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Friday, April 3, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: The podium presentation was impressive, but Nick Rolovich’s introduction at Washington State was just part of an overpowering day in local sports

Washington State coach Nick Rolovich, left, speaks at his introductory press conference on Jan. 16, 2020 in Pullman, Wash. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State coach Nick Rolovich, left, speaks at his introductory press conference on Jan. 16, 2020 in Pullman, Wash. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • You don’t often have a Friday morning so filled with reports of news, upsets, routs and the like. It’s a cornucopia of sports on a non-descript mid-January day. And we are here for it. All of it.

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• We use most Fridays to look forward to the upcoming weekend. But why should we today? So much happened yesterday, we need to spend the morning looking back – and forward.

Take Thursday in Pullman, for example. The day began with something happening that never has happened before. Ever. Morgan Weaver, who helped lead the Cougars to the NCAA Final Four in soccer a few weeks ago, was the second player picked in the National Women’s Soccer League draft. And she wasn’t alone. Averie Collins, a WSU midfielder, was taken in the draft’s second round.

(Post Falls High graduate Kelcie Hedge, who played her college soccer at Santa Clara – a name that will show up later in this column – was also drafted in the first round at No. 9.)

Historic? Sure. But it was only the beginning of a huge day for the Cougars.

In the afternoon, the school officially welcomed new football coach Nick Rolovich to campus with an introductory press conference.

Rolovich didn’t disappoint. He even mentioned the importance of the Apple Cup. Talk about playing to the crowd.

Speaking of that, the basketball team played to a bit bigger crowd than usual last night, probably enticed to see eighth-ranked Oregon and senior point guard Peyton Pritchard play.

What they got instead was the Cougars first win over a top-10-ranked team since Tony Bennett was in Pullman. Yes, that long ago.

The 72-61 win, fueled by CJ Elleby’s 25 points. He may not be a Splash Brother, but last night the sophomore played like a cousin or something – his description, not mine.

It was the perfect topping to a memorable day.

• But it wasn’t the only one. The top-ranked college basketball team in the nation played like it, even on a day when it found out one of what should have been its key components will miss the rest of the season.

It may seem odd to say that about a freshman forward who is averaging less than 10 points a game, but Anton Watson will be missed. Maybe not against the Santa Claras and San Diegos of the world but certainly in the bigger tests the Zags will face down the road.

Watson, from just down Hamilton at Gonzaga Prep, gave Mark Few more flexibility in lineups. When healthy, the 6-foot-9 wing/big allowed Few to play a bigger lineup if need be or a more athletic, especially defensively, one if that what was called for by circumstances.

Now he’ll have shoulder surgery – his left shoulder was injured earlier this year and despite the training staff’s best efforts, wouldn’t stay in the socket – and miss the rest of the season. The good news? By having the surgery now, he should be able to rehab quickly enough to spend some of the offseason working on his game, allowing him to make a jump before next year.

For this one, though, the Zags have lost a weapon. It didn’t matter last night when, for the third consecutive time, they blew out Santa Clara. (In the last three meetings against the Broncos, GU has won by a combined 153 points.)

The first true test will come Saturday, when they host BYU in the Kennel. We all know how that’s turned out way to often in the past few years.

• For every win the men post, the Gonzaga women seem determined to match it. It happened again last night as the rolled over host Santa Clara 67-52. But the rankings are not even in the same area code. The men, 19-1, are ranked first in the nation. The women, 17-1, are ranked 16th. Sure, there are a lot of reasons for this, including schedules, reputation and past performance, but it also speaks to another area. Around the NCAA as a whole, the women’s game this season is deeper and more top-heavy than the men’s.

From UConn to Baylor, from Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford, from South Carolina to Louisville, the women have some of the most dominant teams the game has seen. It’s a watershed season for women's basketball in that regard.

•••

WSU: No matter what happened yesterday, the introduction of a new football coach, a once-every-blue-moon type of occasion, will resonate the longest. And we have you covered. John Blanchette, who has been through more of these press conferences than anyone in the Inland Northwest, has his thoughts on the new football coach, while Theo Lawson covers the introduction as well as identifying some important people in the audience. … Libby Kamrowski has a photo report from Pullman. … In an ironic twist, the Pac-12 announced the 2020 football schedule yesterday and, lo and behold, the Cougars first conference game will be at Oregon State. Big deal? Actually, yes. There was some bad blood between Rolovich’s Hawaii program and the Beavers the past couple years. Theo has more in this story. … He was also in Beasley and has the basketball game story. There is also coverage in Oregon. … We linked Weaver’s draft status above, but let’s do it again here. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Oregon State will be heading into Pullman a little ticked off after it was defeated by Washington in Seattle last night. … Colorado traveled to Arizona State and held off the Sun Devils while Bill Walton rambled on. … The game in Tucson was different as Arizona handled visiting Utah with ease. … USC stepped outside and shot down California. … We mentioned the depth of women's basketball above. It was on full display in Eugene last night as sixth-ranked Oregon defeated No. 3 Stanford. … In football, every school now knows its football schedule, including Washington, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Oregon StateArizona State, Arizona, UCLA and USC. … The Trojans received some good news on the roster front.

Gonzaga: Jim Meehan may have been lonely last night. He was pretty much on his own on press row at the GU game. The result is this game analysis and the three keys to the win. He also has the Watson news. … Colin Mulvany was down by the court and put together this photo gallery. … I was home – it was a race from the Arena to the house on icy roads after I realized “someone” forgot to set the DVR – and watched the ESPN2 broadcast for this TV Take. … The folks in the office put together the usual in-depth recap with highlights. … The women’s road win isn’t forgotten either. … Before the games, Larry Weir spoke with Justin Reed about Gonzaga’s season for the latest Press Box pod. … Around the WCC, San Diego came to Provo and left with another big defeat at the hands of BYU.

EWU: The Eagles held off host Idaho 78-75 in a key Big Sky contest. Peter Harriman was there and has this game story. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Northern Arizona held off Southern Utah. … Weber State got past Idaho State in overtime. … Northern Colorado snapped visiting Sacramento State's three-game winning streak.

Idaho: The women picked up another win, giving coach Jon Newlee his 200th with the Vandals. … Two UI players who helped Newlee pick up a lot of those wins have reunited in Australia.

Preps: The Granddaddy of the all the Spirit Games was played last night in the Arena and Dave Nichols was there to report who won the Rubber Chicken. The Lewis and Clark crowd earned Chuck but Ferris won both basketball games. … We also can pass along roundups from boys and girls games from around the area.

Seahawks: There are still some things to cover before we close the ledgers on the 2019 season. Of course, we have to start looking ahead to 2020 as well.

Mariners: We haven't really touched on the Astros (and others, I'm guessing) sign-stealing scandal much. Let's just say I'm not at all surprised it happened or that a lot of people knew and yet it didn't get out for a couple years. Larry Stone writes about its deeper impacts in this column.

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• If every day was like yesterday, I’m not sure I could do this feature much longer. Way too much to read, to digest, to pass along. I like those days with just a couple stories and I can ease into the morning. It’s all about me, right? Shoot, where is that crying-face, laugh-out-loud emoji when I need it? Until later …

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