A GRIP ON SPORTS
Yesterday was a good day. With some time on my hands, I was able to spend a bit of time watching the Olympic men basketball semifinals. And I discovered a group of officials who make the Pac-12's look incredibly talented. Read on.
• One of the most popular aspects of the college basketball season is the constant drumbeat of criticism of Pac-12 officials. Usually it's really easy. Just watch a few games and you'll know what I mean. But I watched three of the four Olympic quarterfinals yesterday and I can tell you, the Pac-12 officials are miles ahead of these guys. The most egregious example of this was the Spain matchup with France. First off, don't think flopping is a soccer thing. It's a European thing. OK, it's a Spanish thing. For example, there was one block out on the boards – a clean block out mind you – that resulted in a Spanish player flying, Circus du Soliel-style, into the photographers on the baseline. Now that would just be funny if not for the ensuing whistle and foul call on the French player. Are you kidding me? The acting on the contact wasn't even Kristen Stewart-bad. It was worse. And yet the whistle blew. It was tough to watch and must have been even tougher to play. But the guys refereeing that game were so much better than the three guys who called the U.S. game with Australia. Talk about inconsistent. Wait, let me amend that. Talk about consistently bad. One hand on the hip was earning a handcheck call on one possession, two hands around the waist was given the "that's-OK" treatment on the next. The first half was a cavalcade of whistles and choppy play, ruining what might have been a fun matchup between two teams with something to prove. So what difference does it make? To explain that, we have to go back to France's game with Spain. As the quarterfinal wound down and France needed to foul, no one seemed to want to do it – or do it hard enough so the three blind mice would call it. So former Gonzaga star Ronny Turiaf, despite having four fouls, had to take matters into his own hands. He sprinted toward Rudy Fernandez and took a swing at the ball. Replays seemed to show he made contact with the ball, driving it into Fernandez's chest and causing it to bounce into the Spanish player's face. But even before Turiaf made contact, Fernandez was already beginning his act, so the contact with the ball, and its ricochet, knocked him even more off balance. It didn't help, of course, that Turiaf's hand, which was thrown off course by the ball, continued downward and made contact with the flying Fernandez's groin, sending him to the floor for, seemingly, the next hour-and-a-half. Now be clear about this. Turiaf hit the ball, Fernandez could have accepted the blow without moving and he would have been fine. But no. He had to pull a Spain (my term for flopping now). And he got hurt. To make matters worse, it looked as if the official first on the scene called a regular foul, which seemed correct. But the Spanish coach went ballistic and, after a conversation among the referees, an unsportsmanlike call resulted. Two free throws and the ball. Wow. With that flop still resonating through the arena, Spain inbounded the ball to Juan-Carlos Navarro in the backcourt. France's Nicolas Batum raced over and threw a punch with his right hand, leading to another unsportsmanlike foul call (a correct one that's for sure) – and sending Navarro into the universal slouched position of a man in pain thanks to a blow to his, ya, you know. Asked about it afterward, Batum told a reporter he "wanted to give him a good reason to flop." Amen. Now I'm not condoning Batum's blow (it was over the top), but acts like that just show why good officiating is so important. But there wasn't much of it on display in London yesterday.
• Washington State: If Logan Mayes needs some help putting on weight, I can certainly share with him. Weight-gaining tips, lists of donut shops, heck, I can even be a donor if need be. However, as Christian Caple's story shows, Mayes has been doing a good job of putting on the pounds himself. ... Christian also has a blog post from last night and one from this morning. The morning one has links to WSU's easy basketball win on its Australia tour.
• Gonzaga: The Bulldogs' game with the Butler Bulldogs in January will be a "GameDay" event for ESPN.
• Idaho: Nothing from the Vandals, but we do have this piece on Utah State.
• Indians: Spokane snapped its four-game losing streak though it took three pitchers combining on a one-hitter to get it done. The Indians defeated Salem-Keiser 3-2 on the road Wednesday night.
• Mariners: Let's get through the end of the Baltimore series as quickly as possible, mainly because that's how the M's played yesterday as well, as if they had a plane to catch (they did). The 9-2 Oriole win not only gave Baltimore a sweep of the series, it also ensured a road trip that started with such hope would be a real downer.
• Seahawks: Terrell Owens was on the field yesterday for the Seahawks (he was a fan favorite). The man with the checkered past met the press after the practice. Personally, I would like to know what Matt Flynn thinks about having Owens aboard.
• Sounders: There will be no fourth consecutive U.S. Open Cup title for the Sounders after a penalty-kick loss to Sporting Kansas City. To his credit, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid didn't resort to platitudes afterward, he placed the blame right where he thought it should go: referee Ricardo Salazar (at right). And there was good reason.
• Guess what? We're back on the radio today after a month-long hiatus where we visited some of the most beautiful parts of our nation – and Nevada. You can listen here between 3 and 6 p.m. And we'll be back in this spot tomorrow. Until then ...