SCOTT SLANT: The joy of getting to play Nevada

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Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Boise State’s Justinian Jessup had scored a combined 45 points against Colorado State this season. In the first round of the Mountain West Tournament on Wednesday, Jessup went 0-for-5 from beyond the arc and scored just six points. Doesn’t sound like a prescription for victory, but his teammates covered him in a 66-57 win over CSU, sending the Broncos into the quarterfinals against top-seeded and 14th-ranked Nevada this afternoon. Topping the list of pick-me-ups was Zach Haney, who scored 16 points and pulled down a game-high seven rebounds. His job on the glass was enlightening, as he outmaneuvered the nation’s leading rebounder, the Rams’ Nico Carvacho, who had five boards.

Safe to say that Boise State isn’t in this position without Marcus Dickinson’s offensive game reappearing. The Broncos won by nine points—and Dickinson scored 10 after going scoreless in two of the last three games. He had not been in double figures in more than a month, but against Colorado State he drained two key three-pointers and was perfect on four tries from the free throw line. Boise State’s first victory in the Mountain West Tournament in four years doesn’t negate all the pain of this disappointing campaign, but it’s something the Broncos can take with them into the offseason. If they shock the world today, that’s another story.

THE BRONCOS’ LAST DANCE WITH MUSSELMAN?

Now Boise State faces the daunting task of facing Nevada again. Which begs the question: how much more will we see of Eric Musselman? After this season, the Wolf Pack loses all five starters, plus one of the few guys who got minutes off the bench. And with them go more than 80 percent of the Pack’s points and rebounds. So everybody wonders if Musselman sticks around, as he is soon going to be in heavy demand. Observers expect jobs at LSU, Texas A&M, Minnesota, Penn State, Boston College, Cal, Washington State, Wake Forest, Nebraska, and even Arizona to be open potentially, and a number of those would be attractive, you’d think. UCLA is already looking.

THIS DIALED-IN GROUP DOES IT YET AGAIN

About 4½ months ago, they were picked to win it. Wednesday night, the Boise State women won it. The Broncos are Mountain West Tournament champions for the third straight season and the fourth time in the past five years after a dominating 68-51 win over Wyoming. You could see it come together after the opening minutes. By halftime, Boise State was up by 12 points and at the end of the third quarter the Broncos led by 18. There was no 30-point outburst this time—Braydey Hodgins scored 16 points on her way to tournament MVP honors (she put up a record 37 in the quarters). And how about Jayde Christopher? In addition to her standard six assists, Christopher scored 11 points and nailed a fourth quarter three-pointer from halfway between the top of the arc and mid-court. Next stop: another NCAA Tournament.

THE GEM STATE IS SWEPT AWAY

The Idaho and Idaho State men have both exited the Big Sky Tournament now, but the Vandals made it very interesting Wednesday afternoon in CenturyLink Arena. UI blasted out to an 11-0 lead on Montana State but trailed by two points at halftime. When the Bobcats built a 57-42 lead with 12½ minutes left in the game, the rest of the story looked obvious. But the Vandals fought back and got the margin down to two points in the final minute before losing 75-71. Idaho finishes a hard-to-stomach 5-27 this season. ISU lost in the first game of the day, 94-80 to Southern Utah. The Bengals had a 52-51 lead five minutes into the second half when the Thunderbirds went on a 21-7 run and ultimately pulled away. Idaho State’s season ends at 11-19.

Montana State moves into the quarterfinals against third-seeded Eastern Washington in the late game tonight. Southern Utah faces second-seeded Northern Colorado in the early evening game. UNC’s Jeff Linder, an assistant at Boise State during coach Leon Rice’s first six seasons, was just named Big Sky Coach of the Year for leading the Bears to a 21-10 record. As a result, Linder was a favorite on Twitter shout-outs from former Bronco pupils Ryan Watkins and Anthony Drmic, among others. The afternoon games today pit No. 1 seed Montana against Sacramento State and No. 4 seed Weber State versus Portland State. On the women’s side, top-seeded Idaho was stunned by Portland State 75-59 Wednesday night. The Vikings will face Eastern Washington for the title and an NCAA Tournament bid Friday afternoon.

ANOTHER KELLEN ENDORSEMENT THAT CARRIES SOME WEIGHT

Dallas sportstalk station 105.3 The Fan conducted a phone interview with Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen this week. Considering the source, you can guess what the subject was. Coach Pete described new Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s understanding of football as “light-years ahead of people his age.” Petersen has no doubt about the Dallas hire. “The Cowboys know what they’re doing,” he said. “They’ve been around a lot of good coaches, and they know when they see something that’s special.” The station notes that “Petersen’s strong endorsement of Moore echoes similar statements made recently by two of Dallas’ leaders on offense.” That would be center Travis Frederick and quarterback Dak Prescott.

Petersen’s buy-in on Moore goes back to Kellen’s redshirt year at Boise State in 2007. “How he approached the meetings was really like nothing I had ever seen,” Petersen recalled. “He absorbed it all. He may be young in age, but he has a lot of experience.” Remember that Petersen called a special press conference in August of 2008 to explain why he was naming Kellen as his starter instead of senior Bush Hamdan (who happens to be Pete’s offensive coordinator now at UW). Petersen told The Fan he’s exchanged texts with Moore since the announcement, and that his former quarterback is excited for the opportunity. “I just told him congratulations,” Petersen said, before joking about the NFL coaching grind. “And be careful what you wish for.”

MERRITT IS HAPPY TO BE THERE

Everybody locally is anxious to see how Troy Merritt does in The Players Championship beginning today at TPC Sawgrass. Merritt is, too, as he’s excited to finally returning to the PGA Tour after January surgery to remove a rib. Despite the discomfort leading up to that, the former Boise State star got off to a good start in the 2018-19 season. Merritt’s only missed cut in six starts was in his last one two months ago at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He has three top 25 finishes, including a tie for fourth at the season-opening Safeway Open in Napa, CA, in October. Even with all the time on the shelf, Merritt has topped $435,000 in earnings so far this year.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by BBSI…partners in profitability!

March 14, 1982: The Idaho Vandals, led by Brian Kellerman, Phil Hopson and Big Sky Player of the Year Ken Owens, go next door to Pullman to play their first round NCAA Tournament game against Iowa. The thriller went into overtime with Idaho, the No. 3 seed in the West Region, pulling out a 69-67 win to advance to the Sweet Sixteen against Ralph Miller and the Oregon State Beavers. OSU was victorious in that one, 60-42. The best hoops team in Vandal history finished the season 27-3.

(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.)

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