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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Grip on Sports: Gonzaga once again shows it transcends the rest of the WCC

Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins, right, passes the ball away from Portland guard Marcus Shaver Jr. during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. (Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Watching Gonzaga take apart another overmatched West Coast Conference opponent last night, some thoughts passed through our mind. And found there way here. Read on.


• What triggered the reflections was a statement from ESPNU analyst Caron Butler, who was riffing on the Zags’ long road conference winning streak.

“There is nothing like getting a quality win on the road,” Butler said.

He is right. Going into a hostile place and beating a quality team is special. But how many of the Bulldogs’ recent WCC wins qualify?

The Zags have won 20 consecutive conference road games and 32 of 33. That’s numerically impressive. But other than the wins at Saint Mary’s – the last team to defeat GU at home some two years ago – and at BYU, how often do the Zags pick up a quality road win in conference?

Some coaches will tell you any road win is a quality one, and that’s always been the company line. Yet there are degrees. Going into Moraga, stepping onto a floor with everyone hating on you and winning, that’s a big deal. Going to Malibu and defeating an awful Pepperdine team that has the support of only about a third of the miniscule crowd, is not.

Neither was last night’s win. The Portland crowd wasn’t all in purple. The students may have turned out and did their best to distract the Bulldogs, but there were as many cheers heard when Killian Tillie turned another lob pass into a spectacular finish as when the Pilots made a layup.

It’s a given Zag fans travel well and help fill up the rest of the WCC gyms.

And GU’s basketball success has filled those same schools’ coffers.

A large part of the West Coast Conference’s financial health is due to Gonzaga’s postseason success. The Zags have brought millions into the league over its run of excellence and that has translated into every basketball program improving.

Well, no, it hasn’t.

Saint Mary’s has spent its money wisely and has improved. That’s good. BYU came in as a traditionally powerful program and has stayed in shouting distance of that label. That’s also good.

But everyone else? Despite some flashy coaching hires and an occasional decent senior class, the rest of the WCC struggles. Gonzaga (and to a lesser degree Saint Mary’s) enters conference play with a high RPI – in GU’s case built on a few high-profile and taxing non-conference games – and watches it fall over the next few weeks.

Over the years it has hurt the Zags’ NCAA tournament seeding. That’s crucial in being able to do what GU did last year, win three, four or five games and have a chance for the ultimate prize.

And, to be honest, make more money for the conference.

Mark Few has complained about this before. He wondered where the money went. It certainly isn’t being reflected in the product on the court. That’s frustrating.

Gonzaga is out of the WCC’s league in every way concerning basketball. Yes, the Bulldogs are not invincible on the court, no one is. But in every other aspect of the game, from recruiting to coaching salaries to facilities (actually, especially facilities, everywhere but Provo), the Zags are markedly better.

Outside of a couple places, it seems as if the rest of the WCC has conceded the basketball race to Gonzaga. Not just this season but for the foreseeable future. And that’s too bad.


WSU: This may be the best news the Washington State defense has heard in months: Peyton Pelluer is coming back for a sixth year. The middle linebacker, who was injured early last season, was granted the exemption by the NCAA. Theo Lawson has all the particulars in this story. … Luke Falk is making one heck of an impression at the Senior Bowl. … Patrick Chun’s hire is being met with some pretty impressive praise.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, UCLA snapped a three-game losing streak and extended California’s to seven with a 70-57 decision at Pauley Pavilion. … USC didn’t play last night but the school did fire basketball assistant Tony Bland, named in the FBI investigation. … Steve Alford’s job should be safe. … Utah went into Tempe, tied the game on a late 3-pointer and won in overtime. Arizona State has been struggling in conference play. … Arizona has only lost once in the Pac-12 and last night at home the Wildcats avenged that loss to Colorado. … Oregon has been up and down, though there has been one constant. … Washington and coach Mike Hopkins hopes to sell every ticket for its home game with the Cougars on Sunday. … Our friend Ken Goe ranks the Pac-12 football coaches, now that all the positions for 2018 are filled.

Gonzaga: The Zags’ rout of Portland was similar in many ways to their overpowering win in Spokane. Jim Meehan was at both and has an analysis of how this one went down. … He also adds his three keys to the win and a story of a reunion. … The guys in the office put together this highlight package. … I had my view from the living room. … The women locked down defensively and crushed Portland 75-36 in McCarthey. Whitney Ogden has the story and Colin Mulvany the photo report. … Around the WCC, Saint Mary’s Aussies proved to be better than BYU’s guys as the Gaels won for the 15th consecutive time. … USF, which is Spokane on Saturday, handed Pacific a two-point loss. … San Diego used defense to defeat visiting Santa Clara.

EWU: Bogdan Bliznyuk is the Eagles all-time leading scorer. He ascended to the top of the school’s list early in last night’s 95-71 win over North Dakota. Jim Allen has the story. … Around the Big Sky, Northern Arizona picked up a big road win at Montana State. … Montana remained undefeated by crushing Southern Utah in Missoula. … Northern Arizona named Aaron Pflugrad offensive coordinator.

Idaho: The Vandals defense let them down in an 80-63 home loss to Northern Colorado. Peter Harriman has all the information in this story. … The women picked up a big road win in Greeley.

Whitworth: The Pirates face a crucial weekend with Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound coming to town.

Preps: The Greater Spokane League wrestling title was on the line at Mt. Spokane last night and Mead took it home. Dave Nichols was there and has this story. … We also can pass along a roundup of the rest of the wrestling action as well as from boys and girls basketball. … There are some Spokane names on this Times’ football recruiting list.

Mariners: Jerry Dipoto believes the M’s starting pitching will be just fine. As long as Felix Hernandez can make 25 starts. And pigs can fly. … The newest Mariners were available and affable yesterday. … Turn ahead the clock is coming back. Or something like that. … Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame snub isn’t going over well with some folks.

Seahawks: The Pro Bowl is “Must-See TV.” Said no one ever. But the Hawks have had their moments over the years. … The Hawks have an accountability problem. Or did. … Another assistant coach is leaving. … The XFL is coming back. Yes, really.


• We will be off tomorrow. And back Sunday. That is all. Until later …