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A Grip on Sports: Gonzaga’s dominating performance last night says more about UNC than anything else

North Carolina guard Brandon Robinson (4) and Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert (24) fall chasing a loose ball during the first half of a college basketball game, Wed., Dec. 18, 2019, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
North Carolina guard Brandon Robinson (4) and Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert (24) fall chasing a loose ball during the first half of a college basketball game, Wed., Dec. 18, 2019, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • After all the buzz and hubbub, last night’s game in the Kennel sort of fizzled. Not the atmosphere, which seemed electric even while watching at home. But the game itself. The Zags had an easier time handling North Carolina than they did UT Arlington. Man, that sounds blasphemous.

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• The Tar Heels may wear that really cool color of blue. And their blood may be the same, but they aren’t really North Carolina, if you know what I mean. Not to take anything away from the Zags’ 94-81 victory last night – you can only play the team that is in front of you – but when the series was announced a couple years ago, Wednesday night’s game was expected to be a battle for the ages.

It wasn’t even a battle.

As Seth Greenberg said in the postgame show, the second-ranked Bulldogs were up 20 much of the second half and they didn’t even play all that well.

Think about that.

The Zags didn’t have their A game. Maybe not even their B-plus game. And yet they coasted to an easy win – over UNC.

Try telling that to your 40-year-old self back in the 1990s. He or she would have laughed and asked for a taste of whatever you were drinking.

But that’s the way it was last night. The Kennel was packed. North Carolina was missing its best player. And the Zags were playing with a confidence built on a 11-1 start. It wasn’t too long before everyone knew it would be 12-1 this morning.

And that’s where they sit.

What was considered one of their toughest stretches ever – and GU has had a few – is over with three wins. At Washington. At Arizona. Home against the Tar Heels. You would think the Zags had earned a break. Nope.

It what may surprise people east of, say, Butte, Saturday’s McCarthey visitor, Eastern Washington, might hand the Bulldogs more of a test than last night’s opponent did.

The Eagles are 7-3 and seem to have more offensive firepower than UNC. They also know if they win Saturday they may have punched a ticket to an at-large NCAA berth even if they once again fall short in the Big Sky championship game, something that’s happened the past couple years.

Plus, the team from down the road won’t have to contend with a Kennel crowd that includes students and a whole bunch of season-ticket holders who had been looking forward to the game for a couple years.

That’s just how college basketball is – at least this season. What looked to be a tough test can turn into a walkover. And vice-versa.

So the Zags can celebrate Wednesday night’s historic victory. They can hang the UNC banner in the trophy case. And then get back to work. Another game looms. After that, it’s time for a break. Christmas break. They’ve earned it.

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WSU: You may have heard. Yesterday was the first day of football’s early signing period. Players all over the country signed letters of intent. Sent them to schools. Washington State was one of those schools. The Cougars signed 19 players. Theo Lawson has a little something on all of them, as well as an overview story on this year’s class. … He also has thoughts on the signees from people connected to the WSU football program. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, much of the football news has to do with the signing classes. We can cover those, with stories from Washington (a couple of them) to Arizona, but there is more than just that. However, we do have links for Oregon's class, one of the Ducks' highest-rated ever, as well as classes from Oregon State, Colorado, Utah, USC, UCLA, Arizona State and even California and Stanford. … By the way, when was the last time a USC class was rated the worst in the conference? … The Beavers' defensive line was better than expected this season. … In basketball news, Oregon, with a new player in the rotation, routed Montana. … Youthful Utah held off No. 6 Kentucky in Las Vegas. … Nico Mannion had an off day for Arizona against Gonzaga.

Gonzaga: So what do you want to know about last night’s game? Jim Meehan has his analysis and the three keys to the GU win. … John Blanchette has a column about what just having UNC in the Kennel means. … Justin Reed has a couple stories, one on the Tar Heels’ thoughts about the atmosphere and one on their fans. … We have our TV Take. … The folks in the office put together a recap with highlights and added a look at Twitter’s response to the game. … Colin Mulvany has a lot of pictures from the Kennel. … The S-R hosted a watch party at Riverfront Park's Pavilion. We have Dan Pelle's photos of that to pass along as well as Jared Brown's story. … CBS Sports' Matt Norlander had a look at this year's team heading into the UNC game. … Around the WCC, Saint Mary's routed Arizona State in Tempe.

EWU: The Eagles had a signing class to announce as well. Ryan Collingwood shares the 15-member class with you. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Montana State coaches had to do double duty yesterday. … The same thing happened at Weber State.

Idaho: And, of course, UI also had a football signing class. Peter Harriman has more on the 11 players the Vandals welcomed.

Preps: It was a busy day yesterday. Dave Nichols traveled to Shadle Park, where defensive lineman Zach Krotzer made his commitment to Idaho official. (Full disclosure: Zach played a year of basketball for me not all that long ago.) … Jim Allen has a story on the Spokane school board approving a plan to merge the GSL and GNL for next year. The proposal will continue to be developed. … Ryan Collingwood previews this weekend’s Tri-State wrestling tournament. … Steve Christilaw has a story on Central Valley’s new girls basketball coach, Felice Orrell. … Luke Byrnes profiles Mt. Spokane senior Emma Main.

Chiefs: Spokane bounced back from Tuesday’s loss with a 3-1 win in Victoria last night.

Seahawks: Though the Hawks lost a wide receiver this week to what K.J. Wright feels is an outdated policy, they signed a pass rusher to fill the roster spot.

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• Just a quick heads up. Have some personal responsibilities to take care of early tomorrow morning, so there will not be A Grip on Sports for Friday. You are on your own for a day. Good luck. Until Saturday …

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