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Grip on Sports: From domination to defense to transfers, there is a lot going on today

Washington State forward Drick Bernstine is fouled on the way to the basket by Arizona center Dusan Ristic  during the first half Wednesday in Pullman. (Young Kwak / AP)
Washington State forward Drick Bernstine is fouled on the way to the basket by Arizona center Dusan Ristic during the first half Wednesday in Pullman. (Young Kwak / AP)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There is so much going on right now, it’s hard to know where to begin. But we have to start somewhere, so let’s make it Pullman. Or McCarthey. Or maybe at some other college. Read on.

••••••••••

• How in the heck did Arizona get off to such a poor start this season?

The team that went on a 25-5 first-half run in Beasley last night reminded me of some of the North Carolina teams from the first decade of this century. And Deandre Ayton reminded me of Shaq at LSU or in “Blue Chips.”

Actually, it’s easy to figure out how the Wildcats struggled early. Watching them in some December games, it was obvious they were disinterested in playing defense, something that must have caused Sean Miller to grimace an extra time or two hundred.

It’s also obvious the Wildcats are interested in defense now, if only because it jumpstarts their fastbreak and puts an extra step into their offense.

• Speaking of extra steps, Ayton was better than anyone on the court last night and it certainly didn’t help that one of his favorite post moves includes moving both feet at the same time. It’s subtle, but he got away with it a couple times against the Cougars.

To be fair, the officials could have called fouls on both plays, contact that may have caused the shuffle, but they let both go.

• You should see a lot of contact tonight in the Kennel. Gonzaga host USD and the Toreros have improved immensely by being more physical on the defensive end.

Lamont Smith seems to come from the school of coaching that’s main belief is not every piece of contact will be called. Physical play wears down offenses. The risk of foul trouble is offset by the gains made.

Tonight the theory will be tested in innumerable ways, from the McCarthey crowd’s influence on the officials, to Gonzaga’s superior talent, to Mark Few’s insistence on his players being protected. It should be fun to watch.

• Speaking of the Kennel, we wrote yesterday about the move to curtail one aspect of the Kennel Club’s BYU-centric cheering. Our Tom Clouse delved into it a bit deeper today – ie., (or is it eg?) he actually did some reporting – and has this story.

• For our last item this morning, hop into the Wayback Machine and see what we find. Besides dog hair, of course.

After my sophomore year of college, I had an end-of-season meeting with UC Irvine head baseball coach Tom Spence. In this meeting I received some good news. Though I was a walk-on, I had shown him enough he had decided not to recruit another catcher. I would be penciled in as the top backup and catch second games of doubleheaders.

Pretty heady stuff. I walked out of there clutching the written evaluation – I still have it – ready for an offseason of hard work, prepping for a new role.

Less than a week later, Spence was replaced. Cause and effect? Maybe. Anyway, a new coach came in and had other plans. He also had another catcher, a junior college transfer who was promised the starting spot.

Like any athlete, I wanted to play. I felt I had earned the time. But transferring was not an option. There was no way I could afford a fifth year of college. The forced redshirt year would bankrupt me. So I stayed. Caught bullpens. Got a rare at-bat. And fumed.

Ever since I’ve felt the NCAA needed to change its transfer rule. Kids attend schools for lots of reasons, but the main one for athletes is the coach. If the coach is fired or leaves for a better job, why should a player have to stay?

I’ve long advocated – in this space even – athletes should be given a penalty-free window to transfer when a coach leaves. Don’t allow transfers to the coach’s new school if you want – that would be a free-for-all – but let kids decide if they want to make a change. After a certain period, the window closes.

For years I felt like a prophet crying to yucca plants and rattlesnakes in the wilderness. Every college administrator I ever broached the idea with either laughed or said the NCAA would never go for it.

And now? The Big 12 has proposed almost the exact same plan. A penalty-free transfer if certain conditions are met, mainly if there is a coaching change. The smart money is on it becoming the rule of the land. How about that?

All I can say is this: It’s 42 years too late.

•••

WSU: Theo Lawson was among the more than 4,000 in Beasley last night and he has a game story on No. 9 Arizona’s 100-72 win. He also has video of postgame interviews with Ernie Kent and two players. It’s been a long year in Pullman and it’s only the first of February. … The Wildcats’ domination seemed rather ho-hum to Arizona fans.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, we usually don’t start with football news, but today we will. Washington received a commitment, beating out Alabama and USC for a four-star defensive back. … In basketball, life on the road can be tough. It may get tougher if the schedule expands. … Oregon and Oregon State head to the Bay Area where they will meet a still-confident Stanford team and a California squad getting back one of its better players. … USC has won six consecutive games but is still on the NCAA bubble. … Bobby Hurley has reached agreement on a contract extension with Arizona State. … Colorado and Utah will meet this weekend. … Washington coach Mike Hopkins has a bit of mad-scientist in him.

Gonzaga: San Diego’s defensive prowess is Jim Meehan’s subject for his game preview. He also highlights a couple of transfers that have jumpstarted the Toreros this season. … Jim also has a story concerning Ronny Turiaf being inducted into the WCC’s Hall of Honor this year. He’s already in the Vince Grippi Hall of Honor, as one of his shoes, which served as table centerpieces at an AED-device fundraiser Ronny did in Spokane, sits in my office. His charity work is close to my wife’s heart, so to speak. … Silas Melson is done playing college hoops in his hometown. … The women take a 12-game winning streak on the road. Jim Allen previews their upcoming two-game trip. … Around the WCC, San Diego has an even tougher week than Gonzaga, and both games are on the road. … BYU’s lineup has changed and that’s helped.

EWU: No, this is not a repeat of what happened last week, but it’s close. Delaney Hodgins is about to set the Eastern scoring record. Yes, right on the heels of the men’s record being broken, Hodgins is going to set one on the women’s side. Jim Allen has a story on her quest to surpass her sister’s total. … Jim also has a preview of the Eagle men and their crucial road trip. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, a local Spokane woman, Hannah Caudill, is about to set Montana State’s career assist record. … The lead bear in the men’s race is Montana, and there is a target on the Griz’ back. … North Dakota and Northern Colorado need to get something going. … Northern Arizona would love to win a home game, though it will have to do it without one player. … Idaho State doesn’t want that to happen. … The Weber State/Southern Utah basketball rivalry isn’t one yet. … Montana State has a defensive disrupter. … Weber State announced its football schedule.

CCS: The Sasquatch men upset first-place Walla Walla in overtime.

Chiefs: Portland ended Everett’s long streak of earning points.

Preps: Dave Nichols has a notebook with news to pass along today, but that’s not his best piece of work. Nope, that would be his feature on our local road trips, many of which can stretch to hundreds of miles.

Seahawks: The Hawks have to make some decisions concerning their receiving corps. It all starts with Paul Richardson. … Steve Hutchinson hopes to have someone come to his door this weekend. It will be good news.

Mariners: Nelson Cruz made Twitter go all atwitter yesterday with an Instagram video of him taking ground balls at first base. Now that’s a sentence I never thought I would write. … Safeco Field's protective netting will cover more next season.

•••       

• Dave’s bus trip story got me to thinking. My longest high school bus trip? It was 66 miles, one way, for a non-league baseball game in the High Desert. However, with L.A. traffic, some of our league trips took two or three hours. Now that was no fun. Until later …


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