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Thursday, April 25, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The NCAA seems to like coming to Spokane

Gonzaga Janelle Bekkering (11) flies to the basket during first half action of their NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game against Stanford in the Spokane Arena on Monday, March 28, 2011. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Janelle Bekkering (11) flies to the basket during first half action of their NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game against Stanford in the Spokane Arena on Monday, March 28, 2011. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • If you end up downtown this weekend, watching women's college basketball at the Arena, rooting on the local school, you have one college to thank. And it may not be the one you think. Read on.

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• Over the years, the NCAA has been a faithful companion with the Spokane Arena. It started back in the late 1990s, when Spokane hosted the Final Four. Yep, the women's volleyball Final Four came to the Arena in 1997 and the success of that event began what has become an almost 20-year relationship. Since then, the NCAA has come back multiple times, with the first couple rounds of the men's basketball tournament as well as the regional rounds of the women's. And every time the NCAA has partnered with Washington State to get it done. Heck, the women's regionals have been here in each of the odd numbered years since 2011, and WSU has been the host for each. It isn't easy. Back in 2007, WSU hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA men's tournament in the Arena while its men's team was splitting two games in Sacramento. Talk about dividing a staff. This year's women's regional was originally scheduled to be in Sacramento, but that venue fell through at the last minute (about a year ago, sure, but that's last-minute in these sort of matters) and the NCAA was in a bind. What did it do? Called the Arena and WSU of course. The Cougars, despite being a little weary of the demands the weekends put on the athletic staff, said yes, they would jump in. Why, when the WSU teams never seem to be involved? That's simple, according to athletic director Bill Moos, who made the media rounds around town this week. Washington State asks a lot of Spokane, Moos explained, especially during football and basketball season. He understands that. The school understands that. So hosting NCAA events in Spokane, with the dollars such events pump into a community, is one way WSU says thanks, to give back to a city that supplies a large part of WSU's fan base. Such events make Spokane a better place, don't they? It thrusts the city into the national spotlight for a weekend. And it doesn't hurt that visitors bring their hard-earned dollars here as well. So once again this weekend the Gonzaga Bulldogs will be playing in the Arena, after they earned the spot with a pair of upsets in Corvallis, Ore., last week. Gonzaga fans, thrilled to be able to cheer their team on as it faces long-time national power Tennessee on Saturday, will fill the Arena with their voices. Thanks to their team, of course. And to a school 90 miles south.

• If you recall, the Gonzaga women hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in 2011, 2012 and 2013. For a few years there, the NCAA awarded those games to schools around the nation with the only guarantee the host school would play at home if it got in. Gonzaga was good enough each season to do just that. In 2011, the Zags, like this year an 11 seed, won both games at home, earning a trip down the road to the Arena, where WSU was playing the host role. Another win and, bingo, GU was in the Elite Eight. This year's road was a bit longer, a bit bumpier. But the regional destination was the same. 

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• WSU: The Cougars begin spring practice today, which means Mike Leach talked with the media yesterday. Though Jacob Thorpe is in Houston helping with the basketball coverage, he has this blog post with highlights of Leach's conversation. Jacob also has a blog post on the Cougs' roster, which is missing a couple of names. He follows up this morning with another post. ... ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog has a look at the most important defensive trio on each of the conference teams as well as a midweek mailbag. ... The NCAA had it out for USC. That seems obvious.

• Gonzaga: The S-R coverage team is in Houston for the Sweet Sixteen – and for coverage of Mark Few's latest gymnastics. Jim Meehan has a notebook that begins with Few's handstand in the locker room after the win over Iowa. Jacob pulls a Jim Hayford and basically guarantees a win over UCLA while John Blanchette examines the long, winding road that brought Eric McClellan to Gonzaga. ... On the women's side, Tom Clouse examines the Zags' improvement at the point guard position, which has mirrored their improvement as a team. ... Back to the men, Bud Withers also has a column on McClellan while these picks are worth paying attention to. ... UCLA knows it has its hands full Friday with a school that is used to being in the NCAA tournament.

• EWU: The Eagles will begin spring football practice April 2 and finish April 25. Jim Allen has more in this story and blog post.

• Idaho: The Vandals began spring football yesterday with a special guest. Sean Kramer has the story. ... Sean also has a story on guard Sekou Wiggs deciding to leave the Idaho basketball team.

• Whitworth: The Pirates traveled to Whitman yesterday and swept a doubleheader from Whitman.

• Chiefs: The WHL playoffs don't start until this weekend but the Chiefs earned a big win yesterday. Spokane won the draft lottery and will pick first in May's bantam draft. Chris Derrick has more in this story. ... Spokane's first-round opponent? Everett, which is a tough assignment.

• Preps: It's Thursday, which means high school news overflows. Chris Derrick has a feature on twins who lead Shadle Park's softball team. He also has a preview of the softball season in the local leagues. ... Greg Lee has a pair of stories with a common theme. There are local schools looking for basketball coaches.

• Seahawks: Pete Carroll is over the Super Bowl. He's also over kicking extra points. He talked about that and more at the NFL meetings yesterday. ... Don't worry, the Hawks and Russell Wilson will work out a contract. ... Carroll filled out his defensive coaching staff this week, bringing back a coach from the Mike Holmgren era.

• Mariners: So Austin Jackson is locked in as the M's leadoff hitter, right? Don't be so sure. Lloyd McClellan is going to give Rickie Weeks (pictured) a look there as well. ... After yesterday's dominating performance, and a dominating spring, Taijuan Walker is locked in as the fifth starter, right? Don't be so sure. McClellan says he won't make up his mind until the end of spring training. ... Thanks in large part to Walker's six scoreless innings, the M's defeated the Cubs 3-2 to even their spring training record. ... Brad Miller has locked down the starting shortstop spot, if only by default. Now he has to lock in on his throws.

• Sounders: "Hey the traffic is awful." "Forget the car, let's run." Yep, such things happen to professional athletes as well. ... No news on Clint Dempsey's hamstring just yet.

•••

• Guess what's back on TV this afternoon? Yep, the NCAA tournament. I can't wait. 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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