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Thursday, June 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on Sports: As soon as one NCAA test ends, another awaits Gonzaga on Saturday

Gonzaga  forward Rui Hachimura, right, embraces forward Brandon Clarke  after the Bulldogs defeated Florida State 72-58 in Thursday’s Sweet 16 game  at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura, right, embraces forward Brandon Clarke after the Bulldogs defeated Florida State 72-58 in Thursday’s Sweet 16 game at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Gonzaga’s win last night over Florida State, while a big one, was just prelude. Now the team that always seemed to be the biggest impediment to another Final Four trip looms Saturday. Isn’t that the way the NCAA Tournament is supposed to work? Read on.

••••••••••

• When the bracket was revealed a couple months ago, seemingly, I saw one team in Gonzaga’s region and said a barnyard expletive. It was Texas Tech.

I’ve watched Chris Beard’s team play often this season and came away every time thinking it is the type of defensive team that could give Gonzaga fits.

Looking at the Red Raiders path to the Elite Eight, though, it seemed possible the Zags could avoid them. Someone else would do the dirty work and knock the Red Raiders out.

Nope, no such luck.

No team has been more dominant in this tournament than Texas Tech. Its three wins have been by 15, 20 and 19 points. The utter domination of second-seeded Michigan last night was as crushing as it was unexpected.

So here we are. Another in a long line of great defensive teams – think Virginia, Oregon, Michigan – will try to do what doesn’t happen often for teams of their ilk: reach the Final Four.

Offense wins titles in college hoops. Oh sure, the defense has to be tough, tough enough to win rock-throwing games like Gonzaga went through yesterday, but over the years offensive efficiency is the most important element in a title run.

But if there is any kryptonite for GU’s Superman-like offense this season, it may just be physical, aggressive, downright mean defensive teams like Texas Tech.

• Which brings us back to Thursday’s game. If anything works in Gonzaga’s favor right now, it is probably the fact the Bulldogs just played a team with a similar philosophy. Hold, grab, claw, hit, intimidate for 40 minutes. It worked for Florida State last year. It almost worked for the Seminoles yesterday. But, as may be the case with Texas Tech, ultimately its offense wasn’t good enough to overcome a Gonzaga team that has improved its defense all year.

The Bulldogs don’t play defense the same way the Seminoles, or the Ducks or, yes, the Red Raiders do. Constant pressure isn’t their thing. They are more built along the lines of Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad. Stay solid, be tough and force your opponent to shoot contested shots every possession. Wear them down. Take away their will.

And the Zags have been playing it well. So well, in fact, this year’s team is looking more and more like 2017’s group. You know, the team that came this close to a title. And was the No. 1-rated group in defensive efficiency in Ken Pomeroy’s analytical measurement.

The Zags are 13th in that measure now, after hovering in the 30s early in the WCC season. The better the competition, the better GU’s defense has become.

• It was that defense that gave the Bulldogs a chance last night. But it was their offense, the best in the country as rated by Pomeroy, that earned the win down the stretch.

When Gonzaga needs a run this year, the Zags seem to come up with one. It can be a big one early – but that’s usually only against poor teams. Against the caliber of opponent you see this week, it has to come together some time in the second half. It did yesterday. Later than anyone wearing a Bulldog T-shirt might have liked, but it came. A 7-0 spurt was enough. And usually is when both teams are this tough on defense.

• Never forget there are three teams on a college basketball court at all times: the home team, the visitors and the officials. Any of them can have a bad game any night. In the Zags’ game yesterday, the third group struggled.

It happens. And it has to be pointed out.

When a player makes a mistake that costs his or her team, we point it out. No one thinks twice about it. When a player makes a great play that helps his or her team, we point it out. No one thinks twice about it. The same standard has to apply to everyone involved. The crew in the Gonzaga game seemed a bit overmatched. The crew in Virginia’s win over Oregon seemed on top of things. That game, between similar type teams, had a much better flow than the slog-fest that occurred in Anaheim, despite fewer points being scored.

There is a reason for that.

•••

Gonzaga: Are you expecting great, in-depth coverage of the Zags’ win? We have it, starting with Jim Meehan’s game analysis. … Then there are the three keys to the win and a notebook, both supplied by Jim. … John Blanchette has his usual insightful column. … Theo Lawson has a story on the battle on the glass. And another on a FSU player that was missing. … Tyler Tjomsland gives you the visual experience with this in-depth photo report. … The guys in the office supplied a recap with highlights. … Editor Rob Curley takes you to the game with Gonzaga’s president. … I chipped in by watching at home like most everyone else and commenting on the coverage. Lucky for us, CBS’ power failure in the production truck didn’t occur until the second game. … Matt Calkins of the Times was in Anaheim and has a column. … There is coverage of the GU win from Southern California as well. … In other Gonzaga news, the baseball team is glad the nonconference schedule is over. Ryan Collingwood has more in this notebook. … Around the WCC, the change in basketball leadership at BYU won’t be easy.

WSU: The Cougars have a new basketball coach. Larry Weir talked about that and more with the Matt Chazanow on the latest Press Box pod. … I do believe I linked this yesterday but it’s worth passing along again. Jon Wilner loves the process that went into hiring Kyle Smith. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Oregon’s run in the tournament ended in a series of late misses, as does many of Virginia’s games. John Canzano compared it to a meat grinder. … Colorado is already starting on next season. … There is football news from Utah, Arizona and a couple stories out of Washington’s spring practice.

Idaho: The Vandal women saw their season end in the WNIT’s Sweet Sixteen. They lost at Arizona, 68-60.

Mariners: My goodness, the M’s are 3-0 already. The latest win came in the home opener, as they pounded the defending world champion Boston Red Sox 12-4. Gene Warnick has some thoughts in our latest Out of Right Field column. … Larry Stone has some thoughts as well. … Marco Gonzales had two wins yesterday. … A-Rod had some thoughts about his time in Seattle. … Dee Gordon had some thoughts about Ichiro – and he shared them with everyone.

Sounders: The players returning from international competition feel they can do something special with this team.

•••       

• Four more NCAA Tournament games today. And then two tomorrow, with two berths in the Final Four at stake. The Zags play at 3:09 on Saturday, a day that is forecast to be pretty nice. Too bad. If there is a great sporting event on TV, I like it raining outside. Makes me feel like I’m not missing anything. Until later …

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