ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi moved Boise State into his NCAA Tournament Field of 68 Tuesday. Would such kudos hold up on the court later that night in ExtraMile Arena? It was going according to script when the Broncos took a 14-point lead with 11½ minutes left in the first half. Then the ugliness ensued. Boise State went almost eight minutes without scoring and nursed a 29-26 advantage at the break. Air Force then took the lead early in the second half, and danger signs abounded. The Broncos were their old brutal selves at the free throw line, but they were stunningly outrebounded 26-24 by the Falcons for the game. It took a 13-2 Broncos run midway through the second half to provide some separation, but Boise State still escaped uncomfortably with a 62-56 victory.
Nobody on this Boise State squad can seem to make free throws—except Tyson Degenhart. The true freshman went 8-for-9 from the line, including two clinching makes with two seconds left. The rest of the team went 11-for-23 from the stripe. Degenhart was crafty and aggressive around the hoop and set the tone was nobody else was able to, leading the Broncos with 19 points. And about that rebounding. Boise State had outboarded 13 straight opponents until being bested by the most unlikely of opponents. Remember those 25 offensive rebounds at New Mexico. The Broncos, as I mentioned, had 24 total against Air Force. But you know what? They also have their 10th win in a row. Now this rugged COVID catch-up stretch continues tomorrow night versus Utah State in Logan.
BIDDING ‘COACH RID’ A FOND FAREWELL
Kent Riddle witnessed the Boise State football transformation. Now he’ll watch it continue from afar, as he has stepped down from his position as Broncos tight ends coach “to spend time with his family before pursuing other opportunities,” according to the university release. This past season was Riddle’s seventh at Boise State and 13th overall. The Broncos were upstarts when he first joined Dan Hawkins’ staff in 2001. Riddle coached special teams during that first five-year stint, with the Broncos finishing in the top 25 in kickoff returns each season and in the top 25 in punt returns the last four. He also coached placekicker Tyler Jones, who led the nation in scoring in 2004. The most important thing: Kent Riddle is one of the good guys.
SHAK’S BALANCING ACT SHOULD PLAY WELL
Khalil Shakir is a little more than three months away from the NFL Draft and 2½ weeks away from the Senior Bowl. A third date is now cemented on Shakir’s calendar: what is officially known as the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. The now-former Boise State star has received his invitation for the annual event in Indianapolis, set for March 1-7. Shakir will do fine in the much-scrutinized 40-yard dash and the interviews and the Wonderlic test. What I can’t wait to see is the three-cone drill, because one of Shakir’s best attributes is balance. It’s balance that is responsible for a lot of his yards-after-catch. No better example than his first touchdown of this past season, a 19-yarder at UCF. Shakir caught Hank Bachmeier’s throw at the 13, broke a tackle, put a hand on the turf to stay upright, changed direction, and hit paydirt.
KELLEN’S POLARIZATION METER
Twitter has been amazing since the Dallas Cowboys’ frustrating 23-17 loss to San Francisco Sunday in their NFC Wild Card game. The vocal minority among Dallas fans want Kellen Moore fired as Cowboys offensive coordinator, while the vocal majority in Bronco Nation has come to his defense. The sticking point is the quarterback draw by Dak Prescott on the final play of the game. It wasn’t the best call of Moore’s career, but it could have worked if it was executed well. The two camps agree on one thing: they both hope Kellen gets an NFL head coaching job. It’s just that one camp hopes it’s not in Dallas. Jerry Jones may yet go that route, though, as Denver, Minnesota and Miami scramble to get interviews conducted with the former Boise State great. The Broncos got first crack on Tuesday.
LIGHTING THE FIRE AGAIN IN HAWAII
With Todd Graham having mercifully resigned as head coach at Hawaii last Friday night, a lengthy list of candidates with ties to the Islands (which Graham didn’t have) is circulating. Two names have to be intriguing to longtime Boise State fans. One is Timmy Chang, who moved from Nevada to Colorado State as wide receivers coach when coach Jay Norvell bolted for the CSU job. Chang is the former record-setting Rainbow Warriors quarterback. You may remember the 2004 game against the Broncos when Chang was poised to break the NCAA career record for passing yards. Instead he was picked off four times in a 69-3 loss. The other name is June Jones, who was coaching UH that night on the blue turf. The popular Jones is the second-winningest coach in Hawaii history. He’ll be 69 next month, but he says he’s interested.
STEELIES DON’T GAIN GROUND
The Idaho Steelheads had hoped to close the gap on Utah in the ECHL Mountain Division following six straight games against the Grizzlies. The Steelheads split the home-and-home series with their rivals, but they lost one point in the standings due to one shootout and sit seven points back. The highlight last weekend was a 6-0 shutout on Saturday by Colton Point, his first of the season and the second of his career. The Steelies have more road work to do, as they play three games in three days at Rapid City this weekend. That will wrap up the season series against the Rush.
MERRITT: OUT OF HIBERNATION
Troy Merritt plays his first PGA Tour event of the new year when he tees off today at the American Express in La Quinta, CA. Merritt usually kicks off January with the Sony Open in Hawaii, but he skipped it this year for the first time in his career. This will be the former Boise State star’s first tournament since the RSM Classic the week before Thanksgiving. The fall portion if the season was pretty good to Merritt, as he made four of five cuts and finished in the top 30 in all four. His is 61st in FedExCup standings going into today’s round on the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West.
YOTES LOOK FOR 10, TOO
There’s another Treasure Valley team shooting for 10 wins in a row. College of Idaho, which ran its win streak to nine with a 75-57 road victory at Northwest University last Saturday, has its biggest weekend of the season ahead. The 13th-ranked Coyotes host Southern Oregon on Friday and Oregon Tech on Saturday in the J.A. Albertson Activities Center. The Raiders and Owls have won a combined 17 consecutive games. The Yotes are 16-3 overall and 10-1 in the Cascade Conference, one game behind Oregon Tech and two ahead of Southern Oregon.
This Day In Sports…brought to you by ZAMZOWS…Nobody Knows Like Zamzows!
January 19, 1952, 70 years ago today: The PGA, finally following the lead of major professional team sports, approves allowing Black participants on the pro tour. But it would be nine more years before Charlie Sifford would become the first Black player to earn a PGA Tour card. And the Masters was a holdout—it would be 1975 before Lee Elder became the first African-American to play in the fabled tournament in Augusta. The first Black player to win one of golf’s majors was Tiger Woods when he captured the Green Jacket at the Masters in 1997. Sifford became the first African-American to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)