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Grip on Sports: Gonzaga escapes trap, WSU snaps a streak and Seahawks hope to continue their dominance

North Dakota  guard Geno Crandall  hits a 3-pointer over Gonzaga  guard Josh Perkins  to send Saturday’s nonconference game at McCarthey Athletic Center into overtime. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
North Dakota guard Geno Crandall hits a 3-pointer over Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins to send Saturday’s nonconference game at McCarthey Athletic Center into overtime. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It was the classic “trap” game, tucked between the rivalry game at Washington and the showdown with IUPUI on Monday. Wait, what? Read on.

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• Gonzaga’s home matchup with North Dakota last night was anything but a classic “trap” game. No one is overlooking an opponent because of an upcoming game with Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. But it was not your usual nonconference matchup with a 4-6 team either.

And this was all about the 12th-ranked Zags.

They had not played since last Sunday’s game in Seattle. In-between, they took their finals. It’s a week of concentrating on the books not hooks. It showed.

The GU offense was disjointed all night. Even in a 13-0 run that got the Bulldogs the lead late, it was a defensive spurt that keyed the streak.

Gonzaga relies on execution offensively. Everyone knows, to a certain extent, what the Zags are going to run. But if they are sharp, it’s still hard to stop. They weren’t sharp last night. And the Fighting Hawks, who had studied their scouting report well, stopped them. Or GU stopped itself, take your pick.

Either way, this was a game for North Dakota to win.

That it didn’t is a tribute to the Zags’ tenacity. And perseverance. Experience too. Plus it was at home, which always helps.

• Washington State snapped a three-game losing streak yesterday, defeating the aforementioned IUPUI in Pullman. The Cougars turned to defense to get it done as well.

WSU limited the Jaguars to 33 percent shooting and 59 points, 24 points less than the Cougars have given up, on average, in their December games.

That’s a winning formula. And Washington State is winning. It is 7-3 heading into Wednesday night’s game with Kansas State in Spokane.

• Speaking of winning, today’s game in CenturyLink may well decide who wins the NFC West this season. And if the Seahawks’ long stretch of playoff appearances will end.

If the Rams win, they will virtually clinch the division crown. They will hold a two-game edge with two to play, including a home game with the woeful 49ers.

If the Hawks win, the teams will be tied 9-5 records, but the Hawks, courtesy of their two head-to-head wins, would hold the tiebreaker. Win at Dallas – not an easy task – and at home versus Arizona – OK, that’s easier – and another NFC title – and playoff appearance – beckons.

A loss also makes it tough for the Seahawks to earn a wild-card berth. They would be in a battle with Atlanta, Dallas and Detroit for the final spot. Right now, they are outside, looking in.

It’s about as important a regular-season game as Seattle has had in the Pete Carroll era and he is treating it that way.

It will be interesting to see how the Hawks respond.

•••

WSU: As we said, there was a basketball game in Pullman yesterday and Theo Lawson was there. He has his game story and video of postgame interviews with players and Ernie Kent. … Theo also spoke to members of the football coaching staff after their bowl practice. Those interviews are available on our WSU football page. … Washington State’s top running back commit just won a prestigious award in Colorado. Now let’s see if he signs Wednesday (Stanford has entered the picture).

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the bowl season began yesterday and it began poorly for the conference. Oregon decided not to show up against Boise State and its dispirited effort led to a 38-28 loss in Las Vegas. The manner of the defeat led to alarm bells going off around the new coach. And there was the Royce Freeman talk. … If Arizona State is going to change how the coaching staff operates, it needs to go all-in. … Colorado believes its defense will be better next season. … On the basketball courts, Washington is trying to apply lessons it learned against Gonzaga. … There were games yesterday, of course, with Arizona winning at New Mexico, Oregon State and Stanford at home. It was the Beavers’ sixth consecutive win. … UCLA lost to Cincinnati and Utah lost its rivalry game at BYU.  

Gonzaga: As usual when the Zags play at home, there is a lot of coverage to enjoy, including my comments from watching the game on television. … Jim Meehan leads the way from inside the Kennel with his game analysis, his three keys and a story on Zach Norvell’s second-half offensive explosion. … Whitney Ogden also was there and has a story on North Dakota’s upset bid. … Tyler Tjomsland carried the load on the photographic front with this gallery. … Around the WCC, besides BYU’s big win over Utah, Saint Mary’s found a way to win over UC Irvine. … Pacific, Portland and USD all lost.

EWU: Around the Big Sky last night, North Dakota come up short in its upset bid, but Southern Utah, Weber State and Portland State all won.

CCS: The Sasquatch raced past Centralia in a Vancouver crossover tournament.

Preps: Another busy Saturday in the prep world, highlighted by the annual Tri-State wrestling tournament. Dave Nichols has a story on that event, the toughest tournament of the year. … We also can pass along roundups of games in girls and boys basketball.

Chiefs: Spokane lost the first five games this season to Portland. The sixth time was the charm though, as the Chiefs picked up a 6-3 win in Portland last night.

Seahawks: As we said, this is a crucial game for both teams, but maybe more so for the Hawks. The Rams are a team on the rise. … Seattle made a couple roster moves yesterday and activated a former Washington State player. … In another local angle, Cooper Kupp faces his first game in Seattle against his home-state NFL team. Jim Allen has the story.

Sounders: It looks as if Portland has found its coach.

•••       

• Enjoy your Sunday. If you can get around. It’s pretty slick on the roads in the Spokane area. Until later … 

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