A GRIP ON SPORTS
It seemed like old times yesterday afternoon. Gonzaga, that plucky little squad from Spokane, Washington, facing a Midwest powerhouse in its opening NCAA game. And the valiant Zags battled through adversity to pull out the win. How 20th Century of them. Read on.
• Honestly, there probably was as little expected of this Gonzaga squad around here in the NCAAs since the Elite Eight run of 1999 that started this whole Zagmania thing. When the brackets were announced last Sunday, just about every talking head from here to Bristol congratulated GU on a great season that was about to end against the woefully underseeded Cowboys. Oops. No wonder there is no one still alive in the billion-dollar bracket contest. You know, there have been a handful of Zag teams in the past 16 years who could win with their B-game. This isn't one of them. But when they play their A-game, something they did right out of the gate yesterday, they can play with just about anybody. As Oklahoma State found out. It didn't last for 40 minutes, but it lasted long enough. Sure, the game wasn't a masterpiece. No game with that many whistles ever could be. But the NCAA tournament isn't about painting a Rembrandt. It's more Jackson Pollock, paint splattered everywhere but beautiful in its own way. Every win is. It allows Gonzaga – and Mercer and North Dakota State and anyone who wins – a chance to play another day. Given that's the whole goal of this thing, to move on, then the Bulldogs accomplished everything they wanted Friday. The reward? A Sunday evening showdown with Arizona, quite possibly the best team in the tournament. At the very least one of them and a team that is coldly efficient on defense. The Wildcats have their own foibles, however, and have been known to disappear on the offensive end at times. So it's not like the Zags will be facing the Heat, though it will be warm in San Diego thanks to an arena packed with Wildcat fans that made the jaunt up Interstate 8. But it really doesn't matter, does it? The expectations have been tamped down so firmly that Sunday's game seems like a bonus. It's kind of a nice feeling, isn’t it?
• WSU: It's still quiet in Pullman, though Jacob Thorpe was able to put together a morning post with links. … The Pac-12 did OK in the second round of the NCAA tournament, with four teams moving on, including Stanford, who started hot and held off New Mexico, Arizona, which didn't play its best but won easily, and UCLA winning Friday. … Oregon will play again today against a Wisconsin team that dominated its first game. … The Cougar baseball team picked up a shutout win in Los Angeles. … It's Saturday, so that means the mailbag from ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog is available. … Back to hoops, the third round games from the Arena today will feature two favorites, Michigan State and San Diego State, playing two underdogs. Jacob has the San Diego State story and Jim Allen covers the Spartans. They also have a notebook.
• Gonzaga: If it seems as if the Zags win their first NCAA game every year, that's because they pretty much do. Jim Meehan was in San Diego and has the game story and a notebook. John Blanchette has his column and Dan Pelle has the photographs. … Bud Withers has a column and a notebook on the GU win. … The Zag women begin their NCAA journey Sunday and Thomas Clouse has a notebook on their matchup. … BYU is really confident going into its first-round game.
• Chiefs: The WHL playoffs are here. Spokane begins its run tonight in Victoria against the Royals. Chris Derrick has the advance. … Portland opened with a win over Vancouver. … Everett meets Seattle and Tri-City faces Kelowna in other opening series.
• Mariners: One of the fabled Big Three threw for the M's yesterday and didn't have his best outing. James Paxton (pictured) got the loss as San Diego won 7-2. … But another of the trio will be back on the mound. Taijuan Walker returns from his shoulder problem to work in a minor league game today. … Hisashi Iwakuma threw tennis balls yesterday. … Ryan Divish makes a guess on who the M's will keep on their 25-man roster.
• Sounders: Hit a guy below the belt and get two games off. That's what the MLS decided yesterday, suspending Clint Dempsey two games for slapping a guy in the groin. Seems pretty harsh in that Dempsey is the most fouled guy in the league, some of them borderline dirty and no one has been suspended yet for anything done to him. … The Sounders game, scheduled for today in Montreal, has been postponed a day due to snow. Who will play has been decided, however.
• That's it for this morning. Another day of basketball. And then another. Cool. By the way, the valiant Zag stuff? There is a touch of sarcasm there. Sarcasm aimed at those who actually use those terms in earnest. Until later …