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Grip on Sports: EWU, Gonzaga, Sounders all win; what more could anyone want?

Gonzaga guard Silas Melson rips a rebound against Akron forward Kwan Cheatham, Dec. 10, 2016, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Silas Melson rips a rebound against Akron forward Kwan Cheatham, Dec. 10, 2016, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • This is one of those Sundays with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. From Toronto to Tacoma, from Cheney to Missouri, we have a lot to touch on this morning, so let’s get to it. Read on.

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• Cinderella stories are cool, right? Heck, they can be downright cold. And when it’s the beast of the Northwest turning into Cinderella, that’s makes it all the better.

Take the Sounders for instance. They are one of, if not the, power players in the MLS. Money, fan support, stars, they have it all. Everything, it seemed, except a league title.

They got that yesterday, courtesy of an incredible save by an ice-cold Stefan Frei and a 5-4 shootout MLS Cup win in Toronto. But to get there, the Sounders had to be stripped bare, exposed for the soccer world to see.

Obafemi Martins left for big money in China. Clint Dempsey was lost due to a heart ailment. Coach Sigi Schmid was fired in midseason. The bottom was struck. And they bounced back.

Seattle soccer-lifer Brian Schmetzer was named interim, then permanent, coach. New players were brought aboard. Defense was emphasized. And, ultimately, the playoffs reached. From there, history. And now? Champions.

No matter Seattle didn’t put a shot on goal until the 0-0 draw was in a shootout. No matter Toronto dominated all match long and had many chances to win. No matter what, Frei and the Sounders found a way.

They found a way to turn their season around. And they found a way to win the Cup.

• If you like to watch 300-pound men bang around and aren’t a fan of football, you can find sumo wrestling on the Ocho or whatever. Or you could just have watched Akron and Gonzaga play last night.

Przemek Karnowski and the Zips’ Isaiah Johnson were isolated in the post against each other last night and the officials allowed them to bump and grind to their heart’s content.

There were stretches in the game in which the ball would go inside on one end, Johnson would score, then on the other end, the Zags would find Karnowski inside for another bucket. In between, the game seemed to slow down as each post player slowly worked their way closer to the rim via back-down dribbles.

Old school basketball? Sure, but with a twist. Up until recently, post defenders could brace themselves better, using their legs for leverage and an arm-bar for control.

The NCAA has taken those weapons away via a rule change, so now big men must either out-quick their opponent or just bang away, chest-to-chest. Like a couple of tall sumo wrestlers. I’m not sure this is what the rule-makers envisioned when they decided to make the change to encourage more freedom of movement.

Both of the centers on display last night are excellent offensive players. But the way each had to defend the other forced the bumping matches that were less than artistic looking. Or all that fun to watch.

• One of my main points all season with Eastern Washington, on the radio and here, had to do with the Eagles’ defense. That side of the ball was always going to determine how successful Eastern was this season.

And it’s true. Never more true than right now. EWU might just have the best defense in the FCS as the playoffs reach the semifinal mark.

The last two games, Eastern defense set season bests in yards allowed, first against Central Arkansas and then yesterday in shutting out Richmond.

And the Eagles took another step toward a rematch with North Dakota State. If they fly past Youngstown State next weekend in the semifinal, the Eagles will probably get a chance to avenge their lone loss. This time they will meet the Bison on a neutral field. With an FCS title on the line.

•••

WSU: On a day when a once-highly thought of recruit decided to transfer, Washington State lost another basketball game to Kansas State. The Cougars fell 70-56 against the Wildcats in Kansas City, Missouri. Jacob Thorpe has the story of Derrien King (pictured), who started this season’s opening game and led WSU with 22 points, and his decision to leave the program.

Elsewhere in Pac-12, first in football, the Huskies have to find a way to score against Alabama’s vaunted defense. They know they can’t play scared and get that done. … Arizona State’s best player is its kicker. … Austin Meek has a great column on how Oregon’s coaching change gives the Ducks a chance to reset their program. … In basketball yesterday, UCLA continued to roll, putting up 52 second-half points on Michigan in a 102-84 win at a packed Pauley Pavilion. … California won at home again, tying a long-time streak. … Arizona had no trouble going on the road and pounding Missouri. … Utah, however, struggled on the road, losing to No. 13 Xavier. … Arizona State handled San Diego State.

Gonzaga: Akron is a better team than most realize, having won at least 21 games for 11 consecutive years. So last night’s win was a good one for GU. Jim Meehan has the game story and I offered some thoughts in the TV Take. … There is also this sidebar from Michael Gulledge on Jeremy Jones’ first action after an injury and a second on two former high school teammates facing off, another by Whitney Ogden on the Zags’ historic 10-0 start, and the keys to the game. … Dan Pelle was also McCarthey and has this photo report. … The Gonzaga women travel to Eastern today for a non-conference showdown. Jim Allen has an advance. … BYU picked up a big home win over Colorado, doing the things the Cougars need to do to be successful. … Pacific lost to Rider, 73-66, at home.

EWU: Jim has the game story from Eastern’s 38-0 rout of Richmond. And John Blanchette has his column on the defensive star. … Josh Horton chips in another story on the defense and Jim finishes up the coverage with a notebook. … Colin Mulvany supplies the visuals with these photographs. … In Big Sky basketball, Portland State lost at Bakersfield. … Southern Utah lost to Cal State Fullerton while Weber State pounded West Coast Baptist. … Northern Colorado lost to Colorado State. 

Chiefs: Spokane traveled to Vancouver and picked up another win, this one 5-2 over the Giants. … Portland and Everett matched up Saturday, with the Winterhawks picking up the victory.

Preps: Mead is showing well in the early going of the wrestling season, picking up its second tournament win yesterday. Greg Lee has the story of the Panthers’ win at the Inland Empire. … We also can pass along boys and girls basketball roundups as well as more on a local girl’s college volleyball success.

Seahawks: It will be snowing and cold in Green Bay today. And the Packers will have Aaron Rodgers, who seems to never lose a December game at home. The Hawks will counter with, well, without Earl Thomas and a bunch of guys who fight to win.

Mariners: One of the power arms Jerry Dipoto picked up for the bullpen last season seems to be headed overseas.

Sounders: We covered most of what happened last night in Toronto at the beginning of this column. It’s funny. The Sounders’ biggest rivals are the Portland Timbers. Last season, Portland was scuffling, turned its season around just before the playoffs and ran to an MLS crown. Then this season Seattle does the same thing, albeit with the added element of a coaching change.

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• It’s cold and snowy in Spokane. Perfect weather to watch the Hawks play in Green Bay. Maybe I should sit outside, with the TV on the other side of the slider, and really feel like I’m in Wisconsin. No, it would be impossible to duplicate the great taste of the cheese, brats and beer, so it’s not worth it. Until later …

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