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Friday, October 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Steve Christilaw: Let’s give Gonzaga, and women’s basketball as a whole, its due

Sometimes you just have to take the news and turn it on its head to get its relevance.

You know how nature abhors a vacuum (except for those ones on a ball – nature loves those)? There are days when I think it loves to bury the lead on the day’s events that much more.

That’s not a specific reference to the Seattle Mariners. If you want good, uplifting news about professional baseball in Seattle, you can turn somersaults and still not find anything uplifting, let alone relevant. Growing up a fan of the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox (we won’t discuss the relevance of Gene Brabender, Marty Pattin and Jim Bouton since the Seattle Pilots were only around for a year), I learned long ago to live without the hope of local baseball in October. That the Mariners are the only one still practicing that theory of diminishing returns is simply a fact of life by now.

Now we must be content to watch the team “re-imagine” its roster, which is baseball-speak for picturing all of your favorite players on someone else’s roster. Usually the fire sale comes after Christmas.

And that’s not a reference to this week’s news that Seattle officially gets an NHL franchise in 2021. They will officially drop the puck in a revamped KeyArena in 2021. Which, we can only hope, will be different from the aforementioned Mariners, who have been dropping the ball since 1977.

What I am talking about happened Sunday in the Kennel.

Something that says a lot about how incredibly far women’s basketball has come in this area.

Gonzaga beat No. 8 Stanford.

The GU men beat No. 1 Duke two weeks ago to win the Maui Invitational, and the Zag women held serve at home and beat the Cardinal.

It’s good to be a Bulldog.

But that’s not the part that needs to be turned askew to read for local relevance. Any way you look at beating Stanford, it’s a bright, shiny jewel.

What I’m talking about is the way the story played itself out and the way it was reported in these pages Monday morning.

Stanford came to town with a Top 10 national ranking and with two high-profile local freshmen on its roster, one of whom is already a starter.

Normally, that’s a feel-good story about the local kid playing on a bigger stage.

Central Valley’s Lacie and Lexie Hull weren’t even mentioned Monday.

Lacie Hull had her best offensive game yet with Stanford, scoring nine points while playing all but three minutes.

Remember back to Dec. 28, 2008, when No. 8 Tennessee came to the McCarthey Athletic Center to play Courtney Vandersloot and Gonzaga.

That game played locally as the return of University High legend Angie Bjorklund. The only thing that dampened that angle was the fact that her older sister, Gonzaga player Jamie Schaefer (Bjorklund), the reigning West Coast Conference defensive Player of the Year, tore the PCL in her right knee eight days prior.

The stage was set for another “Oh, we lost but there’s still a feel-good angle” story, and this time it got blown completely off the page.

The game was too big for that angle. The win was too perfect for an “oh, by the way” sidebar. There’s time for that somewhere down the road.

And just for the record, this isn’t a knock on the game story – my long-time friend and colleague, Jim Allen, nailed it.

This is a hooray for the state of Gonzaga women’s basketball. Lisa Fortier and the Bulldogs aren’t taking a backseat to anyone – least of all a men’s program sitting at No. 1 in the men’s basketball poll.

What’s more, they don’t need anyone to tell you they’ve a top-level program any more. They do that all by themselves.

The NCAA dubbed Gonzaga’s 79-73 win over Stanford its upset of the week and picked the Zags as its team of the week. And the Zags debuted in the Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 24 in the nation. I think that’s light for this program, but women’s basketball gets national respect the same way the WCC men did 10 years ago.

Being a decade behind the men’s game is about normal for major college women’s basketball.

In some ways, the women’s game has been treated like backup singers.

When it comes to attention, when it comes to a national conversation, men’s basketball is like Gladys Knight. The women’s game is more like the Pips.

Nothing against the Pips other than the fact they were retired long, long ago. It’s just that you bought the ticket to see Gladys. The Pips you got for free.

Women’s basketball is long past being a throw-in, and that whole concept needs to get packed up and put on the “Midnight Train to Georgia.”

Tell you what, let’s take it a step further and stop using that condescending term “Lady Bulldogs” or “Lady” anything for women’s basketball. At any level. That term suggests women play a game that is somehow more dainty than the one men play.

I can’t use the term I want to use for that concept, at least not in print.

Gonzaga long ago proved that they deserve to be called “Bulldogs,” same way Mark Few’s teams are. Same with Central Valley – the program that sent two of its starters to Palo Alto to play for Stanford. Or U-Hi or Mead or Lewis and Clark or St. George’s.

They are well worth the full-priced ticket.

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