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

A Grip on Sports: The Big Game will have to come up really big to top the Super Saturday in local college hoops

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Sure, it’s Super Bowl Sunday. And all that entails, including the extra-added attraction of one Taylor Swift. We get it. But we are in Brad Nessler’s corner. The veteran CBS announcer – is there any other kind? – was all in on Super Saturday, as he called it, yesterday after the Gonzaga win at Kentucky. Zag fans, Cougar fans, Eastern fans, heck Whitworth fans, is there a better name for it? Nope. OK, then.


• We love watching the NFL as much as anyone not paid by the league. Or anyone who wears face paint. And all the ancillary stuff with the Super Bowl is cool and all – we’re writing a TV Take about the commercials again today, so we are invested, in the real sense of the word, in viewing them – but as an athletic event, it is usually only so-so.

Not so with Saturday’s college hoop.

We will ask again. How many NBA players, let alone college folks, are as quick with the ball as Myles Rice? We’re not asking because WSU’s wonder-kid scored 21 points and ran down nine rebounds in the Cougars’ crucial 62-56 win at Oregon. We are asking because of one simple play at the end. When, with Washington State trying desperately to hang on to a tenuous lead on the road, the ball was tipped into Rice’s hands with only seconds left.

Zero-to-60? More like zero-to-160. He seemed to disappear as he streaked up the court and killed the Ducks’ final hopes. It was just a small touch of speed in a game full of it. At least with Rice.

The Cougars as a group are finally playing fast. And it’s why they are winning. Maybe fast isn’t the right term, at least not in the traditional sense. They aren’t scoring 100 points, racing up and down the court recklessly. We mean they are not sluggish. They are connected on both ends. Every part of the game has become ingrained enough, slowing to think isn’t needed. It’s full-go, full-time. And that’s hard to deal with it.  

It’s a key part of why we are standing by our prediction from yesterday morning. The Cougs will be in the NCAA Tournament.

So will Gonzaga.

The Zags showed once again they belong for about the 75th consecutive time with their hard-earned 89-85 victory before some 20,000 rabid folks in Rupp Arena on Saturday. Yes, it was GU’s first Quad 1 win – the top level in the NCAA’s metrics. And, yes, it came against the backdrop that this Kentucky team is in a slump of sorts, having dropped three consecutive home games for the first time since 1966. And the first time ever in their ancient palace.

It doesn’t matter. One overlooked aspect of the Zags’ “down” season – they are 18-6, are 19th in KenPom’s ratings, 24th in the NCAA’s NET rankings and, gasp, in third place in the WCC standings – is how unlucky they have been.

Ken Pomeroy has a luck factor built into his system. He defines it as the deviation of a team’s actual winning percentage from what one could expect from its game-by-game efficiencies. In that metric, the Zags are ranked 317th out of the NCAA’s 362 schools. In a language we can understand, they should have at least a couple more wins. If that starts to even-out down the stretch, watch out.

Anyone who ends up playing Eastern in the NCAA tourney – if the Eagles actually win the Big Sky postseason tournament this year – better watch out. Yes, we saw the final score from yesterday’s 87-79 win at home over Idaho. And, yes, we know the Vandals aren’t Duke or North Carolina. But they are a rival. And such games tend to be close.

Eastern is the type of school that can make a run in the NCAAs. Maybe not to the level of Florida Atlantic from last season, but a couple of seeds could fall if the Eagles are hitting their shots.

One overlooked aspect of their 16-8 season? They have played the 16th-hardest schedule in the country, according to KenPom. That’s the type of gantlet that builds February and March success.

There are no such metrics available for Whitworth. Mainly because Division III alums are often the people who do the math to put them together – not the ones whose fans need the validation.

The Pirates are not exceptional, as has been the case often the past couple decades. They don’t pose a huge threat to win the Division III title. But they are on track once again to win the Northwest Conference title. And that’s always their first goal. Another step was taken this weekend with a home sweep of Linfield and George Fox. The Pirates lead the NWC standings by a game over Whitman with two road contests to play. The finale next Saturday will be at third-place Puget Sound. The champion hosts the postseason tournament.

And has the inside track to the lone NCAA berth the conference will garner.


