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Tuesday, October 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on Sports: Gonzaga faces another of those tough road tests the Bulldogs have thrived on over the years

Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss drives against North Carolina’s Joel Berry during the first half in the 2017 NCAA championship game. (MARK HUMPHREY / AP)
Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss drives against North Carolina’s Joel Berry during the first half in the 2017 NCAA championship game. (MARK HUMPHREY / AP)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It is hard to say Gonzaga basketball shies away from facing any type of nonconference challenge – though you will get an argument from the folks in Pullman. The Bulldogs’ run of tough games continues tonight in one of the hotbeds of college hoops, Chapel Hill, N.C. Will they be up to it? Read on.

••••••••••

• For years playing the best away from home was what Gonzaga had to do. To earn national respect, to develop an NCAA resume, to improve seeding, the little school from Spokane would play anyone, anywhere.

And then play an easier schedule once West Coast Conference play began.

That hasn’t changed. But this year it’s a lot closer (and we’ll get to that in a second).

The Zags’ nonconference schedule has included Duke, ranked No. 1 at the time, Tennessee, also in the top 10, Creighton, Arizona, Texas A&M, Illinois and Washington. All of them with deep basketball roots. And any of which could be ranked in the Top 25 at any time.

Only Texas A&M and Washington came to Spokane. The rest were either at neutral sites or in their place.

Tonight, Gonzaga plays its last road nonconference contest for the season. And what a place to finish up.

The Dean Dome. Home of six national title banners, the most recent coming in 2017. That one included a championship win over, now who was that? Oh ya, Gonzaga.

In college basketball’s long championship history, there is UCLA, Kentucky and then North Carolina. Not Duke, not Indiana, not Kansas, North Carolina.

So this afternoon’s game is probably special for Mark Few, getting to coach in one of his sport’s sacred palaces. It’s also important because the Tar Heels are 7-2 and ranked 12th in the nation. It’s another chance for fourth-ranked Gonzaga to improve and to build on its already impressive resume.

It’s on ESPN2 beginning at 4 p.m. It should be fun.

• We mentioned the WCC earlier in relation to the Zags’ nonconference schedule. The bottom line this season is the conference is improved.

Loyola-Marymount and USF can match GU’s 9-1 nonconference mark, though neither have played the level of competition Gonzaga has. Actually, no one on the West Coast has, but with San Diego (8-3), BYU (8-4) and Pacific (8-4), the WCC has five teams besides Gonzaga with at least twice as many wins as losses.

And we haven’t even mentioned Saint Mary’s (7-4), which usually plays the role of Robin to Gonzaga’s Batman.

In fact, among the WCC schools, only Santa Clara has lost more games this season than its won.

Among the other schools, there are nonconference wins over Georgetown (Loyola), UNLV (Loyola), California (USF and Saint Mary’s), San Diego State (USD), Utah (BYU) and New Mexico (Saint Mary’s).

In the NCAA’s new NET rankings, not only is Gonzaga seventh, USF is 21st. That gives the conference two teams ranked higher than any Pac-12 school. (Arizona State, at 24, is the Pac-12’s highest-ranked team.)

The conference also has six schools in the top 100, giving it a tougher upper end than it has carried in a while.

• Ever since the Eastern Washington Eagles won their FCS national title in 2010, they have had a trio of opportunities to return to Frisco, Texas, for the title game. All of them have been in Cheney. They have yet to take advantage.

They get another opportunity this afternoon and again it will be on the red turf. Up until about eight days ago, it looked as if that wouldn’t be the case. The seeds indicated the Eagles would have to travel to Ogden, Utah, again to get to Texas.

But Maine went to Weber State in the quarterfinals and shut down the Wildcats.

Now the Black Bears bring their tough defense into the Inland Northwest. They are the only obstacle left in Eastern’s path to Frisco.

Get past Maine and North Dakota State awaits with a national title on the line.

•••

WSU: Though neither the football or basketball team has played in a few days, there have been some losses. In basketball, the Cougars lost Arinze Chidom to transfer. Theo Lawson has Ernie Kent’s thoughts on that development. … In football, another young defensive back has decided to transfer. Theo has that story as well as video from after practice with Mike Leach, James Williams and Hunter Dale. … Speaking of the worst type of loss, the New York Times has a piece on the Hilinski family. Theo has more in this story. … Former WSU player Deone Bucannon's time in Phoenix is about done. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the bowl season begins today and the conference has to do better than it did last season. … Arizona State is up first for the Pac-12. … Washington expects to sign a handful of players from Hawaii next week. … Oregon State and Colorado have lost assistant coaches. … Utah may lose its offensive coordinator. … In basketball, Washington faces a tough test in Virginia Tech.

Gonzaga: So who wins this afternoon? Probably the team that string together enough stops in the second half. Both Gonzaga and North Carolina are trying to improve their defensive efficiency, something Jim Meehan covers in his preview. He also has a Tar Heel to watch, Cameron Johnson. … Josh Perkins recently did a sit-down interview with a prestigious publication. Editor Rob Curley was there to document it. … The women are on the road this weekend. Jim Allen has a preview of their game Sunday at Missouri State.

EWU: The Eagles have been running really well lately. But that’s what Maine is good at taking away. Ryan Collingwood’s preview focuses on that aspect. … Ryan also has the keys to victory. … The Eastern women's basketball team lost to Oregon State in Hawaii.

CCS: The Sasquatch men’s basketball team won yesterday.

Chiefs: Jake McGrew’s hat trick lifted Spokane to a 5-3 win at Seattle last night.

Preps: It was a busy Friday night, with Dave Nichols at Lewis and Clark where he saw the LC girls end Central Valley’s long winning streak. … There are also roundups from GSL boys play as well as girls and boys basketball from around the area. … We can also pass along a summary of the prestigious Tri-State wrestling tournament. … With the early football signing period open next week, the Seattle Times takes a look at how the state of Washington has improved its talent pool.

Seahawks: Is Doug Baldwin contemplating about his future? Yes he is. … He should play this week. … Earl Thomas has been around. … Why are the Hawks better than expected?

•••       

• The Zags are playing at North Carolina. Mr. ACC, Dick Vitale, will be doing the color commentary. And we’re going to miss it. Yep, due to some personal commitments tonight, we’re taking the evening off. No TV Take. Even though my life-long friendthat’s a joke – is on the game. It makes me sad. Until later …

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