrabbits have made the NCAA Tournament four of the past six years, and they’ll be throwin’ “The Dauminator” at the Buckeyes. Mike Daum, a 6-9 forward from Kimball, NE, is the two-time Summit League Player of the Year. He’s getting the “Best NBA Prospect You’ve Never Heard Of” tag pinned on him, as he leads South Dakota State with 23.8 points per game, averages 10.4 rebounds and shoots 42 percent from three-point range. He’ll be fun to watch tomorrow, and so will the Jackrabbits, who have won 19 of their last 20 games and average almost 85 points. They also lead the nation in fewest offensive turnovers.
Bishop Kelly grad and former Gonzaga Bulldog Cory Violette was on Idaho SportsTalk yesterday breaking down the Zags game tomorrow. Beyond the X’s and O’s, Violette pointed out that the video coordinator on Mark Few’s Gonzaga staff when he played (2000-04) was Kyle Bankhead, who is now the director of basketball operations for (drum roll) UNC-Greensboro. Bankhead, in fact, was a senior guard at Gonzaga when Violette was a freshman and led the Zags to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time. Bankhead followed Bill Grier when the latter left Spokane to become head coach at San Diego and spent eight years with the Toreros. The Zags may not know much about the Spartans, but the Spartans are going to know what makes the Zags tick.
Real or perceived, Kentucky coach John Calipari’s frustration at being relegated to Boise is creating a lot of Davidson fans in the Treasure Valley. And why not? There’s a lot of Golden State Warriors fans here, and it was 10 years ago that Stephen Curry led Davidson on a magical run to the Elite Eight that included upsets of Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin. This North Carolina breed of Wildcats would be wise to play to a crowd that will be eager to support them. The late game tomorrow night brings Arizona coach Sean Miller to a place he’s been before. Miller was the head coach at Xavier the last time the tournament was played in Boise in 2009, and the Musketeers beat Portland State and Wisconsin to get to the Sweet Sixteen. Miller’s press conferences the next few days will be a lot different than back then.
San Diego State is the Mountain West Tournament champion, and fans around the conference have to root for the Aztecs in tomorrow the NCAA Tournament against Houston. The Cougars are from the American, a league the MW loves to (and needs to) beat. But Nevada’s fate versus Texas on Friday is a pivotal moment for the Mountain West. The Wolf Pack has made it a two-bid conference for the first time since 2015, and the Pack, as a No. 7 seed, is theoretically favored over the Longhorns. It’s important that the MW’s at-large selection represents.
Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien met with the media Monday and talked about spring football and avoiding an uneven season as a senior. “Being productive from Day 1,” Rypien said of his 2018 objectives. “Being able to start fast and finish strong.” After a very strange beginning to the season, the end was strong for him last fall, as he threw for 14 touchdowns against three interceptions over the final seven games of the season. Rypien says he and offensive coordinator Zak Hill will be working on myriad technique items during spring ball, with the focus on Boise State this season—not pro football down the line. “Obviously that’s a goal,” said Rypien, “but it’s more about my development in general, not the NFL.
Colorado State has had a little wind sucked out of its spring football sails before drills even begin. Quarterback Collin Hill, both the predecessor and successor to All-Mountain West QB Nick Stevens, tore the ACL in his left knee while playing basketball last Thursday and will have surgery today. Hill also tore his left ACL in October, 2016, allowing Stevens to return to the starting spot and embark on a great year-and-a-half run. Hill used his redshirt season last fall. It’s hard to imagine him not missing the entire 2018 season, and the Rams are pretty thin at quarterback behind him. Inexperienced, anyway. CSU begins spring ball next Monday. It visits the blue turf for a Friday night ESPN2 game on October 19.
The Idaho Steelheads are far, far away while the NCAA Tournament plays. The Steelheads tangle with Atlanta tonight before going to South Carolina Friday and Saturday. And how about Tomas Shall, one of the Steelies’ new goalies? Sholl has been named ECHL Goaltender of the Week after a win and a shootout loss in two appearances. He had a 1.39 goals-against average and a save percentage of .947. Thje 23-year-old Sholl is not some Canadian or European phenom. He’s from Hermosa Beach, CA.
This Day In Sports…March 14, 1998, 20 years ago today:
In the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the BSU Pavilion comes one of the classics of all the tournament games played in Boise. West Virginia, a No. 10 seed, upset second-seeded Cincinnati, 75-74, to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Bearcats coach Bob Huggins bickered with his players at the end, and Cincinnati star Ruben Patterson left to a chorus of boos as he ripped off his jersey while exiting the arena. Huggins, of course, now coaches at West Virginia.
(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.)