A GRIP ON SPORTS
When I got up this morning, I was looking for the answer to one two-part question. After more than an hour of searching, I'm still not sure I found what I was looking for. Read on.
• What I wanted to know was simple. What happened in the final play of Gonzaga's loss to Butler and what did Mark Few want to happen? We all saw the play with our own eyes, and what I read confirmed my multiple viewings. David Stockton tried to throw a lob pass to Kelly Olynyk, Roosevelt Jones love-tapped Olynyk (both shown in picture, though it is not of the final play) out of the way (more on that later), stole the ball and scored a tough runner just as time expired (though the shot was about as far out of his hand as the one we saw earlier this year in Tucson; you know, Colorado's game-winner that was ruled too late). But was the lob to Olynyk what Few wanted? The Zags had the ball with 3.5 seconds remaining, trying to inbound near their bench with a 63-62 lead. Guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell stationed themselves in the back court, more than 30 feet from Stockton. Olynyk was even with Stockton near midcourt while Elias Harris was alone in the frontcourt. Jones told reporters afterward he heard a GU coach tell Stockton to lob it up to Olynyk. And Stockton told Jim Meehan that Olynyk was going to seal off Jones and gather in the lob pass. So it seems as if that was the plan. It makes sense in one regard. Whoever received the in-bound pass was going to be fouled. Olynyk is shooting 80.5 percent from the line, second-best on the team. But it seemed odd in another way. With the Zags spread throughout the court, Butler's superior quickness became more of a factor and GU's size-advantage, magnified in tight spaces, is somewhat nullified. Whatever the plan, it didn't work. Part of that was Jones made sure, by extending his arm and displacing Olynyk about two feet, he would be the only one in the space where the ball would come down. It was a no-lose situation. If the officials made the correct call and his shove earned a whistle, Olynyk would be shooting two foul shots and no time would have gone off the clock. If they swallowed their whistles and he got away with it … well you saw what happened. It was a tough way for GU to lose a tough game. I wrote some notes during the game, most of which had to do with the sad state of the officiating and had intended to pass them along here. But I won't. It sounds too much like sour grapes.
• Before we move to the links, I wanted to touch on a couple of deaths in the baseball world yesterday, Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Earl Weaver. The Times' Larry Stone has a nice piece this morning on the two and what they meant to the game. My thoughts are a bit more personal. We'll start with Musial. Stan the Man, as he was called, was the man in the Grippi household. He was one of my father's favorite players, though I'm not sure why. All I know was my dad thought he was one of the best of all-time and his friends knew it. That's why, in early April of 1967, he was given two box-seat tickets to the Dodgers game against the St. Louis Cardinals courtesy of his buddy, Ben Wade, who worked for the Dodgers. Wade told him he was in for a big surprise. He was. With his 10-year-old son in tow, dad got to game early and settled in his seat for batting practice. They were the seats Bob Eucker always thought he had, in the front row. Well, close. The second row. And who would sit down in the front row just before the game was scheduled to begin? Yep, Stan Musial, my dad's hero. Let's cut to chase here. It had been sprinkling all through BP and infield (yes, they still that then) and just as Musial sat down – and my dad began to screw up his courage to talk with his hero – it began to rain harder. And harder. We fled for the dry embrace of the concourse and Musial disappeared in the crowd. No big deal, right? The rain would stop, we would sit and dad would talk baseball with his hero. Except it didn't stop. And, after a long delay – we didn't budge, though most of the other fans did – the game was called. It was April 21, 1967. It was the first rainout in Dodger Stadium history. There wouldn't be another for nine years.
