The paintball punishment

The downtrodden Boise State men’s basketball team showed up at practice Monday expecting to be run ragged. The downtrodden Boise State men’s basketball team showed up at practice Monday expecting to be brow-beaten, dressed down, chewed out and run ragged after playing so poorly in last Saturday’s loss at Air Force. The edict from the coaching staff? A trip to play paintball. The players played the coaches, and everybody let off a lot of steam. “Sometimes we just need to clear our heads and have some fun together,” said coach Leon Rice on Idaho SportsTalk yesterday. “I wanted to get ‘em fired up about being together, and hopefully it was effective.” Will it work like Bryan Harsin’s pivot into the fun zone after Boise State’s depressing football loss at Air Force in late September, 2014? The Broncos didn’t lose again that season—all the way through the Fiesta Bowl. The first hoops test is tonight in a challenging matchup at Colorado State.

Can Boise State find its offense and rebounding in time to keep pace with Colorado State tonight? The Rams will drop 90 on you if you don’t play defense—and if you don’t do the little things. James Webb III pulled down only three rebounds in last Saturday’s loss at Air Force, but he still leads the Mountain West and ranks 29th nationally with 220 total rebounds. Webb has a chance to eclipse 300 boards this season, which would make him the fourth Bronco ever to hit that number. But that’s just a sidebar right now. Boise State needs Webb to be its go-to guy—and go-get-a-rebound guy—tonight in Moby Arena, where it’s 1-7 all-time. Maybe the Broncos can draw some positive energy from last night’s New Mexico-Utah State game—the Aggies upset the Lobos 80-72, moving BSU back into a tie for second with UNM in the Mountain West.

Four days after an unthinkably bad performance by Boise State at the free throw line, there’s this: Colorado State guard John Gillon ranks fifth nationally and first in the Mountain West with a free-throw percentage of 90 percent. It’s a pretty clean stat line—Gillon has dropped in 90 of 100 attempts. The Broncos will try to right their charity stripe ship after Lonnie Jackson went 2-for-5 at Air Force, Chandler Hutchison was 1-for 5, and Mikey Thompson, an 82 percent free throw shooter on the season, went 1-for-3.

Colorado State also has an intangible going that it didn’t have in Boise in the conference opener. The Rams are playing hard in support of teammate Emmanuel Omogbo, who lost his father, mother and his two-year-old niece and nephew in a house fire in Maryland later in January. Omogbo courageously played the next day at Air Force and earned the game ball after the win. The NCAA allowed a fund to be set up to help the Omogbo family with funeral, medical and temporary housing expenses, and donations have rolled in from every coach and every corner in the Mountain West. Omogbo, a 6-8 junior forward, is averaging 10.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

There’s a reason it’s called the “Way-Too-Early Top 25,” but it gives us something to talk about. Mark Schlabach’s version at ESPN.com ranks Boise State No. 25, pointing out the pain (“the Broncos lost four games for the second time in three seasons in 2015”), the optimism (“there’s reason to believe they’ll bounce back this coming season”), and the primary reason for it (“quarterback Brett Rypien threw for 3,353 yards with 20 touchdowns as a freshman, and tailback Jeremy McNichols had 1,337 rushing yards with 20 scores”). Houston is the top—and the only other—Group of 5 team on Schlabach’s list, all the way up at No. 11.

When you start sifting through Jack Campbell’s numbers, you wonder if he’s not long for Boise. The Idaho Steelheads netminder, the ECHL Goaltender of the Month in January, leads the league in goals-against average (1.73) and save percentage (.942). Campbell clocked 39 saves last Saturday night in a 5-2 win over the Alaska Aces, his 11th against four losses since rejoining the team at the end of December. Campbell and the Steelies have a big home-and-home series on tap Friday and Saturday against the Utah Grizzlies, who lead the Steelies by just a point in the ECHL West Division.

While J.J. O’Brien was putting up 30 points Monday night, the Idaho Stampede had a couple of strong double-doubles overshadowed in their 129-116 win over the L.A. D-Fenders. Tibor Pleiss, the 7-1 German center who’s been bouncing between the Stampede and the Utah Jazz, yanked down 18 rebounds to go with 14 points. And Phil Pressey, the former Boston Celtic and Philadelphia 76er, dished out 13 assists in addition to 20 points. The Stamps and D-Fenders meet again tonight in CenturyLink Arena.

The Boise State women are set for their biggest game of the season tonight in Taco Bell Arena. The Broncos gun for their ninth straight victory when they host Colorado State, the best team in the Mountain West. Coming off a 64-37 road rout of Nevada, the Rams have won 17 in a row and are 20-1 on the season. BSU pushed CSU to the limit in the MW opener at Fort Collins last month, falling 68-64.

Josh Donaldson, who last year became the first Boise Hawk ever to win a big league Most Valuable Player award, has his payoff now. The Toronto Blue Jays and the star third baseman have avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a two-year contract reportedly worth nearly $29 million. The Blue Jays and Donaldson had been scheduled to meet next Monday for their arbitration hearing. Donaldson, on the verge of superstardom a year after being traded to Toronto by Oakland, will celebrate his good fortune by participating in this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, one of golf’s iconic events. He’ll play to a six handicap.

It behooves us to catch up on the College of Idaho ski team, a storied program that’s as good as it’s ever been. The Coyote men swept all eight Northwest Collegiate Ski Conference qualifying events this season for the first time in more than 15 years, and the Yote women did the same thing for the first time in 2009. C of I now trains for the USCSA Western Regionals, February 18-20, at Red Lodge Mountain in Montana.

This Day In Sports…February 10, 2011, five years ago today:

At the time the longest-tenured coach in any of the four major professional sports, Jerry Sloan resigns in the midst of his 23rd season leading the Utah Jazz. Sloan began working for the Jazz as a scout in 1983 and became an assistant to coach Frank Layden the following year. He replaced Layden in December, 1988. Sloan is the only coach in NBA history to win 1,000 games with one team. Sloan, who also coached the Chicago Bulls for three seasons, finished with 1,221 career victories, third on the NBA career list behind Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens.

(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.)