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

A Grip on Sports: There is an end in sight but college basketball’s tsunami just rolls on today

A GRIP ON SPORTS • College hoops rolls on. Today and, despite an up-and-down Tuesday, through next week for at least three local teams. That’s OK, isn’t it?

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• We’re not sure whether you are burnt out. Might be, considering some of the comments we saw on social media yesterday. But that’s not important. The big news is … well, this time of year the big news can wait. The mundane is important too.

Tuesday the Gonzaga men made 16th-ranked Saint Mary’s look mundane, though that’s probably too nice a description. Bad. Overmatched. Awful. Use whatever adjective you want from that file folder. It probably works.

The Gaels were exposed in a 77-51 loss. Their inability to attack aggressively was at least. Not the players. They probably could if asked. But Randy Bennett so dreads getting into an up-and-down game with the ninth-ranked Zags, he played right into Mark Few’s hands.

The Bulldogs played their 1-2-2 ¾ “trap” from the get-go in the WCC title game. It isn’t designed to turn over the Gaels but to slow them down. To force them to take a few precious seconds to initiate their offense. To not allow them as much time to go side-to-side over and over – and then break down the defense late in the shot clock.

It flustered Bennett and it flustered his team. Add in the Zags playing half-court man-defense as if they were possessed, and the Gaels only chance was to attack aggressively when they passed over the top and had a 3-2 advantage. They never did. Catch and wait was the game plan. And it was the wrong one.

On the other end, the Zags took the opposite tack. They played with the wind in their sails all night. And blew past the slower Gaels often.

John Wooden often said if he was quicker at three positions than you, he would win. Like in most everything, he was right. Once again, Gonzaga was too quick for Saint Mary’s.

And, once again, the Zags are WCC tournament champs.

• The women had the same opportunity presented to them earlier in the day. But they couldn’t grab it. Timidity was their enemy as well. Except, in their case, it wasn’t by design.

Portland zoned. Flew around. Made it seem, to the Bulldogs, as if six or seven Pilots were on the court. At first, it wasn’t all that bothersome. Despite too many turnovers, Gonzaga built an 11-point halftime lead. Expanded that to 13 early in the third quarter.

But pressure has a way of wearing on a team. Maybe not physically but more mentally. If defenders are not in the expected place, that can cause havoc. And questions. Once the Zags began questioning themselves, they were in trouble.

Lisa Fortier could only lament shots not taken, passes thrown in haste and whistles not blown.

The 64-60 loss put a crimp on the day, sure, but may hurt even more on Sunday, when the NCAA Tournament selections are made. The women’s committee relies way too heavily on their metric, the NET ranking, for seeding. The Zags haven’t done well in that ranking all year, and dropped four spots, to 45, after the loss.

• There was one more loss Tuesday. The Eastern women fell in the Big Sky Conference semifinals to Northern Arizona 74-57. That ends the Eagles’ season but not the hope.

EWU returns every player from a squad that finished fourth in the Sky, including star guards Jamie Loera and Jacinta Buckley. The future is bright in Cheney.

• The future is now for the Washington State men. They open Pac-12 Conference tournament play at 2:30 this afternoon. The fifth-seeded Cougars face last-place California, hoping to win their sixth consecutive game and move on to a Thursday matchup with fourth seed Oregon.

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WSU: Of course, Colton Clark is all over the Cougars’ game today. He paired a preview of the contest with news of the conference’s awards. The centerpiece? Post Mouhamed Gueye and guard TJ Bamba. … The women not only rolled to the Pac-12 tournament title, they also made a new fan. Jim Allen delves into the relationship between the team and longtime country star Shania Twain. It is one of those feel-good stories you shouldn’t miss. … Jon Wilner wonders what the commissioner will say today. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college basketball, No. 8 Washington, with a couple of freshmen leading the way, starts the tournament with a noon matchup against No. 9 Colorado. … Utah will try to right its ship when the seventh-seeded Utes face No. 10 Stanford at 6. … The day ends with sixth-seeded Arizona State playing No. 11 Oregon State. … UCLA, and player of the year Jamie Jaquez Jr., have a bye. … So does Arizona, which loves Las Vegas. … In football news, spring practice opened at Oregon State yesterday, with all eyes on the quarterbacks. … Oregon is about ready to start as well. … Colorado has a talented two-way player coming in. … USC is ready to begin a defensive push at spring practice.

Gonzaga: The list of stories if filled to the brim. We start today with Dave Boling’s column on Drew Timme. The post broke the school’s career scoring mark early on, his jump hook pushing him past Frank Burgess. … It was odd watching the Bulldogs wearing the dark uniform in a WCC final. Theo Lawson mentions that and a lot more in his game story. … Jim Meehan adds a summary of the day, including all the ancillary news as well as the difference makers. … Tyler Tjomsland has the photo gallery. … The folks in the office put together a recap with highlights. … There is also coverage from the women’s defeat. Jim Allen has the game story and another piece on Maisie Burnham, the Liberty standout who has found the right spot in Portland. … Tyler has a photo gallery from the game as well. … And we add in this column concerning the Zags’ NCAA prospects. … Don’t miss this CBS story on Timme either. … We can pass along a couple stories focused on the Gaels. … The GU men may still have a shot at a two seed come Sunday. … The Pilots won this tournament for the second time in four years but this year they will actually get to reap the NCAA benefit. … Elsewhere in the WCC, BYU’s season may be done.

EWU: John Blanchette has coverage of the Eagles’ loss to Northern Arizona in Boise. … Kip Hill has coverage of former basketball coach Wendy Schuller’s federal discrimination lawsuit against the school. … Elsewhere at the Big Sky tournament, the men’s final will pit Montana State, who survived a two-overtime battle with Weber State, against 22-loss Northern Arizona, which upset Montana. … Northern Colorado had a positive season. … Sacramento State topped Portland State and will meet NAU in the women’s final.

Seahawks: Geno Smith’s contract is pretty club friendly as the veteran quarterback bet on himself. There are a lot of incentives. … Yes, the Hawks will attack the draft. But they are also trying to mine the free agent market.

Mariners: Much of the focus this spring has been on Jarred Kelenic and his hot start.

Kraken: Seattle returned home and won again. That puts them right back in the thick of the conference race as the playoffs loom.

Sounders: It’s always a good day when we can pass along a notebook.

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• We travel back to Spokane today. Just when it is beginning to warm up in the desert. Maybe the same will happen in the Inland Northwest. One can only hope. Until later …