A GRIP ON SPORTS
When I was younger (and by that I mean in my 30s or so), I used to hate New Year's Day. After all, it was the last holiday for a while (and the last big day of college football). From the Rose Parade until Memorial Day, there wasn't a paid day off. Five long months. That's changed a little, of course, over the years, but today is still the final day to gorge yourself on multiple college football games before the long winter descends. Read on.
• Yes, there is a lot of college football on television today. But that's not what I want to talk about. I would rather look back on last night's Gonzaga victory over Oklahoma State in Stillwater. I do believe I saw Mark Few smile pretty broadly afterward and why not? His Zags had just one a tough game in a tough place against a tough opponent by playing, yes, tougher than the Cowboys. I believe I've said this before – either here or on the radio – this Gonzaga team may stand apart from its recent counterparts more in mental toughness than in any physical characteristic. And that may be why this really could be Few's best team (though I agree with him, it is still too early to tell). The ESPN piece on the link spends most of its time focusing on the Zags' talent and chemistry, and there is plenty of both this season. But talent doesn't ensure you can gut out a win – it helps, sure, because making plays is a hell of a lot easier when you have the ability to get it done – and chemistry is even more ethereal than toughness – and just as hard to quantify. But when the game came down to the wire last night, it just seemed as if these Zags knew they would find a way to win. Someone would make a big play. For my part, I had my money on their toughest player, Mike Hart. And he did. It wasn't one of those "how-did-he-get-that" offensive rebounds at a key point. And it wasn't a crucial steal or defensive stop, Hart's most common contribution. No, it was a very understated contribution, a weak-side screen. As usual, Hart gave up his body so that another player could make a play. His pick on Gary Bell's man gave the sophomore guard the time he needed to nail a game-deciding 3-pointer as time ran down on the shot clock and the game. It was the type of contribution that's tough to quantify, a spur-of-the-moment decision that doesn't take a 40-inch vertical to complete. All it takes is anticipation, smarts and the toughness to accept a blow. For two years we got to watch Butler parlay such plays into two berths in the national title game. And still, most fans didn't learn anything. It's still all about the guys who can fly in and throw down a one-handed putback. Or the guy who can nail five 3-pointers in a row. Or a guy who can attack the glass with a relentless fury. Those guys are crucial if you want to win, sure, no one is denying that, but there is still a place for the guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win. That place is the floor at the end of a tight game.
• Washington State: Christian Caple looked back at 2012 on the blog yesterday, giving him something to link about the Cougars this morning. Other than that, not a lot of WSU news as the basketball team prepares for a matchup with Washington to open the Pac-12 season.
• Gonzaga: Jim Meehan was in Stillwater – I hope he had a chance to experience the lobby memorial for the OSU players and others who died in a plane crash a few years back; it is moving – and filed this game story for the S-R and this blog post here on SportsLink. ... The Oklahoman has this story and ESPN had a rapid reaction. ... St. Mary's rallied late to pull out a home win against Harvard. There might have been a few feelings of having been homered on the Harvard bench afterward.
• Idaho: Utah State and San Jose State marched through Texas with surprising ease to open the WAC regular season. ... With Boise State staying in the Mountain West, does that help Idaho's road to an FBS conference? Probably not.
• Whitworth: A wild finish, sure, but that doesn't mask the fact the Pirates end 2012 with a 10-1 record. Correspondent Steve Christilaw has the story.
• Chiefs: The last couple of games to end the year haven't been the best for the Chiefs, who fell apart in the third period last night in Tri-Cities. ... Portland keeps building on its conference lead.
• Seahawks: Despite finishing the regular season with the win over St. Louis, the Hawks were unable to catch San Francisco and enter the playoffs as a wild card. Does that kill their chances of winning the Super Bowl? No. It just makes it tougher. ... If you want to watch the game in person, prepare to mortgage your home. ... Some players will be back this weekend, others won't. ... Consistency has been Seattle's mantra this season, even if the Hawks haven't played that way all year.
• Mariners: We pass along one man's take on his hall of fame vote. The main point here is a good one but the length of this post also shows that everyone, at one time or another, needs a good editor. And I include myself in that.
• I actually remained awake until midnight last night. Not upright, mind you. We celebrated the New Year in bed, counting down the final minutes so we could turn off the light and go to sleep when the clock finally hit midnight. For those of you under the age of 30 reading this, that's a little taste of your future. I'm sorry. Until later ...