A GRIP ON SPORTS
OK, I'll admit it. I picked St. Mary's to win last night. When asked my choice on the Patchin, Lukens and Osso radio show (featuring Vince Grippi), I went with the Gaels. What was I thinking? Well, read on and I'll tell you.
• No, I was not playing the odds. Gonzaga was favored despite losing by 21 to the Gaels in Moraga. No, I wasn't taking the higher-ranked team. If there is one thing I've learned over the years, rankings are fun but rarely do they serve as a reliable indicator when trying to decide who will win a college basketball game. And, no, I wasn't dissing the Zags. None of that. The reasoning was simple. It was all about St. Mary's for me. I watched the Gaels play well against GU at home, sure, but more importantly I watched them handle a raucous crowd in Provo a couple weeks ago. And it was that performance, on the same court on which the Zags melted down a few days later, which convinced me this St. Mary's team was different. It could hold up under pressure, not just the pressure on the court but also the pressure from a student section hell-bent on forcing turnovers through the power of their assembled voices. With Matthew Dellavedova at the controls, I thought the Gaels could withstand anything the Zags and the crowd could throw their way. Turns out I was wrong. (Not for the first time.) Gonzaga did an exceptional job of handling Dellavedova off the high ball screen – the Zags used the same strategy they tried in Moraga, constantly changing how they defended it, but Thursday night for all but a couple of possessions everyone was on the same page, something that seemed to be lacking at St. Mary's – and that stifled the Gaels offense a bit. Because Dellavedova was not running free a lot, the other Gaels were left to get their shot in one-on-one situations, something they aren't all that great at accomplishing. The most telling possession of the game was St. Mary's first. Rob Jones got the ball down low after other options had been exhausted. He dribbled, he spun, he pivoted, he shot. And Elias Harris put the ball back into his forehead, grabbing it from there and racing down the court. In one-on-one battles, the GU players are better. And were better last night.
• One last thought from the game. Harris, Rob Sacre and Sam Dower needed to step up – literally and figuratively – and they did. They played like what they are, big. And they were aggressive, stepping out to meet the St. Mary's bigs above the mid-level defensively and pushing hard to force their Gael counterparts closer to the basket offensively. Despite nearly posting a double-double (Harris had one), Sacre's biggest contributions came when he pinned folks, opening driving lanes for Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, Harris and the like. That, or the way he beat up Jones and the other Gael bigs on the other end, forcing more than a handful of missed shots from point-blank range.
• Gonzaga: Let's get to today's report. … Jim Meehan has this game story in today's paper, along with a short blog post from last night. … John Blanchette's column talks about the Zags' toughness. … Dan Pelle has a lot of photos to peruse. … Jeff Goodman of CBS.com was in town and writes GU has put itself back into the WCC title race again. But remember, the Zags need help once again. That and they can't have a letdown the final games of the schedule, starting Saturday night with Loyola-Marymount. … The San Jose Mercury News has this story, while the San Francisco Chronicle used the Associated Press story. … The Gonzaga women looked out of sorts – or that could have been the lack of hi-def on BYU-TV – in their second-half meltdown in Provo, losing 70-40 to the Cougars. … Found this yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. Guess which local college team has produced players who have made the most money in the NBA since 1985? Yes, it is Gonzaga with a little over $48 million (the biggest earners must have been Adam Morrison and Austin Daye). That puts the Zags in the top 100 on WSJ's list, but barely (they are at 99). Eastern Washington is next ($7.8 million), with WSU ($3.2) and Idaho ($1.04) following far behind. You can see a graphic of the top 25 schools here. … BYU may be down a player when it hosts Pepperdine on Saturday. Shouldn't matter. … USF coach Rex Walters and a player had a small run-in during the Dons' 85-69 win over last-place Santa Clara. … USD went to Pepperdine and came back with a 70-57 victory. … And Loyola pulled away from Portland, winning 76-62.
• Washington State: How do you win on the road for the first time in Pac-12 play? You play your best half of the conference season then get contributions from a bunch of players down the stretch. At least that was the Cougars' formula Thursday night, when they won 83-73 at Oregon State. Christian Caple has the entire report, including his game story, a post from after the win and one from this morning, which includes links to other Pac-12 games. We did find this piece from Corvallis on the game. … Found some other items you might find interesting, including an interview with football coach Mike Leach from Austin. There is one slight error, however, as the cranes on campus are not yet working on the football building. They are still busy with the new seating and press box facility. … The NCAA is moving forward on some football rule changes that I thought I would bring to your attention. Kickoffs may be different once again next year. … And there is some movement on the playoff front, though it's minuscule.
• Idaho: The Vandals are finding a way to win. Somehow. They did it again Thursday night with a 59-58 victory over New Mexico State in Moscow. Josh Wright has this story and a blog post from last night. … Utah State handed UI's Saturday opponent, Louisiana Tech, a 77-63 defeat in Logan yesterday. … Nevada had little trouble with Hawaii, winning 88-79.
• Eastern Washington: Though the Eagles didn't play last night, they will go at it with Weber State on Saturday. The Wildcats won 67-49 at Northern Arizona last night. … Portland State got past Idaho State, 67-64, in Pocatello.
• Preps: Greg Lee was at Central Valley girls' win over Mead last night as the Greater Spokane League wound up its regular season. District playoffs begin next week. … Just thought this piece was worth reading. It's good to remind ourselves, I believe, how much times change. And to thank those who helped change them.
• Chiefs: It's been a long, tough stretch for Spokane as Jess Brown's story details.
• NBA: The Seattle city council was briefed Thursday on the plans for a new arena. There was not a lot of detail.
• And that's our report for today. For the final time this week (and a while) we'll be on 700 ESPN today (you can listen here at 3 p.m.). Until later …