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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Oh what a night last night was

EWU’s Bogdan Bliznyuk, left, steals ball from UM’s Mario Dunn. (Associated Press)
EWU’s Bogdan Bliznyuk, left, steals ball from UM’s Mario Dunn. (Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Yesterday may have been the best college basketball day ever. Well, for me anyway. And anyone with an Eastern Washington University connection. Read on.

••••••••••

• They say you never forget your first time. The first time your college earns a berth in the NCAA tournament may not have been what "they" were talking about, but we're taking it as such this morning. Last night, not too long after Eastern Washington had rallied past Montana and into the tournament, my alma mater, UC Irvine took the court in Anaheim with a chance to earn its NCAA berth. Think about this. I was in the Crawford Hall stands back in 1977 when the Anteaters played their first Division I home game, a callow-faced youth with a loud voice and heckler's mentality. Two years later I was covering the team from the stage on the other side, a rookie newspaper reporter caught in the debris of a 9-18 season, the last of Tim Tift's career. The next two years were a lot more fun to cover, as Bill Mulligan became Irvine's coach and won 40 games. But the Anteaters never punched the golden ticket to the NCAA tournament, falling in the PCAA tournament each year. Within a year Kim, who played basketball for UCI, and I had relocated north, to the land of snow, Bulldogs and cheap housing. We never left. And the Eaters never got past the conference tournament. There has been some success – three consecutive 20-win seasons early this century and three more now – but never the NCAA. Until last night. A 67-58 comeback win over Hawaii in the Big West championship game was as unexpected as it was appreciated. The Anteaters were a middling 11-5 in conference play this season, three games behind UC Davis. But the Aggies fell early in the conference tournament, the door was open and my school walked through. Yep, the confetti fell, the court was stormed and my eyes got a bit misty. The next few days will feel a little surreal, I'm sure. I'll think about the best player in UC Irvine history, Kevin Magee, and wish he and his coach, Mulligan, were still around to see it. I still remember Mulligan's first press conference as Irvine's coach, the diminutive Irishman from Chicago wearing saddle shoes and a checked shirt, telling everyone he didn't come to Irvine to lose. He was going to take UCI to the NCAAs. He never did. Nor did the next couple coaches. But last night, in Russell Turner's fifth season, Mulligan's goal was realized. And I couldn't be happier.

• If there is anyone in this area happier than me this morning it would have to be Eastern Washington Fan. That guy or gal experienced the glow of the first NCAA tournament more than a decade ago, but the ensuing years haven't been kind. No matter. The Eagles' 26-8 regular season was capped last night with a 69-65 win at Montana in the finals of the Big Sky tournament. If it sounds easy, it wasn't. Eastern trailed early, trailed by 11 with 6 minutes left, trailed by nine with a little more than 4 minutes remaining. No matter. This Eagle team is never out of it. Not with the scorers it has. And that's what Eastern did down the stretch, finishing the game on a 21-6 run. Four years into Jim Hayford's tenure at Eastern, the Eagles have reached the pinnacle, the NCAA tournament. Over the next 24 hours they will see who they play, when they play and where they play, all the logistics that go with being one of the 68. No matter. All that matters is they are in the tournament. They will play at least one game on the national stage with a chance to do what makes the NCAA tournament so special: Pull an upset. And that is why yesterday was the best.

•••

• WSU: It was quiet in Pullman yesterday, what with the basketball team's season over and the baseball team on the road – where it upset No. 6 USC 4-2. But Jacob Thorpe has a morning post with links today anyhow.

• Gonzaga: The Zags will find out their NCAA fate today, with the biggest question the region in which they will play. Gonzaga is more than likely headed to Seattle for the first two rounds but whether the Bulldogs will stay in the West Region is still up in the air. Jim Meehan has a story on the possible options. ... While we waited this week to learn their fate, the paper put together a fantasy bracket with Mark Few's teams. John Blanchette has the final story. ... The Gonzaga women have to hope they get an at-large berth to the NCAAs, which will be announced tomorrow evening on ESPN. ESPN's bracketology has them as one of the last four in, headed to Corvallis, Oregon as an 11 seed. ... Bud Withers has a few thoughts on Selection Sunday.

• EWU: The scene in Missoula last night wasn't nearly as raucous as the night before, being that the home team lost and had to watch Eastern celebrate. Jim Allen was on the floor and he has this game story and a notebook. He also has a morning post with more. ... John was in attendance as well and he has a column on Eastern's accomplishment. ... The Montana end of things obviously wasn't nearly as joyous.

• Chiefs: The up-and-down Chiefs are on an uptick, winning again last night 5-2 over Tri-City. Chris Derrick has the game story from the Arena as well as a blog post. ... Portland lost in a shootout last night while Everett won, giving the Silvertips a bit of a cushion in the standings.

• Seahawks: The Hawks were so deep on defense in 2013 most of the players who couldn't even play for them have found a home somewhere in the NFL. ... TMZ is reporting Marshawn Lynch was in a dustup this weekend. ... There is another free agent receiver out there.

• Mariners: The shortstop battle? It's over for now. Brad Miller has won. By default. Chris Taylor is out for a while with a broken bone in his wrist. ... With Taijuan Walker turning in another solid outing, the M's cruised past Arizona, 11-4.

• Sounders: If the season-opening 3-0 win could be termed solid, then last night's 3-2 loss to San Jose would have to fall under the soft category. As in the Sounders played soft. And loose. And just plain awful at times. ... They lost despite Clint Dempsey's quick early goal, a man advantage in the second half and the fact they were playing San Jose. ... Seattle didn't get out of the match without an injury either. ... At least coach Sigi Schmid wasn't around to see it.

•••

• Don't forget. The NCAA selection show begins at 3. And, no, unless UC Irvine ends up in Seattle or Portland, there is no chance I'm going. Even then, the chances are slim, none and fat. Until later ...



Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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