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16 is sweet ... and sublime

A GRIP ON SPORTS

It's almost a little ridiculous. Sixteen consecutive years in the NCAA tournament. For those of us who were around here in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Dan Fitzgerald's Gonzaga teams were battling to break through and make the NCAA tournament just once, it seems a bit overwhelming that GU has earned its 16th consecutive tournament bid. Read on.

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• Back in those days Gonzaga was just trying to get over the hump. The West Coast Conference had been dominated by USF or Santa Clara – where Fitz had served his college coaching apprenticeship. The Bulldogs were just hoping to make one trip. They finally broke through in 1995, earning a spot in the Big Dance. Sure, they were one-and-done, but that didn't dull the glow that much. Guys like Jason Rubright, John Rillie and Paul Rogers had led the Zags to the Promised Land. Little did we know that the guys on Fitz's bench, Dan Monson, Billy Grier and Mark Few, would take them to even greater heights. Two years later Fitz would step down, turning the reins over to Monson. In 1999 the streak would begin with the run to the Elite Eight. Within months, Monson took off for Minnesota and Few took over. Since then the Zags have been in every NCAA tournament played. Yes, there have been years when they have disappointed. When the team seemed poised to make another long run and came up short. But that doesn't take away from the magnitude of the streak. Think of this way. If you had a child born when the streak began in March of 1999, that child would be bugging you every day to take him or her driving. Diapers, preschool, Little League, middle school, they would all be in the rear-view mirror. Just like the rest of the WCC each year.

• Memories are great, aren't they? But they also can be a bit untrue. Take the rude shock I received last night. The Pac-12 Networks showed an edited version of the 1969 NCAA championship game between UCLA and Purdue that opened my eyes a bit. Sure, I knew the game had changed, but really, that much? First off, nobody touched anybody. Really. Touch someone and it was a foul. And the foul call was usually made flamboyantly by an official – with an extra arm flourish or, in one case, a jump up with a big arm swing to denote the basket was good. But if a dribbler was impeded at all or if a rebounder was touched from behind, a whistle. So no one made contact. And the defenders stood straight up and down most of the game. The only UCLA player who got into anything resembling the defense stance of today was Sidney Wicks, a guy I've always remembered as being a big lazy. Maybe I let my NBA memories of the guy color his UCLA days. Finally, though UCLA won easily – the Bruin players were much better, quicker, athletic, skilled, than Purdue's – one thing stood out: Lew Alcindor (soon to be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was really good. I mean Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas good. Michael Jordan with the Bulls good. LeBron in high school good. I mean, when a guy is that much better than everyone else on the court, it just seems odd. It's as if he's from another dimension, from the future or something. Nine guys are playing one game and one guy is playing a totally different one. No wonder UCLA won three titles in the three years he was allowed to play.

•••

• WSU: The Cougars will try to win a Pac-12 tournament game or two this week in Las Vegas, starting tonight against Stanford. Jacob Thorpe is there and has an advance of the tournament. ... Jacob also dealt with the news yesterday sophomore-to-be cornerback DaQuawn Brown was arrested last week on assault charges, accused of hitting another man and a woman in an altercation. Jacob had a blog post yesterday and a story today. He also has a morning post today with links. ... ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog looks at the conference's returning punters. ... The LA Times has a preview of the Pac-12 tournament.

• Gonzaga: Not only did the men win and earn their 16th consecutive trip to the Big Dance, the women demolished BYU to win another NCAA invite. Jim Meehan has the story of the women's triumph along with a blog post while Colin Mulvany has the photographs. ... The BYU women were a bit stunned by Gonzaga's overwhelming first-half defense. ... Back to the men, Jim has a game story and a blog post concerning the win over BYU, John Blanchette has a column and Colin has more photographs. ... The Cougars not only lost the game, they lost one of their better players to what looks to be a bad knee injury. ... Bud Withers has coverage of the men and women's games in the Times. ... Jim was on the blog yesterday morning with this post on the win over St. Mary's. He'll be back with a day-after post today on BYU as well. ... USF's coach wants them to fight to get over the hump next year.

• Idaho: The WAC tournament opens for the Vandals today as well, and it's also in Las Vegas. The women begin today and Josh Wright has an advance. He also has a blog post covering the men's tournament, which begins tomorrow.

• Shock: The Shock will begin their quest for an Arena Football League title this weekend at home. Jim Allen gets us ready with this feature on one of quarterback Erik Meyer's protectors, one with local ties.

• Chiefs: Being that they may face Seattle in the playoffs, it seemed as if the Chiefs needed to get a win against the Thunderbirds. At least one. They did that last night in Seattle, 6-4. ... It's Wednesday, so Chris Derrick has his weekly WHL notebook in the paper. ... Portland won again, this one in overtime vs. Tri-City. ... Everett is getting ready for the playoffs as well.

• Seahawks: The free agent frenzy began yesterday and the Hawks lost a backup linebacker. A guy who hardly played. He made $8 million. Being part of a winning team has its rewards. ... It also has its dangers, at least for the team. More than one Seattle free agent is being courted by other teams. And they offering a lot of money. ... Of course, the Hawks are trying to woo some free agents as well and they have a ring to show them. ... The 49ers made a highly publicized trade yesterday.

• Mariners: A late rally gave the M's another spring win. And spring isn't officially here yet. ... Ryan Divish has a feature on a left-handed pitcher who is headed back to the minors for more seasoning. ... Lloyd McClendon challenged a call yesterday and got it overturned. It was a historic moment.

• Sounders: OK, so there is the turf issue. And the regular refs are still out. But this weekend's match with Toronto is about relationships. The Sounders have two players with a long history with one of the MLS' less-successful franchises. ... Who is good this season?

•••

• It's Wednesday already? And I didn't make a single camel reference? I must be slipping. I'll try to do better tomorrow. Until then ... 




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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