This Day In Sports: Broncos end their longest March Madness drought

March 21, 2008, 15 years ago today: Boise State returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years and faces No. 3 seed Louisville in the East Regional at Birmingham, falling 79-61. The Broncos were cool, calm and collected as they walked out to the center circle for the opening tip. It was the only time they’d look that way. In the first two minutes, star Reggie Larry bricked a three-pointer, Matt Nelson threw a pass into Row 2, and Tyler Tiedeman had a dribble go off his knee and out-of-bounds. Next thing you know, it was 10-1 Cardinals.

But it was a game effort by the senior-laden WAC champions, who had downed Hawaii and Utah State in the conference tournament before winning a classic in the championship game over New Mexico State, 107-102 in triple-overtime. The Cardinals were different, though, jumping out early on the Broncos with pressure defense and a hot hand on offense. Boise State was 4-of-17 from three-point range, and UL was 12-of-24, as coach Rick Pitino made that a focal point of his attack at both ends of the floor. That spelled the difference. On a positive note, the Broncos didn’t take the pounding on the glass that many expected. In fact, they outrebounded Louisville by four and pulled down 11 boards on the offensive end.

Nelson would recover to lead the Broncos with 17 points and seven rebounds in his final game. It was also Larry’s career finale, and despite being swarmed by the Cardinals defense, he managed 14 points and seven boards while contributing a couple of highlight reel dunks. Boise State finished the season at 25-9, a then-school record for victories. Nelson, Larry, Tiedeman and Matt Bauscher, the former Middleton High star and now a mainstay in courtside seats at ExtraMile Arena, were seniors on that team. Their losses were felt the following two seasons, and coach Greg Graham was fired in 2010, after which Leon Rice was hired.

Louisville, meanwhile, would go on to pummel Oklahoma State 78-48 in the second round, so there was that. The Cardinals defeated No. 2 seed Tennessee 79-60 in the Sweet Sixteen before losing to No. 1 seed North Carolina 83-73 in the Elite Eight. It was seven years before Pitino and his staff got into mega-hot water in a sex-for-play scandal. After being broomed from Louisville, Pitino coached overseas for three years before getting a second chance with Iona. Then on Monday, he landed back in the Big East with St. John’s (Pitino made his mark in that conference with Providence in the mid-1980s).

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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