Monday, January 4, 2016

Monday Afternoon Place Kicker: Seahawks head to Minnesota, Cougs knock off UCLA and the Zags' improbable comeback

Posted By on Mon, Jan 4, 2016 at 2:36 PM

click to enlarge SEAHAWKS.COM

Welcome to 2016, the best year ever for all your favorite sports team. I have no way of knowing that to be true, but have resolved to be more optimistic this year, so, yeah, there ya go. But, judging from a very small sample size from the New Year's Weekend, things are looking up.

First of all, let's talk about the Seahawks, who did a lot yesterday that didn't matter at all in terms of the postseason. But if you ask any 12, their thrashing of the Arizona Cardinals was a necessary and consequential victory for the sanity of the Northwest and Seahawk Nation at large.

Let me explain. Well, since the Minnesota Vikings kicked the limping Green Bay Packers in their bedraggled nards on national television last night, they claimed the NFC North, and thus a better playoff seed than the Seahawks. So even if the Hawks lost yesterday, nothing would have changed. So now, the Seahawks will head to a very, very cold Minneapolis on Sunday morning (10 am Pacific time) and play the Vikings, who they dismantled a few weeks ago, if you recall.

But back to yesterday's game. The Seahawks went into University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of last year's Super Bowl disaster that we shall speak no more of, and thoroughly embarrassed the Cardinals. And the Cardinals had all their starters in, even on their alleged very good defense. Russell Wilson did a lot of Russell Wilson things, including throwing one of the most beautiful passes ever caught on camera to Jermaine Kearse.

Tyler Lockett's punt-returning was a thing of equal beauty, giving the Hawks a short field throughout the first half, which ended with the Hawks leading 30-6. They went on to win the game 36-6 after the Cardinals gave up at halftime.

It was exciting and refreshing stuff to see, especially after the turd they dropped against St. Louis last week. The running game was working, the defense was blitzing and making great downfield plays. Richard Sherman was having a hell of a time. Some tight end no one had ever heard of caught a touchdown. They let their fullback touch the ball and he scored, too.

Bring it on, Vikings.

We probably don't talk enough about Washington State's basketball team on here, and for that we apologize. But it's worth noting that the Cougars had their best win of the Ernie Kent era and their first in that time against a ranked opponent when they knocked off No. 25 UCLA down in Pullman last night.

Josh Hawkinson had 20 points and 10 rebounds in a 85-78 win against what's been an up-and-down UCLA team. They lost to Monmouth, but beat then-No. 1 Kentucky. They also made easy work of Gonzaga, and in the Kennel no less. But UCLA came to WSU having lost two nights prior to Washington.

Still, it's a solid win for a still-finding-its-way Cougars squad and monumental in that it was just WSU's 17 win in 130 tries against UCLA.

Do you remember some of your favorite Gonzaga teams that would find themselves down by maybe eight or 10 with six minutes left in a game, but you didn't worry about it because they seem to always get themselves out of jams? Well, this year's team is not one of those teams down the stretch (see Texas A&M, UCLA and Arizona for evidence), but they sure showed signs that maybe they're morphing into something like that this week.

Yes, the Zags are the best team in the WCC (although St. Mary's is playing out of this world right now), but that doesn't mean they're going to waltz into Santa Clara or San Francisco and roll folks. Away games in this conference are brutal and always have been. So it wasn't totally surprising to see Gonzaga struggle, but ultimately pull away from SCU on New Year's Eve for a 79-77 win that looks closer than it was because of Coach Mark Few's newfound foul-when-up-three philosophy.

But when they were down in San Francisco and down double digits late in the contest, that was unexpected. USF sharpshooter Devin Watson was scorching the Zags, as were the Dons as a whole, hitting 14 three-pointers in the game and suddenly Gonzaga was down by 16 points with just 8:40 left in the game.

Thankfully, Domantas Sabonis (who finished with 35 points) got tough and Kyle Wiltjer began shooting the ball, and the Zags scored 13 unanswered points. Up three with 20 seconds left, the Zags then gave up a buzzer-beating three and the Dons took things to overtime. There, the Zags scored 20 points, which is remarkable for a five-minute period and got a 102-94 win.

As a team, Gonzaga shot 54.4 percent in the game, which is very, very good. The problem was all those threes, which can add up.

The Zags have Portland coming to Spokane on Saturday.
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