WSU: Defense travels. It’s a truism of the game. And it traveled with the Cougars yesterday, as Greg Woods details in this story. … We can also pass along these video highlights. … And there is more than enough from Oregon to pass along as well. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Washington’s series with Oregon State has featured 312 games since 1904, the third-most in NCAA history. The last one as Pac-12 members played out Saturday in Corvallis, with the Huskies winning 67-55. … No. 8 Arizona seems to have figured out some things, including how to win in Boulder, as the Wildcats won their fourth consecutive game, pounding Colorado. … Arizona State got back on track, and it was Utah that bore the brunt of the Sun Devils’ physical play. … UCLA squandered a lot of its lead but still held off California 61-60 on the road. … Stanford built a big lead against USC with its outside shooting and then kept building on it in a 99-68 rout. … The fourth-ranked Colorado women would like to avenge a loss to No. 17 Oregon State. … Utah may have to look further down its bench for help against Oregon. … UCLA’s football program is navigating something unprecedented. … The UCLA thoughts come from Jon Wilner in the Mercury News. He also has more on how much the Bay Area schools’ Olympic sports teams will have to travel in the ACC. Oh boy.

Gonzaga: There were a bunch of big plays from the Zags, but none more-so than Ben Gregg’s steal that snuffed out 17th-ranked Kentucky’s late charge. Theo Lawson leads his game story with that moment. … Theo quickly posted a recap with highlights. … Jim Meehan examines Braden Huff’s key second-half contributions. … Jim also has the difference makers. … Tyler Tjomsland was in Lexington and has this photo gallery. … We watched CBS, noted a few things and included them in this TV Take. … The women, playing without Yvonne Ejim once more, still rolled visiting Loyola Marymount 71-47 in McCarthey. Greg Lee has more on the 19th-ranked Zags’ win. … Back to the men. We dug around and found a bunch of links from the Kentucky side of things. Lots of fans, lots of words, lots of paywalls. Goes together. We had to use private mode to read a couple. … Elsewhere in the WCC, USF’s comeback 71-70 victory over Santa Clara was not only wild but it was out of control, with six players ejected.

EWU and Idaho: Dan Thompson and Jesse Tinsley were in Cheney for the rivalry games, with Dan taking care of the words for the women and men’s contests, while Jesse had photo galleries from Eastern’s victories as well (though the online link to the women’s gallery from their 62-52 victory is not working this morning). … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Northern Colorado is in second place after its 87-81 home win over Montana. … Northern Arizona broke out of a four-game slump with a 76-71 home win over Montana State. … Weber State out-toughed visiting Sacramento State 58-53. … On the women’s side, Montana held off UNC 82-73 to snap a two-game skid. … Montana State’s five-game winning streak ended against conference-leading Northern Arizona 71-58.

Whitworth: Sullivan Menard posted his career high on Senior Night, scoring 39 points in the Pirates’ 94-81 victory. The men’s victory gave the Whits a sweep of the night’s games.

Preps: Dave Nichols was busy Saturday, starting with covering Mead’s win over Mt. Spokane in girls’ district playoff action. That leads off this roundup. … He also has a roundup of the boys’ playoffs, with a focus on Mt. Spokane’s rout of Ferris. … Madison McCord has coverage of the 3A Regional wrestling meet at University High, with words and photographs.

Chiefs: Dave finished up his day covering Spokane’s 7-6 loss on the road at Everett, with the defeat going about as long as possible, finishing in a shootout.  

Seahawks: OK, so today is the Super Bowl. We have stories. You have expectations. We have the food planned. You? … Patrick Mahomes. Great, right? Looks sort of funny running with the ball, though. … Let’s not forget the Hawks, who haven’t played on the final Sunday in almost a decade. A new coaching staff will try next season. One of them, offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, has a big question mark hovering over his head. Figuratively, of course.

Kraken: After what seemed like forever, Seattle returned to the ice Saturday night. And promptly lost again.


• Kansas City barbecue. San Francisco sourdough crab melts. A couple healthy items. Lots of snacks. And our pencil and notepad. All set for working the Super Bowl. Our favorite commercial is always the last one we have to watch. Until later …