A GRIP ON SPORTS
The UCLA Bruins are in the Inland Northwest tonight to face Washington State. Did they fly in on a B-2? Their arrival was so quiet it hardly even registered on our radar. Read on.
• It's kind of sad, really. It was only five years ago the Cougars were ranked fourth in the nation, their highest-ever national ranking. Back then, when UCLA and coach Ben Howland (pictured) came to town – also a top 10 team, something the Bruins are not right now either – the game was anticipated – and drew a crowd of nearly 10,000 to Beasley. But since then, the WSU basketball program has slowly receded in our consciousness for a variety of reasons. It started with the graduation of the Derrick Low/Kyle Weaver/Robbie Cowgill class, continued through Tony Bennett's departure and has accelerated this season, especially recently with a nine-game losing streak. Add in the success of Gonzaga and the Cougars are an after-thought on our college basketball to-do list. This week will also mark the final two home games of one of the better players WSU has seen recently, forward Brock Motum. The senior from Australia was wooed here originally by Bennett but has played his entire career under Ken Bone – and thrived. After two seasons in the background, he burst on the scene last year, led the Pac-12 in scoring and led the Cougars to the CBI championship series, a series they probably would have won if not for an injury that kept him from facing Pittsburgh. He's the type of player WSU needs to thrive: An under-the-radar recruit with one strong skill (in his case, putting the ball in the basket by whatever means necessary) and holes in his game, who blossoms with good coaching and a chance to play. (Remember Weaver – no one recruited him because of a perceived inability to work hard. Or Klay Thompson, who was too skinny and didn't handle the ball well enough.) Motum has blossomed, despite playing out of position a bit and the inability of the supporting cast to consistently take the pressure off this season. But he's done a lot of his damage in a vacuum, as the Cougars have dropped off the area's radar thanks to a series of maddeningly consistent losses – and by that we mean each of them have a familiarity, with WSU staying close most of the game only to have the opponent pull away to win with a second-half burst. As Gonzaga has risen in the rankings (don't forget, it took a Kevin Pangos length-of-the-court dash at the buzzer for the Bulldogs to dispatch WSU by two earlier this season), the Cougars have melted away. And that's kind of sad.
• Gonzaga: The accolades rolled in Tuesday, with the GU men and women sweeping the major West Coast Conference awards. Think of this, the two teams are a last-three-minute scoring drought against St. Mary's by the women from being 32-0 in WCC play. Jim Meehan covers the men's side with this story and a couple of blog posts. (There is also this week-by-week on-line graphic for you to peruse.) And Chris Derrick has a couple of stories for you on the women, including this feature on WCC Player-of-the-Year Taelor Karr. ... ESPN.com wonders just how good the No. 1 GU men are. ... Bracketology is fun. ... Santa Clara says goodbye to an important senior class.
• Washington State: Christian Caple has his game advance, but it looks more into the future than tonight's game. ... He also has his morning post and Ken Bone's press conference from yesterday. ... Now get this. WSU's Lia Galderia (pictured) was the only freshman on the women's 15-player All-Pac-12 team as picked by the media and announced Tuesday. She was the only freshman on the all-defensive team. Yet she wasn't the Freshman of the Year. That honor went to an Oregon player. Kind of sad, isn't it? ... She was also an honorable mention selection by the coaches. ... If WSU fans had a vote, this guy might win player of the year.
• EWU: The University of Montana will be better at quarterback next season.
• CCS: The Sasquatch finished third in the NWAACC tournament.
• Chiefs: Spokane and Tri-City are battling for the fourth seed – and home ice – as the WHL season winds down. Chris Derrick has this story as the Chiefs prepare for their final seven regular season games. ... Portland defeated Everett on Tuesday and Tri-City lost to Price George.
• Shock: Jim Allen checked in with the Shock as they prepare for their season opener March 24 in Cleveland.
• Mariners: The M's didn't play yesterday but that doesn't mean their home-run streak ended. Michael Saunders hit one for Canada. ... Isn't it nice to see Alvin Davis back in a Mariners' uniform? ... What should we call the M's offense?
• Sonics: Sacramento is still fighting to keep the Kings.
• It's the final week of Pac-12 basketball and it kicks off tonight. I will be watching. And writing about it tomorrow. Until then ...