A GRIP ON SPORTS • An Apple Cup to remember. A showdown in Vegas to not forget. The results were different, the lessons were not. What a great Friday night in Inland Northwest sports.
• We’ll start in Seattle where the Cougars buried their long losing streak against the Huskies – then literally stomped on the grave. Rushing the field is so 2019 but, after more than a decade, it was time for the Washington State faithful to celebrate a win at Husky Stadium.
And celebrate they did, even if some first-half bobbles left them grumbling at halftime. No matter. The points the Cougars left on the field the first 30 minutes would have only added to the humiliation Washington felt as the final horn sounded. Which makes the grumbling understandable.
Rivalry games aren’t just about the final result. They are also about bragging. And taunting. And, yes, grinding your opponent’s fans in the mud of humiliation if at all possible.
That is all possible for Cougars – fans and players alike – over the next 365 days or so. But that’s not all that is possible, though WSU has no control of the next step. That’s up to Oregon State this afternoon. Win in Eugene and the Beavers not only have a tidy two-game streak in their rivalry but send the Cougars to Friday’s Pac-12 title game in Las Vegas.
Now that would be an inappropriate cap to the season for Washington State. After all, throughout the first half this was supposed to be a year of failure in Pullman. Failure on the field – remember Utah State? – and off – remember the “I will follow the mandate” malarkey?
Instead Jake Dickert and his players turned it into something triumphant – on and off the field as well.
When it was all over, they stormed the field and planted their flag.
• Before we get to Gonzaga’s first loss of the season (and the main reasons behind it), let’s examine one item: Dickert’s future.
It seems athletic director Pat Chun is locked in now. He has to hire the 38-year-old interim coach full time. Heck, when John Blanchette says you must, you must.
If the past few months were truly an audition (or an interview as Dickert referred to it), then the former defensive coordinator won the gig. And gave Chun a reason to make the easy choice. Lots of them, actually. As in a few million.
Chun was in the process of getting forced out of the marketplace. Thanks to huge contracts elsewhere, the price of a veteran head coach, even one without a lot of cachet, has gone up recently. Every dollar Chun would have had to earmark to the head man was a dollar that wouldn’t be spent elsewhere in a cash-strapped athletic department.
But Dickert, at least at first, can be a bargain in today’s over-inflated salary market. That will leave more money for assistants and/or other needs.
Then there is the coverage WSU’s win gives Chun’s backside. He makes the Dickert call, it works out, great. If it doesn’t? It was what everyone wanted, right? There will be few dissenting voices.
• There will be no dissenting voices about what happened last night at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. A great early season basketball game between two teams that have high hopes for March and early April.
Duke won. Gonzaga lost. That’s the bottom line. But not the end of the story.
Gonzaga’s defense betrayed it early. Allowed Paolo Banchero and his teammates free rein in transition and the half-court. There were way too many straight-line drives that stressed Chet Holmgren, Drew Timme and Anton Watson. Put them in harm’s way. Did harm to their minutes. And there is no way Gonzaga wins without Timme and Holmgren playing more than 30 minutes each. Didn’t happen last night. Too much foul trouble.
Duke’s defense wasn’t perfect either, especially after halftime. But the Blue Devils’ active hands and feet forced Andrew Nembhard and the Zags into making decisions under pressure, more pressure than they’ve seen this season.
The resulting decisions weren’t the best, as 17 turnovers (for 23 points) attest. There is no way Gonzaga wins with 17 turnovers.
So guess what? Gonzaga didn’t win. Not this top-five showdown. But the next? It all depends. Few and his staff have video to teach with. They can point out the late help and gap control. They can point out the offensive actions that went awry, why they happened and how they can be fixed.
For a young team – and this Zag group is young – it’s invaluable. In a week Alabama will try to do the same things to the GU offense. Try to get out and run in transition. Try to attack the rim in the halfcourt.
We will find out quickly if the Bulldogs learned their lessons.
