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Grip on Sports: No matter what the level, basketball’s postseason games always deliver

St. George's and Liberty vie for a loose ball during a WIAA State 2B semifinal basketball game on Friday, March 2, 2018, at Spokane Arena in Spokane, Wash. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
St. George's and Liberty vie for a loose ball during a WIAA State 2B semifinal basketball game on Friday, March 2, 2018, at Spokane Arena in Spokane, Wash. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There is something special about postseason basketball. The playoffs are different in every sport, sure, but basketball, with its intensity level ratcheted up to 12 and the fans’ passion on overload, is a singular experience, not to be missed. Read on.

••••••••••

• It doesn’t matter the level.

Small school high school basketball? Bodies are flying all over the floor, circus shots find the net, sweat pours off faces (in the crowd) and the name on the front of the jersey is all that matters.

Big school prep hoops? Athleticism overcomes all, except when it doesn’t. The chants of “defense” actually mean something as does the effort it takes on the floor to make those chants worthwhile.

Small school college basketball? Even the smartest of players can lose focus in the hot-house atmosphere that is the postseason, thinking about a future game that will never come.

Big-time college hoops? No need to wax poetic here. It’s not called March Mundane, is it? The long road to the NCAA finals is crowded right now, but the traffic will be winnowed down through conference tournaments, Selection Sunday and the inevitable heartbreak that is the NCAA postseason.

It’s wonderful and scary and joyful and sad all at the same time.

It’s basketball in the postseason.

• Let’s get to specifics, in no particular order.

• For the second consecutive year, Whitworth’s longed-for (or dreaded) NCAA showdown with top-ranked Whitman on the Blues’ home court won’t occur. The Pirates, again, fell victim to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the first round. It happened last season. It happened last night.

Fool me once, shame on me, right? Fool me twice, double shame on me. Everything pointed to Whitworth being the better team heading into Friday night’s game. But, no matter the level, winning takes total dedication to the task at hand. It’s hard to argue the Pirates weren’t, to some degree, thinking about tonight’s possibilities. And now they have squandered the chance.

They finish 24-4, which is a spectacular record. But it must feel a bit disappointing, deflating even. The high of last weekend replaced by the lowest of lows. What’s that? Postseason hoops? Yep.

• Gonzaga kicks off its inevitable run to the NCAA tournament tonight against Loyola Marymount in Las Vegas.

On one hand it can be argued the Zags have already earned their spot in the NCAA tournament, so there is no pressure. That hand is stupid. Yes, they have earned a spot. They will be in. That’s not good enough. Not for this program.

Seeding matters. Not as a number per se, but what it portends. The higher the seed, the better the matchup. In theory. And matchups matter. That’s not theory, that’s fact.

Gonzaga has produced a handful of teams over the years good enough to play for the national title. Only last year did that happen. Talk with Mark Few about it (and we have) and he’ll point out matchups. Last year’s team was challenged, sure, but had the personnel to meet each as they were presented. Other matchups might not have been as favorable and could have resulted in an earlier exit. It’s happened before.

So Gonzaga wants to enter the tournament on the highest line possible. As a four seed, it would face a 13 in the first round. That’s usually easier than a 12, more than likely a better matchup.

The committee, as shown in its preliminary seeding, seems heck-bent on devaluing Gonzaga’s season. It’s up to the Bulldogs to limit ammunition in that regard. And that means winning the WCC tournament.

The quest begins tonight. We’ll be here with our thoughts about the game and the broadcast.

• Tonight is the final night of high school hoop around these parts. State titles will be determined. Old friends (and even old teammates) will face off. Longtime coaching adversaries will hook up. One team will spend the night celebrating, the other will sit in the locker room with towels over their heads.

Winning is special, sure. A state title is remembered always. But never forget the value of losing, especially at the high school level.

There are many lessons to be learned in victory, not the least of which is the effort needed to reach that goal. But there are more lessons taught by defeat. How to overcome it, how to deal with its fallout, understanding what brought it about, understanding what it means for tomorrow and the next day.

No one wins every time. No one likes to lose. No one embraces failure for failure’s sake. But if failure leads to enlightenment, it’s not really failure, is it? It’s just another step. A lesson taught in the postseason.

•••

WSU: There is not a lot from Pullman, but from the NFL combine comes this excellent story about Luke Falk and the friend he lost. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 the basketball season is winding down. The final regular season games are today, with rivalry games between USC and UCLA and between Utah and Colorado. Three of those four are thinking NCAA tournament. … The Cougars host Oregon State tonight while Washington will try to hand Oregon another loss. The Huskies, like other Pac-12 schools, are still playing for seeding in the postseason tournament. … Arizona, even with all the turmoil surrounding the program, should roll over California. … Stanford faces Arizona State in Tempe in what may be the day’s most interesting game. … In football, the two Los Angeles quarterbacks are in the middle of what could be a career-long battle for supremacy.

Gonzaga: The quest for another WCC tournament title begins tonight for the men, who will face Loyola Marymount. Jim Meehan previews that encounter and the LMU guard who will test GU tonight. … The women have already begun their quest, starting with an 81-70 victory over Pepperdine yesterday. Whitney Ogden was in the Orleans Arena and has the game story while Jim Meehan contributes a sidebar. Colin Mulvany turned his camera to the game and has this photo gallery. … Ronny Turiaf is in Las Vegas to be honored by the West Coast Conference, but as John Blanchette writes, wherever Ronny is these days, he’s home. … Our most recent Press Box podcast covers a lot of items, including Gonzaga and the Mountain West. … Around the WCC, Loyola Marymount advanced by ending Portland’s season. … San Diego is looking forward to getting back on the court. So is BYU, though for different reasons. … The tightest game should be between Pacific and USF.

EWU: Delaney Hodgins did something last night no one in the Big Sky Conference has ever done: she scored a conference-record 46 points in the Eagles’ victory.

Whitworth: The Pirates’ season ends with a one-point loss to CMS in Walla Walla.

Chiefs: Another night, another road win for Spokane. … Seattle got past Portland last night.

Preps: The Chiefs are on the road because the B tournament is in the Arena. We have stories from Greg Lee with the 2B boys, from Steve Christilaw from the 2B girls, Kevin Dudley with the 1B girls and a roundup of the other 1B action. … Jesse Tinsley and Tyler Tjomsland have a photo gallery from the Arena. … Freeman will be playing for the 1A boys title but Medical Lake was stymied in the 1A girls semifinals. … Dave Nichols is in Tacoma and has the 4A boys semifinals, in which Gonzaga Prep defeated Richland again, this time on a last-second overtime shot, and Lewis and Clark lost to Federal Way. Dave also has the 4A girls semifinals, with Central Valley marching on to tonight’s final. … In Idaho, Post Falls fell in the State 5A semifinals for the second consecutive season.

Mariners: The M’s flipped the script and rallied for a win. … Mike Zunino is working on his timing.

Seahawks: If you think the Hawks are going to stand pat, I have some land in Sodo for an arena I’ll sell you. They are going to be making moves. And those moves may not be all that popular. Earl Thomas anyone? … There was a funny story from the combine concerning the Seahawks.

Sounders: Seattle is still showing the MLS what it takes to be successful.

•••       

• A weekend of fun and frolic beckons. It’s still too cold and snowy to be asked to do work outside, there is nothing on the schedule until this evening and there is basketball, golf and black and white movies on the TV. So what will I do? Probably have to drag my way-to-big behind around stores and stuff with my life partner. Can anyone relate? Until later …


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