This Day In Sports: The Big Sky basketball breakthrough

March 8, 1976: In the championship game of the first-ever Big Sky Tournament in Ogden, Boise State stuns Weber State 77-70 in double-overtime on the Wildcats’ home floor to earn its first conference title and first trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Big Sky used a tiebreaker to determine the regular season champ, and Weber had won that crown despite tying for first with the Broncos and Idaho State. But Boise State stopped the Bengals 93-81 in the semifinals before outlasting Weber State. The Broncos would go on to face UNLV in the NCAA Tournament in Eugene. Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels were in their formative years, and they raced past Boise State 103-78.

Coach Bus Connor had only one senior to work with, Pat Hoke, as the Broncos were sparked by a trio of sophomores: Connor’s son, Steve, future Nevada, Stanford, LSU and TCU head coach Trent Johnson, and Danny Jones. Steve Connor would go on to become Boise State’s career scoring leader and would hold that distinction for 15 years until being surpassed by Tanoka Beard in 1993. Johnson was known for his toughness on the boards, and Jones could jump out of the gym. (Jones couldn’t dunk until his senior season, though, as dunking was banned in college basketball for 10 years when Lew Alcindor—now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—made it too easy during his career at UCLA.)

It would be 12 years before Boise State would win another Big Sky Tournament, taking down Montana State 63-61 in Bozeman in 1988 when tourney MVP Chris Childs hit a baseline layin with two seconds left. The Broncos’ next title was in 1993 when they beat top-seeded Idaho 80-68 on the Vandals’ home floor in Moscow, with Beard taking MVP honors. But the most unlikely trophy was delivered in 1994, when Boise State finished fifth in the Big Sky with a 7-7 conference mark. The tournament was played at the BSU Pavilion, and the Broncos upset ISU 85-81 in the championship game. This week the Broncos seek their first tournament crown since winning the WAC in 2008.

(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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