WSU: As we mentioned (and linked) above, John has seen enough. The interview is over. It’s time for Dickert to get the big office. … Colton Clark watched what happened on the field and wrote this game story as well as putting together the difference makers. … He also had a pregame story about WSU’s injuries. … Tyler Tjomsland turned his camera on the action, both during the game and after, for this impressive photo gallery. … A name from the past, Jacob Thorpe, added a story on Max Borghi and Jayden de Laura adding their names to Cougar lore. … The folks in the office put together the recap with highlights. … The 4-8 Huskies didn’t put up much of a fight – if Borghi’s long first-half touchdown run hadn’t been negated by an immaterial holding call, the Cougars’ final total might have been in the high 50s – and that didn’t sit well with their fans nor the Puget Sound media. It doesn’t matter now though. The season is over, UW is looking for a new coach – will it be Justin Wilcox? – and optimism will return for the spring. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college football, the entire WSU fanbase is rooting for Oregon State today. If the Beavers win in Eugene, the Cougars are in the conference title game. If Oregon wins, the Ducks win the North by a game over Washington State. Pretty simple. … OSU gave coach Jonathan Smith a new contract. … There wasn’t that much on the line yesterday in Salt Lake City and Utah played like it. The Utes led by just a point early in the second half against Colorado but tightened up the defense, made life miserable for the Buffs’ Brendon Lewis and won going away, 28-13. … California needs two wins to make a bowl. The Bears start today against UCLA, which is trying to build on its best year under Chip Kelly. … USC also needs two wins to be bowl eligible. The Trojans have a tough assignment at home against BYU. The Cougars are 4-0 against the Pac-12. … Arizona State has won four consecutive Territorial Cups. If Arizona ends that streak today, it will be a monumental upset. … In the Bay Area, the athletes making the most NIL money aren’t the ones from the major sports. … In basketball news, USC won the Wooden Legacy by shutting down San Diego State. … UCLA is back in Las Vegas to play UNLV. … Arizona State was winless in the Bahamas, getting blown out Saturday by Loyola of Chicago. … Newly ranked Arizona will host Sacramento State. … Oregon State lost to Wake Forest in overtime.
Gonzaga: Duke won. So did college hoops. That seemed to be the postgame message from those who put the game together. And relayed in Theo Lawson’s game story. … Jim Meehan (and others) focused on the battle of the freshmen, which went Banchero’s way early and Holmgren’s in the second half. But was also overshadowed by the game itself. … Jim also has the difference makers. … Jesse Tinsley has this in-depth photo gallery that caught all the action. … The folks in the office worked hard to put together a recap with highlights. … I worked semi-hard to put together a TV Take, though Jay Bilas and Dan Shulman made it easy. By the way, am I the only one who thought ESPN has added a lot more betting talk to their pregame and halftime shows? … Duke’s supporting cast was better than its stars down the stretch. The Blue Devils may be ranked No. 1 in the polls. … The women were playing in Hawaii – that’s a win in late November right there – and won 89-71, handing Utah its first loss of the season. Jim Allen has that story, written from Spokane. … Around the WCC, BYU faces its first true road test today at Utah. … Pacific defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff last night. … USF raised its record to a nation-best 8-0 with a two-point victory over UAB. … After suffering a controversial loss Friday, USD bounced back Saturday against Illinois-Chicago.
EWU: The onslaught of top-notch Inland Northwest sporting events continues today as the Eagles host Northern Iowa in an FCS playoffs opening-round game. Dan Thompson has a preview and three things to watch. … Around the Big Sky, UC Davis also plays today. … Montana State and Montana still have a week off. So does league champion Sacramento State. … In basketball news, Montana got back on the court and defeated Southern Mississippi. … Montana State defeated Portland. … Portland State went to Iowa and was routed.
Preps: Like mother, like daughter. At least as it relates to Mead High cross country success at State. Keenan Gray has this story on Susan and Courtney Osborn.
Chiefs: The Teddy Bear Toss is next Saturday. Nina Culver explains what it is and where the stuffed animals end up.
Mariners: Is there any free agent pitching remaining out there?
Kraken: Seattle didn’t put up much of a fight against the defending Stanley Cup champions, losing 3-0 at Tampa Bay.
• We can give the Eastern Eagles our undivided attention this afternoon. We will sit down in the Laz-e-Boy, turn on the TV and then try to figure out how to stream ESPN+, a service we pay for. And hope it works. … And the attention won’t be completely undivided. The Oregon State/Oregon game begins at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN. That one is easy to “stream.” Just punch 623 into the cable box. Until later …