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Grip on Sports: Gonzaga, WSU fill in the blanks over the past 48 hours

Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams (3) blocks a shot by Pacific guard Keshon Montague (10) during the first half of an NCAA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams (3) blocks a shot by Pacific guard Keshon Montague (10) during the first half of an NCAA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Where were we? Oh ya, documenting Gonzaga’s inexorable march through the WCC. And wondering if the Cougars could sweep a Pac-12 basketball foe this season. Forty-eight hours later one rolled on and the answer to our question was yes. Read on.

••••••••••

• I wonder if, back in the mid-1950s, Yankee fans sometimes left a 6-1 late-August victory over the Detroit Tigers a little bored. After all, they probably entered The House That Ruth Built knowing their team was going to win. It was a foregone conclusion. And then they did. Maybe it wasn’t easy. But there was a ruthless efficiency. So the whole day might have seemed, well, a little tedious.

You know why I’m wondering about such things, don’t you?

Here we are, 28 games into the 30 game college basketball regular season, and Gonzaga has yet to lose. We understand, deeply, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Every team wants to win every game. And if they do, no one who follows that team should ever be down in the dumps.

The goals are to play well, to get better and to win. The Zags have been doing all of those things.

But in Gonzaga’s case, recently at least, the domination has been such as to make each individual game seem, well, less than exciting. Like the Yankees of that aforementioned era (which only a few people remember), their games aren’t just wins, they are more like executions by execution.

This GU team is efficient. They are tough. And they are a little mean. Oh sure, sometimes they let the Pepperdines and the Pacifics of the WCC world hang around for a while. But only, it seems, to make the inevitable blowout feel even worse.

UOP entered the Kennel yesterday afternoon knowing it wasn’t going to win. And yet, 15 minutes in, the shorthanded Tigers – they were missing two players who combined for 30 points against GU in Stockton – were hanging around. Was there a chance?

No.

Gonzaga stomped on the gas and pulled away, with the Tigers lying by the side of the road, panting and out of breath.

The 28th victory was workmanlike. It was efficient. It was old-time Yankee-like.

• Thursday night, after being blown out by the fifth-ranked team in the nation, Ernie Kent had some harsh words for his Washington State team.

Saturday night, with the competition level quite a bit lower, the Cougars seemed to respond. The result was an 86-71 win over Arizona State.

How did WSU do it? They played as a team. The Cougars shared the ball, handing out 28 assists, the most they have had in a game since at least 2001. And they clamped down defensively in the final 7 minutes, allowing the Sun Devils just two points in the stretch.

It had been five years since Washington State has swept a Pac-12 opponent. Now that the Cougars have reached that goal, they have a chance to do it again. The Huskies come to Pullman next Sunday, sitting in 11th place in conference and having lost to WSU in their first meeting.

•••

Gonzaga: We took yesterday off from this space, but we didn’t take the whole day. Nope. We watched Gonzaga’s win from the living room and put together this column on the coverage. New voices are always nice but about halfway through I found myself wondering what Richard Fox and Dan Dickau would have thought of the game. … We know what Jim Meehan thought, because he shared those with all of us in today’s paper. There is his game story and a look at the deciding factor, the Zags’ man-to-man defense. He also passes along a look at the inside play, a conversation with Przemek Karnowski and an update on the injured GU players. … John Blanchette has a column on (I am shocked, shocked I tell you) gambling. … There are the keys to the game as well as other stories, with Whitney Ogden checking in with Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire and former Bulldog Club president Tony Higley. … Michael Gulledge talked with Kelly Olynyk, in town to watch his old team with Sam Dower. … On the visual side, Colin Mulvany and Dan Pelle take you inside McCarthey once again. … Then there is this piece from Japan on, yep, Rui Hachimura. … The women rebounded from Thursday’s loss with a 74-58 win at Pacific. … Around the WCC last night, the best matchup, on paper, should have been in Provo. But 22nd-ranked Saint Mary’s dominated short-handed BYU, 70-57, to clinch the second seed in the WCC tournament. … USF broke a two-game losing streak with a 65-51 win over Portland. … USD scored at the buzzer to upend Santa Clara 60-58 in double overtime.

WSU: Kent’s challenge was answered by the Cougars in a big way down the stretch. Jacob Thorpe has that and more in his game story and videos of postgame interviews with Kent and the players. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Washington came close to giving the home crowd the upset they wanted to see, but ultimately fell, 76-68, to fifth-ranked Arizona. … Oregon has no more home games left, but it left on a high note, a 101-73 win over Colorado. … Sixth-ranked UCLA avenged an early season loss to USC. … On the football side, we have ESPN.com’s Saturday mailbag as well as a spring football update from Oregon State and an approving look inside UW’s football factory.

EWU and Idaho: The Vandal women dominated their rival 78-51 in a Big Sky game in Moscow last night. … Around the conference in men’s action, North Dakota took over first place with a 77-68 win over former leader Weber State in Ogden. … Northern Colorado also picked up a road win at Idaho State. … Montana State defeated Sacramento State at home 62-59. … Portland State rallied, but Montana held off the Vikings, 85-82, in Missoula.

Whitworth: The Pirate men knew they would have another home game this season, but they still honored their seniors with an 82-73 win over Lewis & Clark. Josh Horton has the story. … The women fell in their season finale. … Warren Friedrichs is retiring for a second time as a Whitworth coach.

CCS and NIC: The Inland Northwest rivals got together in Coeur d’Alene last night with the NIC men and the CCS women winning.

Chiefs: Spokane is still eight points out of a playoff spot after it lost at Tri-City, 5-1.

Preps: It was a busy Saturday in the high school ranks, with Greg Lee in Tacoma for the Washington state wrestling tournaments. He got to see something no other S-R prep writer has ever witnessed: A GSL wrestler winning his fourth state title. That would be North Central’s Clai Quintanilla (pictured). … Greg also has stories on Lakeside’s Dalton Young capping a 170-0 high school career and on a CV wrestler, Braedon Orrino, capturing a 4A title. … The state gymnastics meet finished up. … In basketball, Timberlake’s girls won their second consecutive Idaho 3A state title. Post Falls finished third in the 5A tournament. … We also have roundups from girls and boys play in the area.

Mariners: Spring training in Arizona means a lot of things, including torrential downpours at times. That doesn’t stop the M’s from getting their work in, though. … The starting rotation, with a couple of new pieces that aren't all that new, seems to be earning some praise. … Some of the young power arms are earning attention as well. … Robinson Cano is in camp but centerfielder Leonys Martin is going to be a little late. … Danny Valencia is hoping to find a home in Seattle. Figuratively, because literally would be too expensive.

Seahawks: The Hawks made a change on their coaching staff, firing Sherman Smith at the behest of Pete Carroll. … They are looking to upgrade the defensive line.

Sounders: Zach Scott is getting a rare honor.

•••       

• A rainy Sunday. Is there anything better in late winter? A good day to sit around and do nothing. Until then …


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