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Grip on Sports: Once again, the Inland Northwest is a one-bid region

Eastern Washington’s Jack Perry drives past Montana’s Ahmaad Rorie in the first half of the Big Sky Tournament championship  Saturday in Reno, Nevada.  Montana defeated Eastern Washington 82-65 to win the conference tournament championship. (Tom R. Smedes / Associated Press)
Eastern Washington’s Jack Perry drives past Montana’s Ahmaad Rorie in the first half of the Big Sky Tournament championship Saturday in Reno, Nevada. Montana defeated Eastern Washington 82-65 to win the conference tournament championship. (Tom R. Smedes / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Gonzaga will find out its NCAA fate today. But that’s it for Inland Northwest representation this college basketball season. Read on.

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• We all knew about the Zags, and probably knew they would be in the tournament about four months ago. But last night Eastern Washington had a chance to join GU in looking forward to today’s selection show.

(As a public service, we want to remind you the show, which starts at 3 p.m., is on TBS this year, not CBS. And, in case you missed the sunrise this morning, you needed to move your clocks forward an hour. That is all.)

But the Eagles couldn’t get it done in the second half last night, losing to Montana 82-65 in Reno. The Big Sky regular season champ Griz didn’t play like that before halftime of the conference finals, but certainly did after it, outscoring Eastern 52-25 in the final 20 minutes.

In a half-empty arena in a cold town, the Eagles went ice cold in the second half, especially from long-range. And that was that.

No NCAA this season. But a postseason game in some tournament might beckon for the 20-14 Eagles, though the economics of Eastern athletics being what they are right now, it probably will be on the road.

That’s OK. Any type of bonus basketball for Bogdan Bliznyuk and the rest of the Eagles is fine.

• I watched every Gonzaga basketball game this year, many parts of them over and over. So I witnessed the Bulldogs improvement over the course of the season.

But Jim Meehan’s story about six games that were key to their season allowed me the opportunity to go through the memory banks and realize how much better they are these days than back in the first few weeks – especially on the defensive end.

The biggest improvement has come in the form of Zach Norvell’s on-ball toughness. Early on this season, teams like North Dakota and Creighton isolated Norvell in the halfcourt, made him defend one-on-one and gave the Zags fits. The last few weeks that strategy wasn’t working.

It highlights something few of us realize. Players, and the teams they play for, are capable of improving as the season goes on. Would Gonzaga be favored against Florida right now? Yes sir, and by more than a handful of points. Would the Zags beat Villanova? That’s not a given, sure, but I guarantee they would be more of a factor against the Wildcats.

As you are filling out your bracket this evening, keep the improvement factor in mind. There are certain coaches and coaching staffs that seem to bring the best out of their teams later in the season. Those are the ones to worry about next weekend.

•••

WSU: Arizona is one of those schools playing well right now. The Wildcats claimed another Pac-12 tournament title and an NCAA berth last night with freshman Deandre Ayton leading the way 75-61 over USC. The Trojans will be an at-large choice today. … Oregon and its young star expect an NIT bid. … Washington also expects to be NIT bound. … Colorado’s season is probably over. … There is a spring football story worth passing along, especially to Oregon fans.

Gonzaga: Will the Zags be a four or five seed? Or something else. That’s something Jim looks at in this story. We’ve been saying all along if the selection committee stays true to its word and relies more on the predictive metrics like KenPom and Sagarin, then they will be a four seed. GU is eighth in Ken Pomeroy’s statistical analysis and 10th in Jeff Sagarin’s. But if it relies on the RPI, then Gonzaga will be a five or lower. Under the NCAA’s official RPI, which takes into account past results instead of trying to predict future ones, Gonzaga was 21 this morning. … Around the WCC, a rumor we heard last week from a college basketball coach seems to be coming to fruition. Lorenzo Romar will reportedly return to Pepperdine when Arizona’s season is done. … Could BYU miss out on even the NIT?

EWU: There is a certain sound to basketball games in empty arenas. It’s a mixture of on-court action, like squeaking sneakers, whistles and voices, and the absence of ambient crowd noise. We thought of that last night as we listened to Larry Weir’s call of the Big Sky title game. (Larry has a new Press Box podcast, if you want to listen.) Going by crowd size – the announced attendance for the championship was 1,378 – it’s safe to say the Reno experiment was a failure. But getting within one game of the NCAA tournament isn’t a failure for the Eagles, who were playing their best basketball down the stretch. Jim Allen has a game story as well as another piece looking at the future. … We also can pass along coverage of the Montana win from Missoula.

Idaho: Northern Colorado shot well, Idaho’s women did not and that resulted in the Bears winning the Big Sky’s automatic NCAA berth 91-69. Jim also has that story from Reno.

CCS: The Sasquatch opened the NWAC tournament with a win.

Chiefs: Vancouver came into the Arena, scored three third-period power play goals and left with a 6-5 shootout victory. That’s supposed to happen on the road, not in front of a sellout crowd. Kevin Dudley has the game story.

Preps: Gonzaga Prep’s Anton Watson was named the Seattle Times high school basketball player of the year for Washington. … Genesis Prep's Marsell Colbert seems to be the first African-American head coach to win an Idaho state basketball title. Ryan Collingwood has the story.

Mariners: The M’s rallied to win their game yesterday. … They also made a bunch of roster moves.

Seahawks: Not only will Richard Sherman not be part of the Hawks’ secondary next season, he’ll be helping a division rival. It seems he will sign with San Francisco. … DeShawn Shead will also be released soon.

Sounders: Both Portland and Real Salt Lake lost MLS matches yesterday by four goals. Ouch.

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• S-R sports editor Ralph Walter hears it all from readers. And today he wrote a response. I will add this: The changing economic dynamic of journalism over the past 20 years hasn’t been kind to local sports coverage. I see it every morning as I tool around the web. It’s not just a Spokane thing. Until later …


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