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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on Sports: There are bad days and then there are awful days, like the one Gonzaga had Tuesday in Las Vegas

St. Mary's celebrates defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs after the second half of a WCC men's final basketball game on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Saint Mary's won the game 60-47. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
St. Mary's celebrates defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs after the second half of a WCC men's final basketball game on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Saint Mary's won the game 60-47. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Everyone who has ever visited Las Vegas can look back on a bad day or two in Sin City. It’s inevitable or they wouldn’t keep building those huge casinos. But I’m not sure many have had as bad a day as Gonzaga’s basketball teams had yesterday. Read on.

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• There is a scene in “Casino” in which Robert DeNiro’s character, gambler Ace Rothstein, is blown up while starting his Cadillac. He survives, but it was a close deal. That’s about the only day in Vegas, cinematically, that seems to equate with Gonzaga’s Tuesday.

It actually started Monday, with the season-ending leg injuries suffered by Laura Stockton and Jill Townsend. But the women weathered those twin tornadoes and, along with the top-ranked men, reached the West Coast Conference Tournament finals.

Everything was fine until about 1:30 yesterday afternoon. That's when the second quarter of the women’s game began. From then until nearly 8 last night, little went right for GU.

– BYU picked apart the Gonzaga defense in that second quarter, scored 23 points and rolled to an 82-68 victory, earning the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAAs.

– With about 4 minutes left in that game, head coach Lisa Fortier was called away by athletic director Mike Roth. She ran from the Orleans Arena, headed to a nearby hospital. A family member, identified later by BYU coach Jeff Judkins as her brother, was in such dire straits it couldn’t wait.

– The GU men started their championship game with arch-nemesis Saint Mary’s seemingly stuck in first gear and never found the clutch. Sputtering and lurching offensively all game, the Zags scored 47 points against a team they had defeated by 48 earlier this season.

– As the Zags left the court, heads hung low, it was obvious they didn’t feel as if they had much chance to retain a No. 1 seed into the NCAA Tournament. We will find out Sunday afternoon if the selection committee agrees or if the Bulldogs can become the newest poster child of the what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas crowd.

But there has to be silver linings, right? Doesn’t the Nevada Gaming Commission mandate all clouds have one?

It’s tough to figure out how the women will find it. The loss to BYU, excuse me, the third-loss-this-year-to-BYU, will fade in time. Sure, Gonzaga had to win to have any hope of a top-four seed and the home NCAA games that come with it. But the selection committee making that move was a longshot at best.

The injuries, they will hurt for a longer time. The two players who will not play any more this season, Stockton and Townsend, are the muscles that give Gonzaga its heartbeat. Both are physical players who don’t back down to anyone. They compete as hard or harder than anyone on the court. What they bring is basically irreplaceable.

The men, on the other hand, have recent past history to fall back upon. Sort of like a king-sized mattress in a $3,000-a-night Bellagio suite.

It was just two years ago they suffered a face-plant on Senior Night, ruining a perfect regular season and, supposedly, giving everyone the blueprint how to beat the then-No. 1 Bulldogs.

Only North Carolina, in the NCAA title game, could figure it out over the next few weeks.

If Tuesday’s loss leads to a similar tournament run, the Zags’ low-hanging chins and the Gaels’ net-cutting will be forgotten, another example of the fabled Vegas amnesia.

•••

Gonzaga: If you don’t want to forget, we can help. Starting with the men’s inexplicable effort, we have Jim Meehan’s analysis and his keys to the game. … John Blanchette brings his long memory to his column and examines how this loss might impact the next couple weeks. … Theo Lawson looked at the GU guard play – spoiler alert: It was not good. … Tyler Tjomsland has the photo report. … The guys in the office put together the recap with highlights. … Rob Curley talked with another Vegas-based Gonzaga alum. … I watched at home and wrote (actually, wrote and rewrote) my TV Take. … From the women’s game, Jim Allen has the analysis and keys to the game. … John has a column on what family really means. … Jim Meehan handled the Fortier family emergency. … Theo wrote about the decisive second quarter. … Tyler again has the photo report. … There was off-the-court news as well, and Jim Meehan covers that. District IX honors were earned by three Zags and the Cougars’ Robert Franks. Meanwhile, back in Las Vegas, the WCC announced a contract extension with the Orleans. … CBS is going back to the way it used to announce the NCAA Tournament participants. … The baseball team won at Utah. … Around the WCC, they are celebrating the championship win at BYU. … The same can be said at Saint Mary's. … Portland is looking for a new women's basketball coach.

WSU: There is no rest for the Theo in Las Vegas. The Pac-12 Tournament begins today and the Cougars have the last game. They will play Oregon. Theo has a preview. … Jeff Pollard was named to the Pac-12 academic team again. Theo has that story as well. … Around the Pac-12, there reportedly has been a power shift in the conference, with the athletic directors gaining more power. … The biggest news yesterday in the nation was a bribery scandal concerning college admissions. At the center of the storm seems to have been USC, which fired a coach and an associate athletic director yesterday. This news may get worse before it gets better. … Hey, Dave Pasch is in the news. … Back to the courts, Utah expects to face Oregon, not WSU. … Everyone seems to believe the Pac-12 Tournament is wide open. That makes it seem more likely that Washington will roll to the title. And only one team makes the NCAA. … Maybe California will stay hot, take out Colorado and win the whole thing. … Everyone also seems to believe they can save their season by winning this tournament. It's true from UCLA to USC, from UCLA (again) to Arizona State. But no one more than Arizona. … There is football news from Oregon, UCLA and Arizona.

EWU: The Big Sky’s women’s tournament has been going on for a couple days and Eastern has won a couple times. The latest was yesterday’s 67-65 quarterfinal upset of Idaho State. Ryan Collingwood was there and has this game story. … Ryan also has a preview of the men’s tournament and coverage of the All-Big-Sky honors announced yesterday.

Idaho: The Idaho women also moved into the semifinals, defeating Northern Arizona 90-73. Ryan has that story.

Chiefs: Spokane was blown out on the road in Kamloops, losing 5-1.

Mariners: The M's cut Dustin Ackley yesterday. … Rain killed any chance to play a game. … Felix is upset. Fine. But get better. … Former UW player Braden Bishop is having a great spring.

Seahawks: The free agent period has been really fun for everyone, except maybe Seattle. The Hawks haven't signed anyone and saw a couple of the their plans blow up when players left. … Hey, Earl Thomas is still out there.

Sounders: Seattle heads out on the road.

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• Want some useless trivia? (Is that redundant?) The last S-R WSU beat writer to cover a Pac-12 Tournament win? That would be yours truly. Yep, the last time the Cougars won a conference tournament game was in 2008 and I was in Los Angeles. Seems like only yesterday – and about a million years ago. Boy was the conference good that season. Until later …

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