• As for Weaver, the crusty Orioles manager taught me a lesson. A lesson in trusting myself. In my early years in sports journalism I served a summer as the backup writer on the Angles and Dodgers with the Orange County Register. I covered a few home games, took a road trip and wrote an occasional feature. Well, that year the Orioles came to Anaheim and were in a bit of trouble. Armed with my research (and this was pre-Internet, so any research I had done meant going through the library of baseball books we had in the office), I headed off to Anaheim Stadium to interview Weaver as the Orioles embarked on their West Coast swing. He agreed to give me time in the dugout, smoking a cigarette as we talked (yes, it was simpler times). I explained to him I was new at this, had met him before (prior to an college summer league all-star game I had played at the stadium a couple years earlier; he said a few words to our team) and hoped for the best. I don't remember what my first question was but I do remember two things: It was based on my research and Weaver went nuts. He exploded about how the basis of the question was wrong, I should check my facts before trying to do this job and, before he got up and left, added a few profanities for emphasis. I was flabbergasted, ashamed, embarrassed, you name it. Some players saw the outburst, were snickering and I couldn't face it. I scuttled out and headed to the press box. Where I proceeded to check my facts. I had been right. When the game ended, I followed the crowd of Baltimore writers into the Oriole clubhouse. They had won and were loose. I waited until Weaver answered the Baltimore writers' questions and they had left before stepping forward. I was pissed. And Weaver knew it. He laughed and basically told me he had been pulling my chain. He wanted to see how I would react. Not well. The right thing to have done was to follow him to office after he exploded but I had failed that test. Still, I came back and he seemed to respect that. At least he answered some of my questions. From then on I made sure I double-checked my facts before interviews and I believe I did a better job of standing my ground. Thanks Earl.
• Washington State: Remember Paul Wulff's first season as WSU's football coach? I do. I remember seemingly writing the same basic story for the entire season. I'm pretty sure that's what Christian Caple feels right now. There is a basic sameness to how the Cougars seem to lose recently. A decent game marred by one late-game dry spell. It happened again last night against Colorado. Christian has his game story of the 58-49 defeat that dropped WSU's record to 1-4 in the Pac-12. He also had a pregame post, a tale of the tape, the interviews and this morning's post.
• Gonzaga: Jim Meehan was at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse to watch the Zags loss and filed this game story and blog post. That wasn't the only coverage of this intersectional game between ranked foes, of course. There was also Indianapolis Star coverage, an ESPN story and one from USA Today. … Elsewhere in the WCC, GU took over sole possession of first place when USD lost handily at BYU. The Cougars needed to bounce back after a bad beat by St. Mary's, who shut down Portland last night. … The Zag women are also atop the WCC standings, cementing that spot with a win at San Diego.
• EWU: Despite freshman Venky Jois' school-record-tying seven blocked shots, the shorthanded Eagles lost again, this one 72-56 at Northern Colorado. We have this story. … Sacramento State threw a scare into Weber State but that's it. … North Dakota handled Portland State at home.
• Idaho: The formula for Idaho to get back on the winning track? Shoot lights out. We have this story on UI's road win over Texas-San Antonio and Josh Wright has a blog post. … Denver is atop the WAC standings and easily handled Utah State last night.
• Whitworth: The first half of the NWC schedule is done and the Pirates were perfect. Steve Christilaw has the game story.
• Chiefs: A former Spokane goaltender, Luke Lee-Knight (pictured), thrust into the starting spot due to an injury, earned an overtime win against his former team last night at the Arena. Chris Derrick has the story following Tri-City's 4-3 win. Tyler Tjomsland also has these photographs. … Ya, right. Seattle snaps its 15-game winning streak against Portland, the WHL's best team. Wait, what? It happened?
• Seahawks: The future in Seattle is so bright, everyone connected to the Hawks are wearing shades. … The Super Bowl berths will be decided today so we thought we would ask you which teams you want to see in the game. Take our poll. … The Times will be saying goodbye to Steve Kelley in a couple weeks. Would it be inappropriate for me to ask you folks to start a grass-roots movement to have me hired to replace him? No? Good. Do it.
• Sounders: Hey, aren't official announcements great? We may get one about Fredy Montero's loan sometime in April.
• One of the three officials in the GU game last night seemed really overmatched, allowing himself to be overruled by his comrades and rarely making a call. I am idiotic enough to have checked his recent games. Just as I suspected. According to StatSheet.com, his last three games before last night were Sacred Heart vs. Robert Morris, Fordham vs. Charlotte and Boston University vs. Stony Brook (all high-powered contests played before large, belligerent crowds I'm sure). I kept his name out of it to protect the timid. Until later …