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Gonzaga's matchup with Arizona brings back memories

A GRIP ON SPORTS

The funny thing about one of the more memorable college basketball games I ever covered? I wasn't even in the same arena. Heck, I wasn't even in the same state. Read on.

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• Eleven years ago Gonzaga and Arizona met for a down-to-the-wire, fingernail-destroying NCAA tournament second-round battle in Salt Lake City. The ninth-seeded Zags and the top-seeded Wildcats went back-and-forth until Blake Steppe's runner in the second overtime just missed (pictured), bouncing away as the buzzer sounded on UA's 96-95 win. It's a game Jim Meehan recalls in today's Review as the two West Coast powers prepare to meet again in the NCAA tournament today, this time in San Diego. The players and coaches recall a game for the ages. I recall a game for the fans. Basketball fans. Spokane basketball fans. I was in the Spokane Arena that day, assigned to do a notebook for the NCAA tournament that was in town. With the Zags game scheduled for the same day, we knew we would be playing second fiddle in the area's basketball orchestra, but that was OK. The Arena was lively during the game between ... heck, I can't even recall who was playing. But I do remember the game finished up as the GU game was either at or just past halftime. The Spokane Arena needed to be cleared but, with the Zag game on the concourse TVs and the end of regulation coming, no one wanted to leave. No one, I'm guessing, including the folks running the Arena. So they put the game on the scoreboard and people started to filter back to their seats. A few at first, then a torrent. Soon there was a thousand or more back inside (my memory tells me it was four or five thousand but that can't be right), everyone glued to their seats and treating the game on the big screen as if it were being played on the court below. Every Gonzaga bucket was greeted with roars, every turnover groans. As a shot was missed and the game headed to the first, then the second overtime, the crowd exhaled. Then inhaled all the oxygen as each extra period began. Up and down on the screen, the Arena fans mimicking the action in their seats. The place was bedlam. And then Steppe's shot glanced off. A collective groan. Finality. Quietly, reluctantly, the Arena emptied, the fans glancing back and forth, talking quietly among themselves. Within minutes the only folks left in the place were the members of the cleanup crew. Guess what I wrote my notebook about? It still is one of my favorite stories. A story about a basketball game that occurred a thousand miles away and the fans who didn't want to miss it.

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• WSU: The Arena was rocking again yesterday as Michigan State survived Harvard's designs on an upset and San Diego State handled North Dakota State. Jacob Thorpe has the story on the latter and Jim Allen handled the former. Colin Mulvany supplies the photographs. ... Jacob also has a morning post today with a little Cougar news. ... Cougfan reported yesterday Bill Moos is down to five finalists in his search for a new basketball coach but I was told over the weekend by a source close to the search it's gotten farther along than that. Moos has identified who he wants and is in the process of seeing if the two sides can come to an agreement. If they can, the search could be over soon. By the way, our belated condolences to the Moos family. Bill's father Don died recently and a memorial service was held in Edwall yesterday. ... Speaking of coaching contracts, Jacob caught up with Jim Sterk yesterday and gave him a chance to explain Ken Bone's seven-year contract. Women's coach June Daugherty had a seven-year contract, sure, but it wasn't all guaranteed. There was an inexpensive buyout clause. And the money owed didn't add up to the total left on Bone's contract today, five years later. So the fairness aspect of the argument really doesn't wash. But it sounds good. ... Hey, the Cougar track team swept UCLA in the premiere event at the Bruins' renovated track stadium. ... Stanford and UCLA have tough NCAA assignments today. ... An injured Utah quarterback is back on the field this spring.

• Gonzaga: Besides Jim's story on the 2003 battle, he also has an advance of tonight's game while John Blanchette has a column on the big – no, I'm not going to make the same mistake the TV guy did – guy in the middle of the GU offense. ... Bud Withers also has an advance in the Times. ... St. Mary's is on the road for the NIT's second round. ... The Gonzaga women make their NCAA debut, 2014 edition, against James Madison today. Thomas Clouse is in Texas and has this advance while Tyler Tjomsland has some photos from practice yesterday. Thomas also has a blog post. ... The BYU women opened the tournament yesterday and not only defeated higher-seed North Carolina State, they routed the Wolfpack.

• Idaho: The Vandal women open the NCAA tournament today and Thomas has an advance on their game with Louisville as well.

• Chiefs: The WHL playoffs began for Spokane last night but not well. Victoria scored an overtime goal and took a 2-1 decision. Chris Derrick was in Canada and has this game story. ... Portland is up 2-0 in their series while Seattle defeated Everett and Kelowna topped Tri-City in other openers.

• Preps: There was a near perfect game in GSL baseball Friday. ... The scholar/athletes of winter were honored by the league recently.

• Shock: Arizona and Spokane were probably the two best teams in the AFL last season. They meet in Phoenix today to prove who is better this one. Jim Meehan has an advance.

• Seahawks: There is more than one way to make an NFL roster.

• Mariners: The M's spring training record is slowly sinking toward .500 – a sign of things to come? – as the preseason wears on. They lost a split-squad doubleheader yesterday. ... A couple of the Mariners' young arms saw their first action of 2014 yesterday. ... Abraham Almonte is getting a long, long look in the leadoff spot.

• Sounders: Though the Sounders will finally meet the Montreal Impact today – snow willing – they'll do it without their biggest star. So will Montreal. ... The game was scheduled for Saturday but was postponed due to weather in the Canadian city.

•••

• Enjoy your Sunday. Mine is packed. Until later ... 




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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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