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

A Grip on Sports: After sitting out for too long, both Cougar teams return to Friel Court and pick up key wins

Washington State guard Tyrell Roberts, left, shoots over Utah guard Lazar Stefanovic during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, in Pullman, Wash. Washington State won 71-54.  (Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Washington State University’s two basketball teams returned to the court Wednesday evening after each dealt with a midseason COVID-19 pause. And it was a successful return for both.


• No one has escaped the virus’ influence this winter, whether they are in or out of the sporting arena. It’s been that pervasive. But it seems to have the hit the Cougars as hard as anyone in college hoops.

The men had their rivalry game with Washington postponed in late December, though the pause was dictated by the Huskies’ issues. (That game has yet to be made up or rescheduled.) But the Cougars had their own problems recently, being forced to retest before a home loss to Stanford and then missing the past week’s matchups with the Oregon schools. Throughout the stretch, players were in and out dealing with the virus.

The women also had to pivot some in December, replacing a matchup at Cornell with one against Stonybrook. Since then they lost a game with Arizona State due to the Sun Devils’ COVID-19 issues and last week’s home game with Oregon due to their own.

Which made Wednesday’s doubleheader not only possible but necessary. The women opened it with a convincing win over Oregon State, 58-51. The Cougars displayed the type of defense they’ll need to make a push for NCAA Tournament consideration.

The men took Friel Court a couple hours later and dominated struggling Utah. Now that’s something others have done in the Utes’ nine-game losing streak. But that WSU was able to come off an 11-day pause that included just one full-team practice and win by 17 was pretty impressive.

And, as with the women, an important marker for a team that wants to make a bid for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth.

The men are in no-man’s land. Their NET ranking – the NCAA’s tool for determining how Team A compares to Team B – did jump seven spots, from 58 to 51. That is squarely in the danger zone as is their 1-4 record in Quad 1 and 2 games. (The NCAA ranks each game’s value based on opponent and location.)

But the nice part about the Pac-12 is the Cougars – both genders – have a chance to improve on those marks during the rest of January and February.

As long as the virus allows.

• The virus has also taken a toll on high school games around the area, meaning the last few weeks of the regular season will be filled to the brim with makeup games.

Dave Nichols took a stab at summarizing how the Washington district basketball races are shaping up, with some of the better teams in the state residing in the area.

The upshot of his story? By this time of year, the races have normally sorted themselves out to a great degree. This year, that’s not the case. It’s no surprise. When it comes to basketball in the winter of 2021-22, little if anything is normal. No matter the level.


Gonzaga: It’s back to the West Coast Conference grind tonight, with the Zags hosting Loyola Marymount tonight in the Kennel. The Lions were a trendy pick to make a big bounce this season, due to their experience. They haven’t as of yet. Theo Lawson has a preview and a look at the key matchup, which seems to have been the same for the past decade. (It hasn’t but Eli Scott has been around forever.) … The women are on the road in Southern California this week, starting tonight with a game at Pepperdine. Jim Allen has a preview, which includes this nugget: Gonzaga is 25-1 in the last 26 meetings with the Waves. … Around the WCC, BYU is still trying to fine tune its rotation heading into a key road trip.

WSU: Just when we thought the coaching upheaval has settled, there is another shakeup. Recruiting coordinator Josh Omura is leaving Pullman. And he’s leaving for another Pac-12 school, Arizona. Darn transfer portal. Colton Clark has the story. … We linked this above, but Colton also has the story from yesterday’s basketball victory over Utah. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college basketball, the women’s power rankings – heading into yesterday’s action – had the same team at the top but then there were changes. … Colorado will try to keep the momentum going at Washington. … UCLA is in the middle of a three-game homestand. … Tommy Lloyd is philosophical about the loss at Pauley Pavilion. No worries. A rematch looms in Tucson soon. … In football news, Jon Wilner’s piece on BYU’s future  plans impacting the conference’s schedule appeared in the S-R this morning. … Lincoln Riley put together a diverse USC coaching staff. … Finally, Colorado’s athletic department lost a lot of money in 2021.

Idaho: The Vandals will be tested by Montana’s defense in Missoula. … Around the Big Sky, a freshman has really solidified Montana State’s bench. … Next stop: Northern Colorado. Weber State is play a lot of road games in a short time.

Preps: Besides his look at the basketball season, which we linked above, Dave also has a roundup of yesterday’s action. … Justin Reed covered Wednesday’s big wrestling match between Mt. Spokane and Mead.

Seahawks: Rashaad Penny’s final few games made it probable the Hawks would want to re-sign him. But they also made it harder. … The 49ers have dealt with an up-and-down Jimmy Garoppolo a lot the past few years.

Mariners: The starting pitching has a chance to be really good. … You thought the noise over the Hall of Fame selections was over? Hah. Whether you agree with the picks or not, there is always something to digest again and again.

Sounders: Seattle and Portland met in a preseason exhibition last night in Arizona. No one scored.


• You know who you should never underestimate? A puppy. Ours was in the car yesterday while I made a quick stop at the store. In the back, in a zipped up cooler, were the remains of my Panda lunch. By the time I got back to the car, he had unzipped the cooler – how did he do that? – and devoured an entire order of teriyaki chicken, sauce and all, along with the white rice. I was ticked – but also a little impressed. A zipped-up cooler? What the heck? But the awful consequences of his action didn’t become really apparent until early this morning. Let’s just say we will need to get the rug cleaners in soon. Until later …