What to make of the Broncos’ big men?

Boise State’s chances at Illinois in the second round of the NIT Monday night rest on Chandler Hutchison dealing with a lot of attention from Illini defenders—and how many inside guys the Broncos go to battle with. Starting post man David Wacker injured his shoulder toward the end of the first half of Tuesday night’s 73-68 win at Utah, and his status for the game in Champaign is still to be determined. If Wacker is out, that would leave duties down low to Zach Haney and Robin Jorch. Of course, Haney came up huge down the stretch in Salt Lake City. Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said after the game he thought the Boise State bigs were more physical than the Utes in the closing minutes. “It was disheartening,” he said. Who’d a thunk it? Can the Broncos—er, Haney—rinse and repeat, Wacker or no Wacker?

As for Hutchison his chances of going off for 34 points again are slim and none. Hey, Illinois may triple-team him after watching the tape of the Utah game. Utes star Kyle Kuzma was impressed. “They beat us,” said Kuzma. “They made key plays and key buckets down the stretch, and we just couldn’t stop their one guy.” One of the other Bronco guys was unsung in the Huntsman Center triumph, but he was a factor. True freshman Justinian Jessup scored only six points on 2-for-10 shooting, but he was pesky defensively with three steals and five rebounds. And maybe his sweet lefthanded stroke returns Monday if the Illini are draped all over Hutchison. By the way, Tuesday’s game marked Jessup’s 30th start of the season, matching the most starts by a freshman in school history.

Of general local interest in the NCAA Tournament, Nevada was always in the room last night, but it never quite got a seat at the table, falling 84-73 to Iowa State in Milwaukee. The Cyclones shot almost 56 percent from the field and outrebounded the Wolf Pack by 10. And we talked about Kermit Davis Wednesday. The former Idaho coach’s Middle Tennessee team was short-changed by a No. 12 seed and proved it with an 81-72 win over Minnesota earlier in the day in Milwaukee. Speaking of the Vandals, their second game in the CIT will be likely be announced today following their 73-50 thumping of Stephen F. Austin Wednesday night.

There are always lots of routs in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. Boise State knows that as it goes into the Dance as a No. 13 seed tomorrow against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. But let’s rewind to the Broncos’ last NCAA berth in 2015. You had these first-round scores that year: 77-43, 77-36, 97-52, 91-49, 86-53, 89-33 and 81-48. But Boise State would have none of that, falling to Tennessee by a count of 72-61 in Knoxville. The Broncos got the Lady Vols’ lead down to five points with less than three minutes remaining and ended up making it UT’s closest first-round NCAA Tournament game at home in 30 years. “Boise State—they were tough,” said Tennessee coach Holly Warlick. Brooke Pahukoa led the Broncos with 22 points that day. The Broncos aim to be tougher tomorrow in L.A.

Former Mountain View star and two-time Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year Destiny Slocum is ready for her first foray into the NCAA Tournament with Maryland. The Terrapins are a No. 3 seed (seems low to me, considering their 30-2 season and Big Ten championship). Slocum and Maryland will host Bucknell today. Slocum, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is averaging 11.5 points and 6.0 assists.

We never, ever let St. Patrick’s Day go by without a mention of this. The “father of Bronco football” was born on this day in 1916. Lyle Smith, who built Boise Junior College into a powerhouse in the late 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, is considered the man who inspired the Boise State program to grow into what it is today. His career record at BJC was 156-26-6, with five undefeated seasons, a 37-game winning streak, 51 shutouts, and the school’s original national championship—in the JC ranks in 1958. Smith is a very loved individual—witness the fundraising drive last month by former players and fans that produced a new mobile scooter to help him get around. Lyle Smith…101 years old today.

As the Idaho Steelheads prepare to host Rapid City in the final two games of their current series in CenturyLink Arena, let’s devour the rosters for the 20th Anniversary Steelheads Reunion Game next Saturday. Here are some names that jump out: Cal Ingraham, the Steelies’ career scoring leader, and Marty Flichel, both of whom have had their jerseys retired. Also suiting up will be Scott Burt, part of both of Idaho’s Kelly Cup championships, Jeremy Yablonski, the hockey pugilist who took those skills into a one-game NHL cup of coffee and later became an MMA fighter, and Alain Savage, the popular scoring leader on the first Steelheads team in 1997-98.

Graham DeLaet and Troy Merritt are together on the leaderboard after the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, but they’re not in a good place. The Boise State products both came in at four-over 76 yesterday—DeLaet’s day began with a bogey, and Merritt took an early double-bogey on No. 3. And each player finished the day with a bogey on the 18th.

On the campus beat—the 11th-ranked Boise State women’s gymnastics team guns for a third straight conference title for the first time in school history when the Mountain Rim Championships convene tonight in Logan. The Broncos will be joined by BYU, Utah State and Southern Utah. Boise State wrestler Austin Dewey lost a pair of matches at the NCAA Championships yesterday, ending his Bronco career. Boise State swimmers rebounded yesterday at the NCAA Championships to finish 12th in the 200-meter freestyle relay, a school-record placing at nationals, earning the quartet honorable mention All-America honors.

The Boise State women’s softball team aims to stay ahead of the storms this weekend, moving its first Mountain West series of the year up one day. The Broncos, a surprising 17-5, will host Colorado State today and tomorrow at Dona Larsen Park. In baseball, it’s a big weekend at College of Idaho as the Coyotes host No. 8 Lewis-Clark State in a four-game series beginning this afternoon.

This Day In Sports…March 17, 1977, 40 years ago today:

It is still Idaho State’s greatest athletic achievement—and it’s considered to be the night the UCLA basketball dynasty died. Two seasons after John Wooden retired, the Bengals upset the Bruins 76-75 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Provo. Steve Hayes, ISU’s seven-foot center from Aberdeen, had 27 points and 12 rebounds. And Jeff Cook, a 6-10 forward, pulled down 14 rebounds to go with eight points. The stunning loss ended a run of 10 consecutive Final Fours for UCLA, who came into the tournament with a No. 2 national ranking under second-year coach Gene Bartow.

(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.)