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Grip on Sports: Fireworks of a different kind erupted in Pullman last night

Washington State coach Ernie Kent and the Cougars will link up with Saint Joseph’s on Thanksgiving in the first round of the 2017 Wooden Legacy tournament in Fullerton, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • One would hope with two of the nation’s top five college basketball teams playing in the Inland Northwest on the same night, there would be some fireworks. There were. But they weren’t of the expected, or hoped for, type. Read on.

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• No upsets here.

Top-ranked Gonzaga started slowly but rolled by 35 over USF. No. 5 Arizona, playing a bit short-handed, blasted Washington State, 78-59.

But that didn’t mean there wasn’t some fun.

Down in Pullman, that came in the form of WSU coach Ernie Kent’s postgame speech. Our Jacob Thorpe transcribed Kent’s opening comments, all of which came before a question was asked, and posted them on Twitter.

They are worth reading.

A couple of things Kent said about his team – there are four seniors on a group that is 11-15 this season – stood out.

“At some time losing has to become so painful to them that they change the trajectory of their season and this program. And I don’t think it’s there yet.”

And “… certainly I feel like we’re talented enough to play with some of these teams. Obviously, we’ve been in some of the games with them. But it’s the mental. When you draw up a play in a huddle, and you go right to the play in the huddle, and two of your seniors run the wrong play, that’s mental.”

Two questions come to mind, and they are both related.

Are the Cougars really talented enough to play with the Pac-12’s better teams and is there enough talent to change the trajectory of the program?

Talent is relative – and a bit subjective. One program’s best player may not fit in at all on another team. Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu are great examples.

There is no way, looking at Hawkinson, you would ever think the senior is one of the Pac-12’s better players. But he is. He is also the only holdover from the Ken Bone era WSU has that could contribute on the conference’s better teams. His unrelenting effort, which leads to extra possessions and easy baskets, would be coveted by any team

Iroegbu, also a Bone holdover, has all the physical elements of a star, with enviable quickness, strength and skills. But, despite his climb up WSU’s career charts, he has never really reached the potential he’s flashed, off and on, for four seasons.

Sorry, but this senior class is not going down in the annals as one of the Cougars’ best, despite Hawkinson’s efforts.

The problem is, other than freshman Malachi Flynn, who may have hit the mythical freshman wall, Kent’s recruits haven’t really shown all that much either. Robert Franks has flashes, Jeff Pollard will help down the road and that seems to be it. After three years, that’s all?

Kent is right. Losing has to become unacceptable before anything can change. But he’s wrong too. There isn’t enough talent, yet, to do much about it. Especially if they, as he says, can’t execute what he wants.

• There was this short story on the S-R website last night concerning an injury during the Gonzaga game, but it was pretty bereft of details. We can fill in some of the blanks.

During a stoppage in play with 17:47 left, referee Jeff Ketchu slowly limped off the court in front of the USF bench.

That left Greg Nixon and Eric Curry (pictured) to finish the game alone.

Two-man officiating mechanics are a thing of the past, especially at the college level. So Nixon and Curry, two veteran officials, probably had to dig into their memory banks for positioning cues the rest of the way.

There was no official news on the type of injury Ketchu suffered but Michael Gulledge did pass along an overheard conversation concerning an Achilles tendon.

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Gonzaga: Besides the story linked above, we have another dozen items from the S-R sports page to pass along here. Seems a bit light, doesn’t it? Just kidding. We start with Jim Meehan’s efforts, including his game story, a sidebar on Nigel Williams-Goss’ second great effort against the Dons – in two games vs. USF, Williams-Goss has scored 66 points on 22 of 29 shooting from the floor – and a couple of shorter pieces, one on the Zags’ injuries and another on Przemek Karnowski’s free throw shooting. We also can pass along the keys to the game and the key numbers. … John Blanchette’s column focuses on the most high-profile attendee from last night, NCAA president Mark Emmert. … Whitney Ogden has a story on Karnowski’s big first half and Michael has a couple other pieces, one on a student hitting a half-court shot and Johnathan Williams reaching a career milestone. … Dan Pelle and Colin Mulvany combined on the always insightful photo report and I added the media critique. … That adds up to a dozen links, right? How about adding another one from a Bay Area newspaper and a couple pieces on the Zags from national sources. That should get you through the morning. … The women saw their 12-game winning streak snapped at USF. … Elsewhere in the WCC last night, Saint Mary’s bounced back from the Gonzaga loss with an easy 81-48 win over visiting Loyola-Marymount. (Honestly, though, using “easy” to describe an 81-48 win is redundant.) … San Diego played a little better in Provo but BYU still won, 82-70. … Pacific went into Portland and defeated the Pilots 76-65 in a game with special significance for first-year UOP coach Damon Stoudamire.

WSU: Jacob has his game story and video of Kent’s comments and well as those of Hawkinson and Franks. … The Wildcats were happy to earn the win, seeing as they were a bit shorthanded and their star freshman hadn’t played well recently. … Around the Pac-12 yesterday, Washington gave it a run, but couldn’t catch Arizona State, falling 83-81. … Oregon State may have let its best chance for a Pac-12 win slip away, losing at home to Colorado, 60-52. … Utah needed all hands on deck for its game at No. 7 Oregon last night. The Utes didn’t have them and lost, 79-61. … Stanford and California meet tonight. … There is football news as well, with a UW player changing sports and spring practice getting underway in Corvallis.

EWU and Idaho: The Vandals travel to Cheney tonight for a key Big Sky matchup. Jim Allen has the advance. … Just about everyone else in the conference played last night, with leader Weber State holding off visiting Northern Colorado, 69-63. … Second-place North Dakota opened its road trip with a 77-61 win at Idaho State. … Host Montana State picked up a 92-90 overtime win over Portland State. … Sacramento State did something its never done before, win at Montana. … Northern Arizona and Southern Utah match up tomorrow.

Empire: Spokane gets its IFL season started soon but the league did have a game last night. The expansion Salt Lake Screaming Eagles began their year with a 78-47 home loss to the Nebraska Danger.

Preps: In Idaho, the girls basketball tournaments got underway yesterday and Post Falls took a key step forward. … In Washington, the state gymnastics meet began in Tacoma. … Basketball playoffs moved forward in Washington as well, and we have roundups from boys and girls action.

Mariners: Spring training is well underway. How can we tell? There are can-they-bounce-back stories to pass along. And one about a competition. And the drills pitchers do. All is right in our baseball world.

Seahawks: The Hawks have some free agents. Which might return?

Sounders: Jordan Morris may not be a rookie anymore, but he’s still not a seasoned veteran either.

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• One final reminder. We won’t be here tomorrow morning. We will see you back in this space on Sunday. Don’t forget, though, we will have a TV Take from the Gonzaga game later on Saturday. Until then …