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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: Dreams of the playoffs and hot college hoop help release us from winter’s icy grip

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Ice on the trees. Ice on the street. Ice everywhere. It must be the beginning of college’s conference basketball season.


• When James Naismith looked around the Springfield YMCA that fateful winter and saw a bunch of young people without a single thing to do during winter’s icy grip, he had an epiphany. How about taking a peach basket out of the trash and have the young folks throw a ball into it?

We’re fairly certain James didn’t envision what his game would become, any more than those fishermen in St. Andrews, Scotland knew their pastime of hitting rocks around the bluffs would evolve into a sport loved worldwide. But that’s what happened.

Naismith’s game, basketball, is sort of a lifeline for those of us who live in the Northern half of this globe, giving us something to look forward to each winter as we deal with lousy weather, little sunlight and long, cold nights. A warm gym always beckons.

This week it beckons with conference hoops. The Pac-12, which had a sneak preview early in December, hits hard. So does the West Coast Conference and the Big Sky. Everywhere, actually.

ESPN is probably pleased, though overcrowded until Friday, as bowl games still dominate the landscape, forcing hoops to the WorldWide leader’s secondary channels.

Heck, when No. 11 UCLA visits Pullman on Friday for a late-night battle – 8 p.m. – with the Cougars, it won’t even be on any of the major networks. The Pac-12’s own network has it, which means only a small fraction of the nation would get to see it even if it was scheduled for a decent start time.

No. 10 Gonzaga doesn’t have that issue. The WCC doesn’t have a network everyone complains about. In fact, not many people know it even has a network. When the Zags get around to playing a conference game this weekend, it won’t be an ESPN production. It will be available in the Spokane area on KHQ and, with a 2 p.m. start, over in plenty of time for you to prep for the New Year’s Eve revelry.

Watching a Big Sky game is even harder. The local schools are on the annual tour of Montana this weekend, which should translate into exciting viewing. If you can find a live stream. Or can make your way across a few passes and into a packed arena.

It would be worth it, though. Always is. Basketball rarely disappoints, especially if your goal is to chase the winter blues away – if only for a short while.

• This part of winter still holds some football dreams, albeit slim if those fantasies revolve around the Seahawks and the NFL playoffs.

They played themselves into that conversation early in the season but their recent struggles have turned decent hopes into outlandish wishes. The Hawks have about a 23% chance of being in the postseason, mainly because they’ve been putrid the last month or so. And other teams – we see you Green Bay – have decided to play better.

A win Sunday at home against the New York Jets would bump up those chances considerably, but other teams have to fail. We are pretty sure Washington will be accommodating – the franchise has been for years – but the Giants and the Packers? They seem ready to bring their brand names into the playoffs and boost the NFL’s already sky-high ratings.

This Seahawk team has over-achieved. Good for them. But, in the long run, it might not be the best thing for the franchise. A few more well-placed losses could have resulted in moving up the draft order. And finding players who can build long-term success, a la a decade or so ago.

Maybe the Hawks will have their cake – the postseason – and eat it too – find the right players in the draft. But our mother told us decades ago that’s not possible. And who are we to argue with mom’s logic?


WSU: Around the Pac-12 and college basketball, we can pass along Jon Wilner’s conference-wide thoughts as they appeared in the S-R this morning. He also has a hot-seat rating for each coach in the Mercury News. … There is also a look at the women’s race to pass along. … The Bay Area trip awaits Colorado. … Arizona knows UCLA is going to challenge this season. … In football news, Oregon seemed lost for much of the Holiday Bowl last night. The Petco Field turf had easy-to-see seams in it – for what reason grass couldn’t have been added a while ago in San Diego, we have no idea – and so did the Duck defense. But North Carolina couldn’t take enough of an advantage to hold off Oregon’s comeback. … Washington has its time in the spotlight tonight, facing Texas in San Antonio. The last time we checked, the Alamo Bowl is played just down the road from Austin – it’s an easy drive – so the Huskies are traveling into enemy territory. Which would make an upset win even sweeter. … A seasoned Utah team will play in its second consecutive Rose Bowl, but will also showcase some youngsters. … Colorado still has a lot to get done before the season. … A safety is playing his final game for UCLA.

Gonzaga: Yes, the WCC schedule begins this weekend. The Zags, however, only had one game, not the usual two. A hole had to be filled. Eastern Oregon, which played in the Kennel last season, returned. And the Zags rolled. Set a school record, actually, for margin of victory in the 120-42 rout. Theo Lawson has the game story. … Jim Meehan adds the difference makers and a story on Liberty High graduate Justin Jeske returning home again. … Jesse Tinsley supplies the photo report. … The women also begin conference play but they are in Southern California for Friday’s matchup with the Waves. Jim Allen has a preview. … Around the WCC, BYU is on a winning streak as conference opens.

EWU: Eagle alum Samson Ebukam has been stuck on 4.5 sacks with the 49ers for a while. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Montana has been off for a while as it hosts Eastern Washington. … Montana State played as tough a nonconference schedule as it could. … Northern Arizona is ready for the conference schedule. … Sacramento State picked up a nonconference win last night.

Preps: Another busy day and night of high school hoops, with Dave Nichols pulling it all together in this roundup.

Chiefs: Spokane lost for the second consecutive night to Seattle, Wednesday by a 6-5 score. Kevin Dudley was in the Arena and has this story.

Seahawks: Godwin Igwebuike has earned his spot on the roster with excellent play. … Tyler Lockett caught passes yesterday. Does it mean he will play Sunday? That’s still to be determined. … Two of the NFL’s better rookie defensive backs will be on the field. … The Hawks have turned to an old friend at tight end.

Mariners: Seattle still has holes to fill. Who could they turn to?

Kraken: A 3-2 loss to Calgary dropped the Kraken in the Pacific Division standings.


• We used an actual alarm clock – OK, the alarm on our phone – to get up this morning. We have a full day and wanted to ensure we started it right. As in right on time. Until later …