The NIT is kind of like non-New Year’s Six bowl games. The teams that want to be there the most usually fare well. We know Boise State really wants to be there. The Broncos turned down a CBI opportunity last year, and probably would have this year. But teams still get into the NIT the old-fashioned way—they earn it. And the Broncos are grateful. It’s just a come-down for schools that are accustomed to bigger things. Utah’s in that boat…so, how do the Utes really feel about tonight’s game in the Huntsman Center (not to mention their fans)?
Remember that Utah is coached by Larry Krystkowiak, who tortured Boise State as a player at Montana, got his head coaching start with the Idaho Stampede and led them to one of their best seasons, and coaxed a couple Big Sky titles out of his alma mater. Krystko will not accept complacency. “We’ve got a young enough team where this can be really beneficial to our program,” said Krystkowiak. “We’ve got a goal to go to New York to make the Final Four, and that would be a great achievement for our team.” Here’s how Dick Harmon of the Deseret News sees it: “Utah’s Pac-12 experience, its innate defensive toughness and physical play on its own home court should prove too much for the third-place Broncos from the struggling Mountain West.” Boise State is a 10½-point underdog.
If you hear something like “4½ minutes left in the first segment” tonight, don’t be surprised. The NIT is not exactly experimenting with quarters, but it might as well be. Instead of seven team fouls per half giving opponents a one-and-one on the free throw line—and 10 fouls an automatic two shots—team fouls will be reset midway through each half. Teams will be allowed four fouls during each “segment” of a half. On the fifth foul, opponents will get two free throws until the team-foul total resets at the end of the 10 minutes.
Nick Duncan is the only current Bronco who played in Boise State’s last game against Utah, a 69-67 victory in Taco Bell Arena in December of 2013. Duncan dropped in two three-pointers and scored six points in 17 minutes as a true freshman. No current Ute appeared in that game, but there is one notable guy who has faced the Broncos before. David Collette was a Utah State freshman two years ago when he hit a well-defended prayer of a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Boise State 62-61 in Taco Bell Arena. Collette transferred to Utah after that season and is now a regular in red—the 6-8 forward is averaging 13.6 points and 4.9 rebounds this season.
I thought this would jinx Boise State if I had mentioned it going into the Mountain West quarterfinals. I refrained, and it didn’t make any difference, with San Diego State waxing the Broncos by 19 points. So I’ll mention it now. With a victory over Utah tonight, Boise State would secure another 20-win season. The Broncos have won 20 games in five of Leon Rice’s first six seasons, including each of the last four. Prior to Rice’s arrival, Boise State had seven 20-win seasons and no more than three in a row. So there’s that (anybody knocking on wood?). If you have any flexibility in your life, you still have time to go to Salt Lake. Tickets are only $16 in the lower bowl and $13 in the upper bowl in the Huntsman Center.
It’s “Destination Westwood” for the Boise State women, who received a No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play at No. 4-seed UCLA Saturday on ESPN2 at Pauley Pavilion. This is the Broncos’ fourth appearance in the NCAA’s—for the Bruins, it’s their 14th. At 23-8 overall, UCLA is currently ranked 14th in the Coaches Poll and 15th on the AP list. Interestingly enough, Boise State is 2-0 all-time against the Bruins, winning both ends of a home-and-home series in the early 90’s. The Broncos won 66-64 at Pauley in 1993 and 61-45 in Boise in 1994, when longtime BSU assistant coach Heather Sower was the team captain. Fifth-seeded Texas A&M and 12th-seeded Penn also face off on the UCLA floor Saturday. The winners of the two games will meet in the second round in Los Angeles next Monday.
Other tournament notes in the men’s world—power conference teams have abandoned the CBI the past few years (there’s never been one in the CIT). The only Mountain West team choosing to play in either is Wyoming in the CBI. The Cowboys probably see what that event did for Nevada last year, when the Wolf Pack won it all, parlaying that experience into a steely performance and an MW championship this winter. The Cowboys host Eastern Washington in the CBI tomorrow night in Laramie. Idaho accepted an invitation into the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament (the CIT) against Stephen F. Austin, which registered one of the big NCAA upsets last March, stunning West Virginia 70-56 in the first round. It’ll be a doubleheader tomorrow with the Vandal women, who are hosting a first-round game in the WBI versus Utah State.
There’s always something swirling around the New Mexico basketball program. The Lobos declared before the season ended it was NCAA/NIT or bust. There would be no alphabet soup for UNM. With the season thus over, New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs announced that, despite fan unrest, Craig Neal will return for a fifth year as coach next season. It’s a gamble, because the Lobo faithful have been speaking at the turnstiles. This past season, UNM averaged 11,769 fans per game in the Pit. That may sound really good. The number ranked No. 29 out of 351 Division I programs. But attendance has plunged the past few seasons in Albuquerque, which is clearly a basketball town. It’s the first time the Lobos have ranked outside the top 25 in national attendance in 51 years.
The other issue surrounds New Mexico star Elijah Brown, who may not even play for the Lobos next season. But if he does, Brown faces a one-game suspension from the Mountain West for an accumulation of violations of the conference’s “Rule 4” (sportsmanship). Brown was called for a flagrant foul in last Thursday’s quarterfinal loss to Fresno State in the Mountain West Tournament when he tripped the Bulldogs’ Terrell Carter III. Brown also received a flagrant foul for throwing an elbow at Boise State’s James Reid on February 14 in the Pit, less than a week after been whistled for two technicals at Air Force. My guess is Brown moves on as a graduate transfer.
Let’s deliver an ode to Joey Martarano, while we can. People who have followed Boise State football are going to miss the hybrid linebacker/third baseman who chose the latter position as his future late last week. Some are surprised that he would go all the way through winter conditioning and even suit up for the first practice of spring football before letting the Broncos now he was going with baseball full-time. But that just tells me he wanted to hang onto the brotherhood as long as he could—in case there was any way he could still make it work. Martarano remains the earliest known recruiting commit in Boise State history, giving the Broncos his verbal in late June of 2011 following his sophomore year at Fruitland High. His career highlight? The one-handed interception at San Jose State in the 2015 regular season finale.
This Day In Sports…March 14, 1996:
A year after UCLA had come through Boise with Tyus Edney’s buzzer-beater on its way to a national title, the defending champion Bruins are knocked off 43-41 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Princeton. The Tigers stuck with UCLA thanks to the “Princeton offense,” with all its motion, back-door cuts and picks. But the Ivy League champs still trailed 41-34 with just over six minutes remaining, Then defense took over, and the Tigers held UCLA scoreless the rest of the way to register one if the tournament’s major upsets. After the game, legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril announced his retirement.
(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.)