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Grip on Sports: If you didn’t know, there is a top-four college basketball showdown tonight in Spokane

Whitworth guard Kyle Roach (1) drives the lane with the basketball against UW-Stout guard Zach Dahl (12) during a college basketball game, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, at Whitworth Fieldhouse. (James Snook / For The Spokesman-Review)
Whitworth guard Kyle Roach (1) drives the lane with the basketball against UW-Stout guard Zach Dahl (12) during a college basketball game, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, at Whitworth Fieldhouse. (James Snook / For The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • This is a big week for college basketball in this area and it begins tonight. Yes, tonight. Read on.


• If you believe the showdown is Saturday night in Moraga, that would make you a Gonzaga fan. And, in that regard, you are right, though it wouldn’t be smart to sleep on Thursday’s contest with Pacific in Stockton.

But that attitude is a bit myopic as well.

After all, there is a Big Sky game of some import Friday night in Moscow, where the Vandals host Eastern Washington in the second meeting of the year between the U.S. 195 rivals. (And yes, I know you have to take State Route 270 to get across the border, but “195/270 rivals” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily.)

And then there is the aforementioned game tonight.

If you want to watch a real rivalry game, get yourself to the Whitworth Fieldhouse.

The Pirates, ranked fourth in the NCAA Division III poll, will host top-ranked – and undefeated – Whitman. Yes, two of the top four teams in Division III, the usual purview of Wisconsin, Illinois and the Northeast, are located in Eastern Washington.

(Want a weird trivia note about the poll? The top four schools all begin with a “W.” Whitman, Washington U., Wittenberg and Whitworth. Now if only Williams – ranked eighth – was having its usual year, there could have been a handful of W schools on top.)

The Blues, known for most of their history as the Missionaries, were 31-1 last season, losing to eventual champion Babson in the semifinals. They have continued to dominate this season and will bring a 21-0 record into the Fieldhouse.

The architect of the program, head coach Eric Bridgeland, is well known in the Northwest Conference and at Whitworth, having turned Puget Sound into a NWC power in the century’s first decade. Back then, Bridgeland’s UPS teams and Jim Hayford’s Whitworth squads would battle each year for the league title, with no love lost between anyone.

After a brief sojourner as an assistant coach at Pepperdine – and the interim head man for 14 games on 2008 – Bridgeland returned to the Northwest and turned Whitman around in a year.

And now the Blues have a shot at not only the NWC title but also a national one.

It’s something Whitworth has always aspired to, ever since joining the Division III ranks late in the last century. The Pirates went to the NAIA title game in 1996 and have dominated the NWC for the past 20 years. Under Matt Logie, who replaced Hayford in 2011, Whitworth won five consecutive NWC tournament titles and at least 23 games each season.

But right now they are looking up to their rivals in Walla Walla, having lost earlier this season on the Blues’ home court. It’s something Logie would like to change. Starting tonight.


WSU: The Associated Press basketball poll came out yesterday and Theo Lawson was part of it. He explains his vote each week. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the second of two football signing days is tomorrow, with Washington continuing to rake in talent. So much so, it reminds some of 1988, when the Huskies signed the greatest defensive lineman in their history, Mike Lustyk. Wait, no. That was who everyone predicted would be the best on signing day. Turned out some guy named Steve Emtman, from Cheney High, would actually be the greatest. He was something of an afterthought for UW that season. … Utah is also expecting to sign every player it could ever need. … Back to basketball, Arizona dropped in the poll as Arizona State dropped out. … Washington could still win the Pac-12 title. … Oregon needs to turn its season around now. … So does Colorado. … The best story of the day comes from Tucson and it’s about the nuts and bolts of assigning officials.

Gonzaga: Saturday’s game in Moraga will feature two teams ranked in the top dozen nationally. Jim Meehan has a story on the AP poll. … Saint Mary’s AP ranking of 11th is its highest ever.

EWU: Eastern Washington is into the process of finding a new athletic director. Jim Allen lays out in this story what the Eagles are planning.

Whitworth: In advance of tonight’s game, Whitney Ogden has a feature on the Pirates’ prodigal son, Jared Christy.

Preps: The basketball regular season is over in Washington. The playoffs are underway. Dave Nichols previews the district tournaments, which begin Wednesday, and we can pass along roundups for boys and girls action last night.

Seahawks: Before the Hawks can figure out their secondary, they need to decide the fates of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.


• The Pac-12 Networks basically ignored the first football signing period. You know, when a majority of the best players decided where they were going. But the broadcast arm of the conference isn’t making the same mistake twice. It will be all over signing day tomorrow. Until later …

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