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Sunday, December 09, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on Sports: Bulldogs come within a second of being trapped by Washington’s zone

Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. battle Washington guard Jamal Bey for a loose ball, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. battle Washington guard Jamal Bey for a loose ball, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Yes, we know football season is, in the NFL at least, in mid-season form. But this morning we are going to talk basketball. College basketball. And why it is so darn fun. Read on.

••••••••••

• Somewhere there is a file cabinet filled with paper. OK, so there are a lot of file cabinets filled with paper, even in this day of the cloud and digital everything. But the file cabinet we are referring to includes the remains of all those papers people talk about.

You know the ones we mean. “On paper, the Zags are 12-points better than the Huskies.” We figure that paper has to exist somewhere. And it has to be kept for at least seven years, so we can audit it every once in a while.

You can’t burn it right away. You need to keep it close to be able to pull out quickly, point at, and say “but, on paper, they were markedly better.”

And Gonzaga is. Markedly better than UW, I mean. The season’s records show it. But last night, for one 20-minute stretch, the Huskies were better. It was almost enough to earn them their first-ever upset of a top-ranked team away from Seattle.

Down by double digits in the second half, Washington rallied. The game was tied with less than 10 seconds to play. Then Rui Hachimura un-tied it with a short jumper and that was that.

The Zags’ record stays clean. The Huskies have the dreaded “moral victory.” And the rest of us were sent scurrying for Google and/or cotton balls (more on that in a moment).

Look, Gonzaga played last week in Nebraska in what was its first true road game of the season. The Zags rallied in the second half and pulled away from upset-minded Creighton, a ranked team.

On Sunday, the Bulldogs are in Phoenix, set to match up against seventh-ranked Tennessee in one of those made-for-television non-conference games that are so entertaining.

In between they faced a foe they have whacked around like a piñata their past three meetings. So who can blame a bunch of 18-to-22-year-old guys if, at halftime, they were already looking around for the Twix and Milky Ways?

And humming “Rocky Top.”

After all, despite not being able to find the basket outside of 15 feet, at that point the Zags probably expected the Huskies to assume the role of lap dog, something UW has done in this series recently.

Instead, they almost got bit.

Only a perfect night at the free-throw line – Gonzaga was 19-for-19 on those one-point shots and a season-low 42.9 percent where they count for two or three – and Hachimura’s clutch gene kept them from facing overtime.

• We had to watch – and listen – to the broadcast last night and once again received a dose of free association from Bill Walton.

We love Bill. His heart is so pure and his mind so full, it’s hard not to like him. He lives life to the fullest, sharing his experiences with all of us.

But it’s tough to just focus on basketball when he’s doing the color. Guys like Dave Pasch, who are assigned to try to rein him in while also keeping us informed on the game action, deserve a special place in the broadcaster wing of heaven. It has to be the second-toughest job in sports.

It’s no wonder when Walton asked Pasch if he had every broken his hand – a roundabout reference to Geno Crandall and his injury – Pasch had a ready answer: It had to do with their first game together and punching a wall afterward.

Funny.

But there was nothing funny about something Walton said midway through the second half. And it wasn’t really unexpected. When you free-associate as much as Walton does, there is going to be the occasional phrase that ESPN (and Pac-12) bigwigs are going to wish didn’t occur.

Last night’s had to do with an illegal screen call on Noah Dickerson, a play in which Dickerson’s feet were too spread out, according to the rules, and resulted in one of his five fouls.

Walton didn’t understand the call. Pasch talked with someone and explained it to him – and us. As soon as the Pasch mentioned Dickerson’s stance was too wide, those of us that are certain age immediately thought of something. And kept it to ourselves.

Not Walton. He thought of the same thing: Former Idaho Senator Larry Craig and an arrest in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport that eventually forced Craig from office.

The incident, which happened 11 years ago, resulted in charges of lewd conduct against Craig and destroyed his career. The term “wide stance” was associated with Craig from then on.

It’s not a subject you usually hear during a basketball game. Heck, it’s not a subject you usually hear outside of a drunken discussion in a pub or bar. But it was mentioned last night.

Of course it was part of the Twitter discussion during, and after, the game. It should be. It was an odd thing for Bill to bring up. But then again, that’s Walton. Bringing up odd subjects is what he does. ESPN encourages it. It’s part of his being, his persona.

So when he talks about something that is better left unsaid, there will be some fallout. Sooner or later, it will be too much. Not yet, but someday. Last night it was just Bill being Bill.

•••

Gonzaga: The game itself was taunt most of the second half, with Gonzaga having a chance to put it away late with a stop or two and the Huskies not letting that happen. Jim Meehan was there, of course, and has the game analysis and the three keys to victory. … John Blanchette adds perspective with his column. … The guys in the office put together the highlights and a recap. … Dan Pelle reported visually with these photographs. … I felt overwhelmed by the Walton-isms and my TV Take reflects that. … The upset-that-wasn't was covered by the Seattle Times. … Around the WCC, it was pretty decent night starting with USF picking up a win over California in Berkeley. … BYU welcomed back Nick Emery with a home win against Utah State. … USD handled San Diego State on the road. … Pacific and Loyola-Marymount also won, though Portland lost to cross-town rival Portland State.

WSU: There was a basketball rivalry game in Pullman last night, though you wouldn’t have known it by the crowd in Beasley. The place was empty for the Cougars 90-70 win over cross-border foe Idaho. Theo Lawson was there and he has the game story. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, it was an interesting day for the conference. The NCAA came down a bit hard on Oregon for some rule violations, some of which included mistakes made by former GU coach Kelly Graves. What the organization decides to punish is hard to fathom. … In football, the big news is Colorado has hired a coach, Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. … USC officially hired an offensive coordinator, former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. … Arizona doesn’t pay its assistants as much as most schools. … Utah’s former athletic director is talking openly about the conference and its problems. … Oregon and Michigan State have a history.

EWU: Eastern seems to face rematches in the FCS playoffs pretty often. And, according to Ryan Collingwood’s research, that’s a good thing. The Eagles do pretty well the second time around.

Chiefs: Spokane fell on the road once again, losing 4-2 at Everett.

Preps: Yes, it is basketball season. Especially in the prep ranks. Dave Nichols previews the season today, with a story about the boys’ teams in the area and one concerning the girls. … The main piece today is Dave’s story on Gonzaga signee (and current Gonzaga Prep star) Anton Watson. … Steve Christilaw also has a story on a Mead player who may not want to get out of bed on Dec. 1 anymore.

Seahawks: The best player of the Hawks these days? It might be Bobby Wagner. The middle linebacker is a force of nature. … This weekend’s game with Minnesota may be one of the most important in Pete Carroll’s career. … Quinton Jefferson has some motivation.

•••       

• A little inside baseball for you. I write the TV Take while the game is going on. The goal is to have it on the S-R’s website right after the game. That didn’t happen last night for a variety of reasons. Part of it is determining what Walton said occasionally takes many rewinds. And you can catch up only so much during commercials. The game was over before I was midway through the second half. Give me a blowout with the local crew anytime. Until later …


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