A GRIP ON SPORTS
For most schools, just the idea of getting into the NCAA tournament is the Holy Grail of the season. That's why, for those schools, the conference tournament week is just as much fun – and more pressure-filled – than the rest of March Madness. Read on.
• It's not often we get to experience that type of pressure around here. Rarely, if ever, in recent memory has it seemed Gonzaga needed to win the WCC tournament to get into the NCAAs. When Washington State last seemed talented enough to win the Pac-10/12 tournament, the Cougars had already wrapped up at least an at-large spot. Eastern Washington hasn't made the Big Sky tourney for a while. And then there is Idaho. The Vandals have been largely irrelevant around these parts in basketball, playing a third or fourth-viola spot in our college basketball symphony. That is until yesterday. The Vandals have gotten hot – iron-skillet hot – at just the right time. Six wins in their last seven games. Four consecutive, including two in the WAC tournament, have put UI on the precipice of something it hasn't achieved in more than two decades: A trip to the NCAA tournament. Tonight in Las Vegas, the city of small chances and big dreams, the Vandals will face New Mexico State with a trip to the Big Dance on the line. How cool is that? A team that lost to Washington State, at home, might just get into the NCAA tournament. Shouldn't that be an automatic disqualification? Just kidding. That's what makes these conference tournaments so cool. No matter the depths to which your season collapsed, there is a chance for redemption. A hot week can take you to the heights of college hoops. That's where Idaho sits today. One game away from the NCAAs. If you had asked the Vandal players back in mid-January, when they were in the midst of losing 10 of 13 games, if they would be in the NCAA tournament this year, they may have looked at you as if you were crazy. But that's not the case. Crazy is thinking there is never a chance. It just takes peaking at the right time. And that's what's happening for Idaho right now. And that's cool.
• You know there are some schools that have never been a part of the NCAA Division I basketball tournament? One of those is my alma mater, UC Irvine. For a while there I had dared to hope this would be the year. And, with Spokane playing host to the second and third rounds, I even thought there may even be a chance I could root for the Anteaters live. But it was not to be. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which knocked out my son's school the night before, made it a sweep of the Grippi household last night with a 61-58 win over the top-seeded Anteaters in the Big West Conference tournament. And that, my friends, is the flip side of the Idaho story.
• WSU: The Cougars' basketball season is over so Jacob Thorpe stayed in Las Vegas and jumped on the Idaho train. However, he did put together a morning post today with some Pac-12 links. ... ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog has its mailbag and there is a WSU question. ... Jon Wilner has some thoughts on the Pac-12 tournament and the conference's newest hire. ... The Cougar baseball team opened Pac-12 play with a defeat in Tucson.
• Gonzaga: The Zags opened WCC baseball play with a win over USF, something that hasn't happened in almost four years.
• EWU: The two best teams in the Big Sky, record-wise, will meet in the tournament final tonight. Weber State got past Northern Colorado in overtime and North Dakota defeated the Cinderella team, Portland State.
• Chiefs: Though Mitch Holmberg set a career franchise-record for most goals (pictured), that wasn't the most important thing from last night's shootout win over Tri-City. With the way the playoff race is tightening up, just winning was the most important aspect. Chris Derrick has a game story and a blog post that touches on both. ... Everett won again to keep the heat on Spokane while Seattle lost to Portland.
• Shock: The new-look AFL (that seems a big redundant) opens tonight with Spokane hosting the Iowa Barnstormers. Jim Meehan has an advance that covers the game and the season.
• Seahawks: The price of success? For Seahawk fans it is about $12, or 12 percent. That's the average increase in the price of a ticket for next season. You would think, given the nickname the fan base has, the Hawks wouldn't have increased the ticket prices by that number, right? Or maybe no one in the team's front office has a sense of irony. ... Another price of success is being paid in the free-agent market, though the Hawks have cap space.
• Mariners: Ho hum. Another day, another tie. ... The M's trimmed their roster yesterday. One of the players sent down was Jesus Montero (pictured). Fast-food places all over Tacoma rejoiced. ... One guy still with the big club is reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, who is trying to recover from a precipitous fall suffered last year. Not a real fall, but a fall from grace. ... The lineup is getting healthier.
• Is it Saturday already? That means tomorrow is Selection Sunday. How cool. Maybe Irvine will get an at-large bid. Ya, right. Heeellooo, NIT. Until later ...