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Sunday, November 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: Opening night can lead to some jitters – especially for college basketball fans

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Corey Kispert  reacts after he dunked and forced a timeout by visiting Alabama State during the second half Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Gonzaga won 95-64. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Corey Kispert reacts after he dunked and forced a timeout by visiting Alabama State during the second half Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Gonzaga won 95-64. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • No subject pops out this morning as being one of those crucial, must-cover themes of the day. Unless, maybe, it’s the possible angst among local college basketball fans after the season’s first day.

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• It’s all about perception, right? After all, even when Alabama State cut Gonzaga’s lead to nine in the second half, it didn’t seem as if the Hornets had enough sting to cause GU any real problems. They didn’t.

But the Zags were favored by 35 coming in and won by … 31. Oh, the horror. It’s going to be a long year folks.

Ya, maybe. But more than likely the Bulldogs will mature together, learn to talk – see John Blanchette’s column from the game – and become what they always are: A NCAA-bound team with a chance to make a deep run in the tournament.

Everyone from Mark Few to the guy who dusts the light fixtures at St. Al’s, knew there was going to be some early growing pains this year. After all, GU lost two NBA first-round draft picks, a four-year starter who was also the school’s all-time leader in assists, one of the best young scorers in the country and a grad transfer who had helped solidify the defense.

But the expectation was the new players would be eased into the transition by a senior who is on every watch list imaginable. That hasn’t happened yet. Killian Tillie is a cheerleader for the moment as he recovers from knee surgery.

Those faces not only include the largest freshman class the school has seen since quite possibly 1887, but also two grad transfer guards who just happen to make up the starting backcourt.

And the one guard among the five freshmen who was expected to see multiple minutes, Kittitas’ Brock Ravet, has taken a leave of absence from the team as he works through some things. 

In other words, the expected season of transition has already gone through some unexpected transitions as well. There will be some hiccups. They are unavoidable.

But so are some pleasant surprises. The biggest one last night came from the lone returning upperclassman on the floor: Corey Kispert.

The 6-foot-7 wing looked different, lighter, more athletic. He played different, with fewer emotional outbursts and more precision (and yes, I know he seems pretty emotional in the picture above, but he did just finish an impressive dunk, so he can be more than excused). And he scored at a different level, setting a career high with 28 points.

He looked like a go-to scorer, something he hasn’t had to be in his first two GU seasons.

The first game is over. The next one looms on Saturday with another overmatched opponent. There will be ups. There will be downs. And, if we’ve learned anything over the past 20 years, there will be progress.

• No progress needed, last night at least, for Big Sky favorite Eastern Washington. Not with the season-opening opponent Portland Bible School.

The final score was 107-25.

No, really. It may not have been Cumberland vs. Georgia Tech, but it wasn’t far off.

• The University of Idaho might welcome a 107-25 game. After losing its two exhibition contests to lower-division foes, the Vandals played another one in a game that counted. And they picked up a win. OK, so they had to sweat out an 88-82 home victory against Evergreen State, an NAIA school in Olympia, but a win is a win, right?

Even if the opponent was 5-21 last season and features only one player taller than 6-6.

Like Eastern, who travels to Seattle U. on Saturday, the Vandals’ schedule gets tougher quickly. They face UC Riverside the same day.

•••

WSU: No, the Cougars were not included in the first college football playoff rankings this season. And the quarterback that helped lift them to those lofty heights last year, Gardner Minshew, has lost his starting job in Jacksonville (Theo Lawson has the story). But even in a 4-4 season, there are stories worth relaying. Theo does just that this morning with this feature on the relationship between starting quarterback Anthony Gordon and one of his backups, Trey Tinsley. Don’t miss it. … Theo has his picks for this weekend's conference football games. … CJ Elleby and Gonzaga’s Tillie were named to the Wooden Award preseason watch list yesterday. Jim Meehan has more in this story. … Larry Weir, who does play-by-play for EWU, talked with his WSU counterpart, Matt Chazanow, yesterday for the latest Press Box pod. … California is holding off naming its starting quarterback. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the CFP standings include Oregon and Utah in the top 10, which is interesting. … What is not interesting are the games, seemingly. Attendance is down. … Back to the CFP, what has to happen for Utah to move up enough to be in the Final Four? How about Oregon? … Both Arizona State and USC are led by young quarterbacks. … Another Arizona player is leaving. Meanwhile, Colorado picked up a transfer from Alabama. … Will Washington lose a tight end at the end of the season? … In basketball news, Oregon opened with an easy win at home over Fresno State. … Oregon State showed its depth in a win over visting CSU Northridge. … USC's young guns shot down the Rattlers from Florida A&M. … California eased past Pepperdine in a somewhat surprising result. … Utah had its struggles, but it got past Nevada on the road. … Arizona opens tonight. So do the UCLA Bruins. … Colorado is playing in China. … Washington is set at point guard.

Gonzaga: We mentioned John’s column above, but we’ll link it here as well in case you just skipped my blathering and went directly to the Gonzaga section. … Jim has his game analysis, which leads with Kispert’s performance. He also has the three keys to the win. … He also passes along the latest Zach Collins' news. … Tyler Tjomsland was in McCarthey and has a photo report. … The guys in the office worked hard to put together this recap with highlights. … I watched the television broadcast and have my thoughts in the TV Take. … The soccer team is preparing for a visit from fourth-ranked BYU. Ryan Collingwood has more in this notebook. … In other news around the WCC, Saint Mary's picked up a big neutral site win, topping Wisconsin in overtime. … Pacific had little trouble with visiting Stanislaus State. … USD couldn't hold off UC Irvine. … BYU opened the Mark Pope era with a win over visiting Cal State Fullerton. … Portland hosted Division III Willamette and rolled. … USF is not inexperienced, except on the bench. … Santa Clara also has a lot back. … The BYU women think they can return to the NCAA Tournament.

EWU: Ryan has the coverage of Tuesday night’s rout. But that’s not all. He also has a football notebook that looks at the Eagles’ recent road troubles. … The women’s basketball team knew it was in for a tough night playing at third-ranked Stanford, and it was. … In other Big Sky basketball action, Montana State almost posted a huge upset at Utah State. … Idaho State struggled at Wyoming.  … Portland State had no problem with Puget Sound.

Idaho: The Vandals’ win was played in Memorial Gym. Peter Harriman was there. He has this game story.

Preps: There was high school football yesterday. The GNL held a tiebreaker for its last playoff spot. Pullman won twice and is headed to Othello on Friday. … Gonzaga Prep won the District 8 4A title in soccer yesterday, topping Mead. … The Panthers’ volleyball team will meet Chiawana in the District 8 finals Saturday.

Seahawks: After nine games, we are finally going to find out how good Seattle is. … The Hawks made some minor roster moves yesterday. … Should they play more nickel?

Sounders: How big an advantage will Seattle have playing at home Sunday?

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• You know, if November was always this nice, fall wouldn't be half bad in this place. Come to think of it, it isn't. Until later …

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