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Sunday, May 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on Sports: Times change but Senior Night still carries emotional baggage for the home team

Gonzaga forward Jeremy Jones  pours cups of water on Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins  after Perkins broke the all-time assist record during the second against Pepperdine on Thursday  in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Jeremy Jones pours cups of water on Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins after Perkins broke the all-time assist record during the second against Pepperdine on Thursday in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Maybe it’s because we qualify for the senior discount these days, but it seems a good morning to have a talk about senior nights. Read on.

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• I remember my Senior Afternoon in college. It was at Cal State Fullerton (OK such things are supposed to be at home but I don’t remember my last home game, just my last game, so deal with it). We, meaning UC Irvine, lost. Again.

Yep, for the 28th time that season we left the baseball field with a defeat. We trudged to the bus and headed down the 57 Freeway home.

On the way, we serenaded our coach with a song. It was the Na-Na-Na song. You know, the one with the word goodbye in it a lot. He was about to be fired, we knew it and there was only one player on the bus who was not happy about it.

Anyhow, that’s how seniors were celebrated in 1978. Fast forward to today.

Every school has a huge even built around honoring its seniors. From middle school (I’m guessing) to high school through college. Flowers, hugs, tears, accolades. They all are part of the ceremony. And then a game is played.

Emotions lead about 57-0 when the real competition starts.

Sometimes, the home team never catches up. And the visiting team can steal a win it was never supposed to have.

It’s happened before for Gonzaga, who hosts BYU tonight in another Senior-Night-with-ramifications.

Heck, from 2015 through 2017, years in which the Zags won at least as many games as my last UCI baseball team lost, Gonzaga couldn’t get over the hump on Senior Night.

There was 2015, a year in which GU would win 35 games. The defeated BYU by seven in Provo and would win by 16 in the WCC Tournament. But on Senior Night in the Kennel? Brigham Young would celebrate a 73-70 victory.

The next year Saint Mary’s was the opponent. The Gaels put a bow on their regular season title with a 63-58 win on Senior Night. Of course, the Zags would get revenge and win the NCAA automatic berth a week or so later in Las Vegas, taking the WCC tourney title by 10 points.

The next season was the killer though.

Gonzaga was 29-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation heading into Senior Night. BYU was back in town, a team that GU had handed a 10-point defeat on in Provo. The final? BYU won, 79-71. A perfect season over. The consolation prize? The Zags won 37 games and made a run to the NCAA title game, coming up a whistle or two short of Mark Few’s first title.

Last year, the conference gave Gonzaga a break. The Senior Night opponent was Pepperdine, a team with as much chance to shoot down the Zags as a mouse has against a hawk.

That’s not the case this season. It’s BYU again. The Cougars are desperate. They need to win if they want a shot at finishing second in the regular season standings and earning, like Gonzaga already has, a bye into the WCC tournament semifinals.

They are motivated and, on the offensive end at least, talented. They have more than a shooters chance on a night when emotions will be running high.

The pregame ceremony will feature Josh Perkins, the school’s all-time assist leader and the flash point for many discussions the past five years. Expect some tears at some point. Hopefully, for Zag fans, they will be tears of joy after the game.

• The groundhog may have led us astray this winter, but John Blanchette never leads off track with his annual look at the Oscars and how the movies should have really been about sports.

•••

Gonzaga: Perkins is just one of four players who will be honored tonight. Jim Meehan has a preview of the game and the ceremony. He also has the key matchup. … Brandon Clarke's shot-blocking ability is putting him in the spotlight around the country. … BYU has a decent scouting report for tonight, thanks to a former GU player. … The women are in San Francisco where they will play the Dons. Jim Allen explains what is at stake. … The baseball team couldn’t hold on at Cal State Northridge, but the game isn’t over. It was suspended. … Around the WCC, San Diego will say goodbye tonight to a deep senior class.

WSU: Utah has won 10 consecutive games against the Cougars. The Utes will try to extend that streak tonight. … The women’s basketball team lost last night in Boulder. … Around the Pac-12, the conference has hired an outside entity to examine football officiating. … In basketball, Washington has shot to the top of the standings. The Huskies' defense will challenge Colorado. … It's been a tough year for Oregon, who is trying to avoid another lost weekend. … USC, with a couple of key seniors, and UCLA, with a younger group, will try to sweep the Oregon schools.

EWU: The Eagles routed Northern Arizona in Cheney, but playing on the road has been tougher for Eastern this season.

Idaho: The Vandals will try to salvage a split on the road at Southern Utah.

Chiefs: Kelowna broke out in front last night at the Arena but Spokane roared back to force overtime. The game went to a shootout. And that’s where the Chiefs’ comeback ended. Kevin Dudley has the story of Spokane’s 4-3 defeat.

Preps: It was a busy night in the prep ranks. After talking with Larry Weir for the latest Press Box pod, Dave Nichols covered the 3A boys and girls regionals. We also have roundups of other girls and boys playoff action in Washington as well as a roundup of the Idaho boys’ games. … Mead finished fourth in State gymnastics. … Ryan Collingwood caught up with former North Central High and CCS standout Brianna King as her college career winds down.

Mariners: Hey, the rain held off and Seattle picked up an 8-1 win. World Series favorites anyone? … Bring a successful pitcher in from Japan and completely change his routine. Ya, that sounds like the right thing to do. … Lorena Martin will make her arguments in front of an arbitrator.

Seahawks: The coaching staff is filling up, with the Hawks bringing in an alum to help coach. … The Hawks have four draft picks for now.

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• We will be back tonight with our TV Take on the Gonzaga game. Maybe some day we will discuss the role of criticism and the critic. That was my major emphasis in college but I’ve never been able to use it until recently. It’s odd how life works sometimes. Until later …

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