A GRIP ON SPORTS
A few years ago, while covering the NCAA tournament, I heard Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun – a crusty, curmudgeonly fella who won two national titles – say the funniest thing about the first round of the tournament. And his statement actually made me think. Read on.
• Calhoun's statement came in the interview room after a UConn win in a game that featured, well, “spotty” officiating. Calhoun pointed out that the media – that would be me and about a half-million other folks – loves to talk about one-and-done teams. But it wasn't covering the whole story. “Half those guys,” Calhoun said, referring to the officials, “are one-and-done too.” It hit me. He had a point. Just as there is a hierarchy in the teams, there is a hierarchy among the three guys overseeing the game as well. There are good teams, there are good officials. The not-so-good teams are weeded out. Same can be said for they guys with the whistles. So when there is a first-round game with “spotty” officiating, one can take comfort in knowing that it will improve as the tournament rolls on. At least that's what I did yesterday during the Gonzaga game. But what happens when a call is missed that costs a team a game? Just like the air-ball Beau Levesque threw up for St. Mary's on a 3 late in the Gaels' two-point loss to Memphis, there may not be a second chance. That was the thought running through my head when Brandon Moore blocked a shot late in the game. The ball headed OB but Javan Mitchell hustled and, according to the official, saved the ball. Except he didn't. I ran it back on the DVR and his foot was out-of-bounds when he flung the ball back in. Well out of bounds. The only official with a shot to see it had to avoid Mitchell and must have missed it and probably didn't want to guess. So he let the play continue. The only problem was the “save” led to a Kelly Olynyk foul and a tie game. And it could have assured Gonzaga of being one-and-done.
• Actually, most of the damage Thursday was self-inflicted. Though Southern played hard and showed it had a smattering of athletes, this was a game that would not have been close in the regular season. One thing I don't believe gets enough credit – or would it be blame? – in Gonzaga's case is the long layoff after the WCC finishes its tournament. The conference is one of the first to finish, giving its champion a 10 or 11-day break before the tournament starts. It's an odd stretch, one that rarely occurs in the regular season. It's long enough, sure, for bumps and bruises to heal, but it's also long enough for a hot team to lose its edge. And that's what it looked like yesterday. The Zags had lost a bit of their edge. It showed early and gave the Jaguars hope. That's all they needed to make GU's second-round game uncomfortable. But the NCAA tournament is about, as the newest ESPN 30-for-30 movie professes, surviving and advancing. The Zags did just that. Did they get their edge back? They better hope so. Ever since I watched Wichita State dismantle Washington State in Madison Square Garden a couple years ago, I've kept an eye on the Shockers. Mainly because I was so impressed at the way they played. It reminded me of the Bennett teams at WSU, especially on the defensive end. Gregg Marshall's teams have a toughness about them that translates into a stifling defense and tough-to-overcome rebounding prowess. They showed it yesterday in dominating Pitt – a member of the vaunted Big East this year and the even-more-vaunted ACC next – and will be willing to put it on display again tomorrow. (As an aside, after that NIT semifinal beatdown, I put Marshall's name on my list. He would make sense as a Cougar coach because his style of play translates perfectly for the type of players a coach can recruit to Pullman: tough, strong, focused kids. Besides, he wouldn't have to change the monogramed initials on his shirts.) The Zags better be ready for 40 minutes of hand-to-hand combat or this season, No. 1 seed or not, it will be two-and-done.
• By the way, I found this Dennis Dobbs story interesting. There is now going to be even less accountability for the only trio of on-court participants who are getting paid.
• Gonzaga: We have a pretty powerful contingent in Salt Lake City ourselves and they covered the win from every angle. Jim Meehan put together the game story and conspired with Christian Caple to finish off a notebook. Christian adds a sidebar on Southern and John Blanchette has his column. Plus, Colin Mulvany and Dan Pelle have enough photographs to fill an album. One last thing. Dan Dickau's thoughts on the game. … Bud Withers has a game story and a notebook from the game in the Times while Jerry Brewer adds a column as well. … Old friend Chris Dufresne has a column in the LA Times. … There was game coverage as well in the Salt Lake City newspapers. … St. Mary's fell to Memphis when Matthew Dellavedova missed a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. … BYU has another home NIT game Monday.
• Washington State: Spring football began yesterday in Pullman and, because Christian was in Utah, Josh Wright filled in, filing this story. But Christian has you covered on the blog this morning with this post featuring post-practice video.
• EWU: Chris Derrick begins a bountiful day with this advance on Eastern's WNIT opener tonight at the University of Washington.
• Idaho: Josh pulled double duty as Idaho opens the Paul Petrino era today with its first spring practice. Here is Josh's advance. … The Vandal women will open the NCAA tournament Saturday in Connecticut, though Chris tells us Stacey Barr (pictured) will be doing it with a heavy heart. … The team Idaho defeated in the WAC title game, Seattle U., lost its first WNIT game to Gonzaga-rival St. Mary's last night.
• Chiefs: The WHL playoffs are underway, with the Chiefs hosting rival Tri-City tonight in the Arena. Chris has an advance. … The Winterhawks are set to earn most of the WHL hardware. … Everett and Seattle are ready for the playoffs.
• Mariners: Some decisions have to be made today concerning the pitching staff as Jon Garland has a contract provision that forces the M's hand. … Of all the non-roster pitchers to make the squad, this guy may not have been on your list. … The M's lost last night to the Cubs with Jason Bay in centerfield. Another audition of a sort? … Larry Stone is still trying to figure out if there is a correlation between spring training success and the regular season.
• Sounders: A World Cup qualifier against Panama will be held at CenturyLink June 11. That's just part of the Seattle scheduling news we have for you today. And just part of the national team news as well. … There are some injuries for Seattle this weekend.
• Boxing: Jim Allen has an outstanding feature today on one of America's best female boxers. USA Boxing's national championships start soon at Northern Quest.
• That's it today. It's another day of hoop on the TV so have fun. I will. Until later …