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Grip on Sports: Idaho and Eastern hold Inland Northwest’s banner up today

The Eastern Washington Eagles vs the Sacramento State Hornets in a Big Sky Tournament game held at the Reno Events Center on Thursday, March 9, 2017 in Reno, Nevada. (Tom R. Smedes / Special to The Spokesman-Review)
The Eastern Washington Eagles vs the Sacramento State Hornets in a Big Sky Tournament game held at the Reno Events Center on Thursday, March 9, 2017 in Reno, Nevada. (Tom R. Smedes / Special to The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Gonzaga’s regular season is finished. The NCAA tournament awaits. Washington State’s season is over. So is Whitworth’s and the area’s community colleges. Even high school basketball has yielded the floor to spring sports. Which leaves us, what, exactly around these parts? The Big Sky Conference tournament. Idaho and Eastern Washington in different halves of the semifinals. It’s enough. Read on.


• There are actually three area teams playing in Reno today: the Eastern women and men and the Idaho men.

The Eagle women get it started just after noon today against top-seeded Montana State. A win there and only a sixth- or seventh-seed awaits in the final. That’s how close an NCAA berth is.

The four teams left on the men’s side could be considered the royalty of the conference, if you swapped out top-seed North Dakota – Idaho’s opponent today – with Montana – Idaho’s victim last night.

Being that North Dakota is leaving the conference soon, down the road the top basketball schools in the Big Sky will be Idaho, Eastern, Weber and the Griz, right?

Weber State is the conference’s gold standard, historically, with almost three times as many NCAA Division I tournament berths (16) as the rest of the schools left in the Big Sky tournament (six) combined.

The Wildcats struggled down the regular season’s stretch, losing four of five to end the season and drop to the third seed. Included in that stretch were losses at Eastern and Idaho and at home to North Dakota.

The biggest beneficiary of the Weber State meltdown was Eastern, though now all it means is the Eagles get to wear white tonight.

One of the four teams left will earn the conference’s automatic berth. And the rest? There is a good chance they’ll find a postseason tournament to play in, but it won’t be the NCAAs. The conference is a one-bid league, meaning the next couple days are a dogfight. Only one team can reach the ultimate goal. And 50 percent of those in the running are from the Inland Northwest.


Gonzaga: Mark Few picked up another honor yesterday, being named coach of the year by The Sporting News.

WSU: It was pro day in Pullman yesterday, with the Cougar seniors showing off their abilities to NFL scouts. Jacob Thorpe was there to cover the activities and has this story. He also put together a piece on Gabe Marks’ swan-song interview with the local media. … There is this coverage from the Times’ Stefanie Loh as well. … Jacob put together an obituary for former WSU running back Duke Washington, who died last month at 84. … The Pac-12 tournament continued in Las Vegas, with California bouncing back from a bad defeat to Utah not long ago to eliminate the Utes. … Arizona breezed past Colorado to set up a semifinal game with UCLA. … The Bruins almost didn’t make it as USC had chances to win or tie late and couldn’t get it done. … Oregon clamped down on Arizona State in the second half and routed the Sun Devils. … Everyone is trying to get into the NCAA tournament. … Oregon State's Tres Tinkle is trying to get something out of a lost season – and a friend's lost life. … A decision has to be made about Lorenzo Romar's future.

EWU: The Eagles earned their semifinal berth with an 89-70 win over Sacramento State. Jim Allen has a game story and we can pass along a photo report as well. … Jim also has an advance of the women’s game today. … North Dakota earned its semifinal spot by avenging an early season loss to Portland State. … Weber State had little trouble with a tired Southern Utah squad.

Idaho: The Vandals held off Montana to get to the semifinals and it was Victor Sanders coming up with all the big shots. Jim has that game story as well.

CCS and NIC: The local schools didn’t fare well at the NWAC championships with both CCS and NIC losing in the first round.

Preps: We wanted to pass along this story out of Arizona concerning new pitch count rules for high school pitchers. The overuse of young arms is of interest to me.

Mariners: We are getting to that point of spring training when evaluations can be made. … The M’s defeated the Cubs yesterday, 8-6 and James Paxton pitched well. … Speaking of pitching, finesse has its place.

Seahawks: It seems as if the Hawks are making a concerted effort in free agency to bolster their offensive line. They agreed with Luke Joeckel yesterday and have others coming in to visit. … Some running backs are coming in for visits as well. … It’s official. Steven Hauschka is gone. I hope Hawk fans don’t miss him come December. … Michael Bennett is doing a good thing. … With new players coming in, some old players had to be let go.


• In about 55 hours we will know the NCAA field. We’ll know Gonzaga’s seeding and whether any other local team got in. Then comes the wait for the best weekend in sports. Until later …

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