Sun., Feb. 28, 2016
Some wins just have more impact and meaning than others
A GRIP ON SPORTS • Sometimes a win just that, a win. Sometimes it is something more. A lot more. Such was the case last night in Provo for the Gonzaga men. Read on.
• I have a buddy who played for Gonzaga back in the Dark Ages. You know, before 1999 and the national recognition. This year’s team has baffled him. No, that’s not right. This year’s doesn’t baffle him. If anything, it’s been entirely too predictable. He sent me a text last night halfway through the second half. “I’m gonna say it. They’ve got us right where they want us. We are up 10 midway in the second half.” The Bulldogs’ maddening ability to squander second-half leads in big games has infected everyone, including the fan base. Which is why last night’s 71-68 win at BYU was more than just a win. “We needed this because we’ve been in a lot of games like this that we haven’t won,” Mark Few told reporters. “Pretty much every one of our losses has been similar to that where we led or were in control pretty much the whole game.” And that, succinctly, is why last night was so crucial. Gonzaga has to win the West Coast Conference tournament, which starts next week, to ensure another NCAA trip, its 18th consecutive one. To do that, GU will probably have to go through BYU in the semis and co-conference champion Saint Mary’s in the finals. That’s not easy, especially considering Gonzaga is 1-3 against that duo, with the lone win coming last night. Some semblance of confidence needed to be built. And, when the Cougars rallied from a double-digit deficit to pull nearly even late in the game, there was a "here-we-go-again" mentality at play. But when Domantas Sabonis fouled out with second left on an awful call, karma reared its head. And this time it was in Gonzaga’s corner. Josh Perkins manhandled Kyle Collinsworth on the inbounds play with seconds left and poked the ball away. It was a foul just as Sabonis’ play was more a holding foul on Chase Fischer than a push on Sabonis. As coaches have been saying since James Naismith poked a hole in the bottom of the peach basket, these things even out. And now the Zags will head to Vegas knowing they can hold a lead. That they can survive a hostile crowd. That they can win the tournament and move on once again.
• The same scenario, with a bit of a twist, happened yesterday afternoon in the Kennel. The Gonzaga women, who usually have locked up the WCC crown by this time, were playing BYU hoping to avoid a non-winning conference season. But to do it, they had to beat the conference’s best team. And control the conference’s top scorer. They did both on senior day, with two fifth-year seniors, Shelby Cheslek doing a big part of the offensive work and Shaniqua Nilles taking care of the latter part. Nilles was in lock-down mode on Lexi Rydalch, denying the BYU senior guard the ball from the opening tip and making the conference scoring leader work for every shot. She found 12 but made just two, both while Nilles was on the bench. Rydalch also missed all of her seven 3-point attempts. As the Zags pulled away in the fourth quarter, she turned to the bench after another empty possession and told her coach, Jeff Judkins, “get me the ball.” Nilles and the rest of the Zags wouldn’t allow it. So the Zags will head to Las Vegas as the fifth seed but one of only two teams to have defeated the conference champions – third-seeded USD is the other, in the league opener. And, like their male counterparts, with renewed confidence.
• WSU: The Cougars are back on the court today at Oregon State. Yesterday in the Pac-12, Utah handed Arizona another loss on the mountain road swing – something Sean Miller hinted may become a thing of the past – while UCLA lost at Stanford.
• Gonzaga: The raucous crowd in Provo didn’t help the Cougars win, but it sure got Mark Few’s attention. He praised the atmosphere in Jim Meehan’s game story and elsewhere. ... Jim also has a blog post with a bit more and will be back today with a day-after post that will have a lot more. ... Elsewhere in the WCC, Saint Mary’s defeated USF and, in the process, shared the championship with Gonzaga and earned the No. 1 seed in Vegas. ... Santa Clara got past Pacific and San Diego picked up a much-needed win against Portland. ... Jim Allen was at McCarthey yesterday and has this game story.
• Idaho: The Vandals picked up their first win over Eastern Washington since re-joining the Big Sky Conference and in the process moved into a tie for third with the Eagles, North Dakota and Idaho. The first four teams in the conference standings earn byes at the tournament. Sean Kramer was in Moscow and has this game story. ... Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Weber State defeated Montana to take over sole possession of first and the Wildcats did it without their best player. ... The Vandal women lost at EWU, as the Eagles took over sole possession of second place in the conference.
• Whitworth: The Pirates started slowly but picked it up and handled Pacific Lutheran 75-62 for their 10th consecutive NWC tournament title. Tom Clouse has the story.
• Chiefs: Spokane lost in a shootout on the road at Kelowna. ... Everett lost again while Tri-City continued its late push to the playoffs.
• Empire: The Indoor Football League – and game – was introduced to Spokane last night and it culminated in a wild finish. The home team won, 66-65. John Blanchette has the story and Tyler Tjomsland has a photo report.
• NIC: The Cardinals finally lost, and it came in the finals of their conference tournament. ... The national wrestling tournament and an NIC wrestler won a title.
• Preps: As usual for this time of year, there were more than enough basketball games to go around yesterday from the 4A ranks to the 1B level. Greg Lee covered Central Valley, as the Bears boys and girls both won and will move on to Tacoma. So will the Lewis and Clark girls and boys as well as the G-Prep boys. ... The 3A Mt. Spokane girls will be there too, for the first time in school history. Shadle Park's boys fell short in their Tacoma quest. Greg also has that story. ... East Valley’s girls will be at the 2A tournament in Yakima and will be joined in the 1A by the Freeman boys. Greg has the 1A story. ... At the Arena, the St. George’s boys and girls will be in the 2B and the Colton girls are once again back in the 1B. ... Idaho finished up its wrestling season with Post Falls winning another 5A title and individuals shining at other classifications. ... Post Falls boys won't be back to defend their 5A state title.
• Seahawks: The Hawks have to figure out their running back situation either through the draft or by some other means.
• Mariners: Want a change in attitude? Put in a pool table. ... Felix Hernandez threw a bullpen for the first time and pronounced himself happy. ... The bullpen will be key if the M’s want to have any success. Kyle Seager would like that. ... The M’s newest signee is in camp and needs to pass a physical.
• Sounders: There is one more original Sounder back in the fold. ... Portland lost its last preseason match.
• Are you going to watch the Oscars tonight? Before you do, make sure you read John Blanchette’s annual column on sports and the movies. Until later ...