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Grip on Sports: Our area has a connection tonight to more than one Final Four contender

Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams dunks on Portland’s Ray Barreno last Saturday (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams dunks on Portland’s Ray Barreno last Saturday (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It’s not often we can write about Inland Northwest college basketball and mention two Final Four competitors. But that’s the case today. And one of them is playing in place where it’s warm. Read on.

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• You probably know the first one we’re writing about. That would be Gonzaga, which hosts the University of San Diego (and U-Hi graduate Brett Bailey) tonight.

The Zags are poised to become No. 1 in the polls if they can get through the weekend and yadda-yadda-yadda.

OK, so I yadda-yadda-yaddaed through the best part. But the story has been told enough. And will be told again tonight, if the Zags zip past the Toreros.

If they don’t?

Being that they are 26-point favorites, an upset would not only shock the basketball world, it might break Vegas.

The best story tonight involves Bailey, the local kid who headed south to play for former Gonzaga assistant Billy Grier and ended finishing up his career for someone else. Lamont Smith, actually, the latest in a long line of coaches hired with the goal of keeping up with the Bulldogs.

The result so far? Nine wins last year and a 10-10 record in this one, which is actually a better winning percentage than the Toreros have enjoyed overall since Bailey arrived in America’s most temperate climate. USD has finished above .500 only once in the past four years and that was by just a game.

So consider the Zags a huge favorite tonight. And come back here after the game to find out what happened.

• The other team with a decent Final Four chance? The University of Arizona. And the Wildcats’ Inland Northwest connection? They are hosting Washington State tonight in Tucson.

Where, I am presuming, it will be warmer than Pullman.

The Wildcats’ season started with a bit of mystery, with their best player, Allonzo Trier, not playing and no one saying why. It took the first half of the season, but the mystery was explained.

Trier had failed an NCAA-mandated PED test. The powers-that-be, however, believed his explanation it was an accident and, when the drugs were no longer in his system, he was cleared to play. That was a week ago.

But since he’s been back Arizona has upset UCLA at Pauley and ascended to their rightful place as part of college hoops’ royalty.

The crown is still wobbly, though, and would certainly fall off if the Wildcats don’t handle WSU tonight.

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Gonzaga: The Toreros haven’t won in Spokane this century, if you are one of those that believes the century started in 2001. That nugget is contained in this history piece but Jim Meehan has the official advance and a story on Bailey while John Blanchette chips in with a column on Bailey, the unofficial West Coast Conference comeback player of the year. … The Gonzaga women began the WCC season 0-2. They have a chance for some payback this week against one of the schools. Jim Allen has a look at the weekend ahead. … BYU has one player feeling better and one feeling a lot worse. The Cougars travel to Santa Clara tonight.

WSU: There are times Ernie Kent turns to an official and acts aggrieved. And he really sells the performance. Maybe, thanks to this story by Jacob Thorpe, we now know who taught Kent his skills: Mahershala Ali (pictured). … Jacob also has an advance of tonight’s game in the desert. … Elsewhere in Pac-12 basketball, Arizona’s win over UCLA was knocked down a notch as the Bruins lost again last night. This one, 84-76, was at USC and marked the fourth consecutive time the Trojans have taken down their rivals. … Speaking of streaks, Oregon and Dylan Ennis has a long winning streak against Utah. The Utes host the Ducks tonight. … Washington can be counted of four two things: Markelle Fultz will score a lot of points and the Huskies will rally. Winning? That’s not a given. It wasn’t last night as they lost at Arizona State, 86-75. … Neither Oregon State nor Colorado are having a season to celebrate. … In football, Stanford received some good news recently concerning the quarterback depth. … Next year’s all-conference team has some tough choices, but this preseason one also has a lot of Cougars. … Who will be Arizona’s next athletic director?

EWU: It’s a big weekend for the Eagles. The basketball team is headed to Montana for the tough road trip – Jim Allen has an advance – and Cooper Kupp will continue to showcase his abilities for NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl – we can pass along this AP story. … Jim also has a piece on Eastern’s 2017 football schedule. … Former Eastern assistant Grant Leep has had a tough first year as Seattle Pacific's head coach. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Idaho travels to Bozeman to face a Montana State team that has improved its defense. … The upcoming conference change ends a war in North Dakota. … Weber State and Idaho State made up their postponed game last night. WSU won.

CCS: The Sasquatch took care of Blue Mountain last night.

Preps: It was a busy Wednesday in the high school ranks and we pass along roundups from girls and boys basketball, gymnastics and wrestling. … This feature from Greg Lee on Mt. Spokane’s Jaidyn Lyman (pictured) anchors the Prep Page, a Thursday staple. … Greg also has an advance of tonight’s big GSL wrestling showdown between Mead and Mt. Spokane. … Lewiston’s football coach has resigned. Greg has that story as well and one on a veteran wrestling coach filling a need.

Seahawks: Richard Sherman criticized the NFL in advance for any penalties it might hand out concerning his unreported injury. You expected anything less? … Where are the Hawks headed in the draft? Might they look for another linebacker? … New England has separated itself some from Seattle since their epic Super Bowl. … The Hawks lost another assistant coach. But this one went to serve a higher power.

Mariners: So how did Felix Hernandez come to have a 2000 World Series ring? The world wants to know. … Next season's giveaways have been scheduled.

Sounders: The defending champs hope to avoid any sense of complacency.

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• A quick, and early, heads-up. We have to be in the Spokane Valley by 7:30 Saturday morning, which means one thing: No column that day. Sorry. We’ll be back here Sunday. Until later …

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