A GRIP ON SPORTS
For those of you with excellent memories – and, by that, I mean those of you who can remember yesterday – last night's televised college basketball games could not have come at a better time. They were near-perfect bookends to my feelings about the sport. Read on.
• If you were with us yesterday, I tried to put into words my appreciation of college hoops. But no matter what I wrote, it paled in comparison to the evidence put forth in about three hours last night. Isn't that always the way? There was a non-local game (Kansas at Oklahoma State) that kicked everything off on ESPN, then Washington State and Gonzaga entered the stage and portrayed two sides of the game.
• We'll begin in Stillwater, the site of hard-earned Zag victory on New Year's Eve. The winner between No. 9 Kansas and 14th-ranked Oklahoma State would draw even with No. 13 Kansas State atop the Big 12 standings with just a couple weeks to go. In other words, it was a huge game. And both teams came up big. We won't go too deep into the particulars, as both schools are a couple thousand miles away, but we wanted to point out a couple things. Both teams have been sparked this season by freshmen guards, Ben McLemore for Kansas and Marcus Smart for OSU, both of whom may be in the NBA this time next season. As a fan, you probably expected the two to cancel each other out Wednesday night, and they did, just in an odd sort of way. McLemore, averaging a team-high 16.3 points a game, was 3 of 12 from the field and finished with seven points. Smart, playing on a sore ankle, was 2 of 14, though he did hit 11-of-14 free throws and finished with 16 points. But his shot selection down the stretch left a lot to be desired. So it was the upperclassmen, guys who have been through the wars before, who stepped up. Seniors Jeff Withey and Travis Releford for Kansas, junior Markel Brown for OSU. The Jayhawks ended up making the big plays in double overtime and held on for a 68-67 win.
• I split the end of that game with the first half of the Washington State contest in Tempe. The Cougars' defeat was seemingly pre-ordained – the talent just isn't there for WSU right now, especially with senior guard Mike Ladd sidelined with a knee injury – though it sure didn't seem like in the first few minutes. But Arizona State, the surprise team of the Pac-12 season, got hot and opened a significant lead in the latter stages of the first half. Time for WSU to mail it in? Possibly, but the Cougars didn't. They kept plugging away in the second half, getting the lead down to single digits at one point. It wasn't pretty – oftentimes WSU losses are like watching the bread disappear at Outback; a little cut here, a little cut there and all of sudden all that's left is the nub of the crust – but it was worth watching, if only to illustrate that effort can only take you so far.
• Finally, the dollop of whipped cream atop the latte. If the Zags can play better than they did last night, demolishing a Santa Clara team that came in with a top-100 RPI, then I'm looking forward to seeing it. Their butt-kicking of the Broncos began early. They kicked them inside, outside, on defense, on offense, in every aspect of the game. Heck, GU was better in warmups and in the locker room afterward. Had to be. The Bulldogs dominated through effort, execution and talent, eliminating any thought of an upset in the first few minutes. And for those of you who want to downgrade the achievement because of the opponent, I would like to remind you Santa Clara owns a 12-point road victory this year against 20-5 St. Louis, the current darling of the ESPN basketball illuminati. The Broncos can play with anyone on a given night. Gonzaga showed last night it can as well.
• Gonzaga: Jim Meehan was in the Kennel to witness the 6,000 or so in attendance give Mike Hart a standing ovation after a couple of offensive rebounds, which might just be a first since Dr. Naismith hung up the peach baskets. Jim has a story on the game along with this blog post. He'll also return today with a day-after blog post. … Colin Mulvany was there too and he put together this photo story. … Jim has his usual Thursday summary of the week ahead as well. … There wasn't much more than the wire stories in the Bay Area newspapers, but we did find this preview of the game on ESPN, which is interesting to read after the 85-42 rout. … BYU and St. Mary's get together tonight in Moraga in a game neither can afford to lose. That should make for an interesting battle between the Fightin' Dellavadovas and the Cougars.
• Washington State: Though Christian Caple was expecting a close one – most Pac-12 games are, as the conference games boast statistically the closest average margin in the nation – that failed to materialize. He has his game story, a tale of the tape, interviews and this morning's blog post to cover all the bases. He will have a live chat later today as well. … Christian also has a weekend summary. …I should have linked this yesterday but forgot. It's the dates of all the spring football sessions in the Pac-12, courtesy of the folks at ESPN.com. And here are some thoughts on said sessions. … Finally, didn't know where to put this piece by John Feinstein on the NCAA, but figured I would slip it in here.
• EWU: Jim Allen has his weekly summary as well as a quick note on the younger Eagle players being thrust into the fire. That leads our college notebook today. … Jim also has this story on some folks in the Spokane area looking at building a sports complex.
• Idaho: Josh Wright put together this summary of the Vandals' weekend.
• Chiefs: Portland reached the century mark in points with a shutout of Kamloops on the road last night.
• Preps: The high school basketball season is winding down, with just a couple weeks left. Greg Lee previews Mead's girls first-round-of-state task in this story and relays the news Idaho's Timberlake High has reached state for the first time in boys hoop. … Greg has one more story, this on Post Falls wrestler Drake Foster (pictured). … Pullman's boys qualified for state last night.
• Mariners: Felix Hernandez threw for the first time this spring, albeit indoors thanks to the odd Northern winter-like weather in Arizona. … The M's will get a minor leaguer for Mike Carp. They just have to pick which one. … Michael Morse thinks the Mariners could be beast-like this season.
• Seahawks: The NFL combine is coming up and the Hawks are looking for pass-rush help and, with 10 draft picks, aiming at building some depth. … There was kind of a fun one-on-one battle on Twitter yesterday.
• Sounders: With Mario Martinez scoring an impressive left-footed goal, the Sounders dropped the New York Red Bulls in snowy Tucson last night. The 2-0 win moved Seattle into the finals of the Desert Diamond Cup against Real Salt Lake. … The Sounders picked up a couple draft picks yesterday.
• It's Thursday already? Where do the days go? Until later …