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Grip on Sports: If you love basketball, this is the right time of the year for you

North Idaho point guard Nate Pryor (1) competes for a rebound with Community Colleges of Spokane guard Garrett White (22) during a college basketball game, Wed. Feb. 20, 2019, at NIC. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
North Idaho point guard Nate Pryor (1) competes for a rebound with Community Colleges of Spokane guard Garrett White (22) during a college basketball game, Wed. Feb. 20, 2019, at NIC. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Yesterday, we took a respite from college hoops and talked baseball instead. That was yesterday. Today is different. Read on.

••••••••••

• It’s back to the college basketball grind. And the high school basketball one. We start south of Spokane and work our way back.

• The Cougars are about three missed free throws away from having won four consecutive games. Who would have thought that a couple weeks ago?

Not most WSU fans, that for sure. At least the ones on Twitter.

Still, Washington State followed up its desert sweep with a tough – but tight – loss at home to conference-leading Washington. Then last night the hottest team in the league invaded Pullman – and headed to Seattle with its first defeat in three weeks.

Colorado had won five consecutive games. The Buffs were healthy. They were eyeing a top-four spot and a conference tournament bye.

None of those are in play this morning following WSU’s 78-74 victory.

Robert Franks scored just 19 points, a decent performance but putting to bed the idea he has to get 30 for the Cougars to compete. C.J. Elleby didn’t start, but he came off the bench to score 18 more – and grab eight rebounds.

And the Cougars? They are starting to be a tough out. That’s an improvement on earlier this year.

• It would be hard for Gonzaga to improve, other than its ranking, of course. And even in that regard there is only one spot to gain.

It’s open.

Thanks to North Carolina’s win last night at Cameron Indoor, a win that was helped considerably by Zion Williamson’s shoe failure and knee injury, No. 1 Duke probably won’t be No. 1 in the next polls. (I wrote “probably” deliberately. You never know how voters will act.)

So there is No. 2 Gonzaga waiting in the wings. If the Bulldogs can get past tonight’s foe, Pepperdine, and Saturday’s, BYU.

Both seem more than doable. Probable would be a better word, but it is college hoops after all. Just ask Duke.

• There was the Cougar game last night in snow-covered Pullman. There was NIC’s domination of CCS last night in snow-covered Coeur d’Alene. And there will be high school basketball games this weekend all over our snow-covered state.

If there has to be snow, there might as well be hoop.

But last week’s storms threw a wrench in the state playoff machinery and by the time administrators got it fixed, Shadle Park High was left with playing two games on Monday (a school holiday) to earn a State tourney berth.

The Highlanders did it, winning twice and earning a trip to Seattle for the first round.

Sometimes the road to State is filled with potholes or covered with black ice. No matter. If you can navigate the obstacles safely, it’s worth even more.

•••

Gonzaga: As one would expect, Jim Meehan, the WCC’s best beat writer, has a preview of tonight’s game as well as the key matchup. … The Zags face Pepperdine only once this season so John Blanchette used this time to catch up with former Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. Also on the Pepperdine staff is former WSU head coach Ken Bone and Cougar assistant Curtis Allen, so it is sort of an old-home day. … The women are on the road this weekend with no major for error if they want a top four NCAA seed. Jim Allen has a preview of their trip. … Larry Weir, who is the voice of Eastern basketball, talked with Tom Hudson, voice of Gonzaga basketball, for the latest Press Box pod. If I could figure out a simple way to record the radio broadcast so I could accurately quote Hudson and Adam Morrison, I would alter one of my TV Takes into a Radio Take. That technology has eluded me thus far. … The baseball team is still looking for its first win. … Around the WCC, BYU enters the week in second place, which is a tribute to Dave Rose’s coaching job this season. But the Cougars need a win tonight or they could drop out of that spot by the end of the week.

WSU: Theo Lawson was in Beasley last night with a thousand or so of his closest friends. He has the coverage of the win over Colorado. And the snow played a big role in the crowd count of less than two thousand. … If you want more on the game, it is available from the Boulder newspaper. … Around the Pac-12, Washington turned up the power defensively against Utah and routed the visiting Utes. … Host Arizona State earned a win over Stanford in the only other game Wednesday night. … Oregon is headed to Los Angeles, where the Ducks know USC will be tougher at home. … Oregon State is also headed south and its first matchup is with a UCLA team still trying to find itself. … Arizona has a great chance to end its losing streak. … In football news, an Arizona State player was granted a sixth year.

EWU: Eastern’s football team hasn’t played in a while, but the Eagles have picked up a couple wins. The latest came yesterday when another offensive lineman was granted a sixth year of eligibility. Ryan Collingwood has the particulars. … Around the Big Sky, Weber State is hurting and the Wildcats are on the road.

Whitworth: The Pirates will play for the last time this season in the Fieldhouse, hosting Linfield in the Northwest Conference playoffs. If they don’t win the NWC tournament, and its automatic bid, there is a good chance their 12-year NCAA tourney streak will end. Another loss will also end a long run between two teammates who have been friends since they stepped on campus. Dan Thompson has the story of Ben Bishop and Kyle Roach.

NIC and CCS: The Cardinals are the best team in the Northwest Athletic Conference and they proved it again last night with an easy 96-67 victory over visiting CCS. Ryan was there and has this story. Colin Mulvany was also there and has the photo report.

Preps: Dave Nichols has a lot of stories today, including the main one on Shadle Park’s State journey. … He also has a preview of the State gymnastics meet and a prep notebook. … Steve Christilaw has a look at the successful Lewis and Clark’s girls’ program. … Former Central Valley star Madison Hovren is the headline performer in the women’s college basketball notebook from Ryan.

Mariners: Dustin Ackley is back in the M’s fold. But it’s a different (and older) Dustin Ackley this time. … Can the M’s be different on the bases this season? … They still want another catcher. Sorry, I can’t help anymore.

Seahawks: Rumor season is well underway. The latest? Russell Wilson wants to be in New York. Is it true? … The Hawks are not going to let Frank Clark go either. He may be franchised.

Sounders: It’s only the preseason but something positive happened for Seattle yesterday. Jordan Morris played in a home match.

•••       

• This hits close to home. Literally. The City of Spokane is throwing a bunch of money at the Southeast Sports Complex, though I’m pretty sure taking out the baseball and softball backstops is not an improvement. There aren’t enough places for kids to play those sports south of the river as it is. Nina Culver has a story on the changes, most of which were a long time coming – and needed intently. Until later …

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