I couldn't have been the only Inland Northwest basketball fan realizing that it had slipped past midnight on Saturday night and that March, and all its ups and downs, was here. And it didn't feel that good. Suddenly, it seemed, everything was not as it should be heading into the most important month of the year.
The Zags had been beaten on their home court for the first time by a conference foe in four seasons and a No. 1 seed looked like it had flown out the window. Earlier that day, Eastern Washington's chances to host the Big Sky Tournament and set up a Cinderella NCAA run got slimmer. The day, as it unfolded...
1:12 PM: Arrive at Reese Court in Cheney
Well, the parking lot of Reese Court, to be exact. We pop tall cans and stand in the mid-day sunshine, but shivering in a brisk Cheney wind as floods of fans make their way to the stadium. By a half-hour to tip-off, there are more cars in the lot than I've seen during my entire season on the bandwagon of the nation's most exciting team.
Things looked good. Tyler Harvey, the Nation's Leading Scorer, was all healed up, as was Venky Jois and the rest of the Eagles band of hot-shooting foreigners. The Eagles were playing at home to what was going to be a huge crowd and they'd already knocked down Montana once.
BYU spoiled Senior Night for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Absolutely ruined it. Put a damper on a spectacular season.
So how did the Bulldogs handle their disappointment Saturday night? With nothing but class.
“I know you’re disappointed,” coach Mark Few told the sellout crowd at the McCarthey Athletic Center after BYU won a 73-70 thriller. “So are we. Today, BYU played a heck of a game.”
Few added, “We’ve got a lot more basketball left.”
Despite losing a school-record 22-game winning streak and a nation-leading 41-game home winning streak, the Bulldogs won the regular-season championship of the West Coast Conference for the 14th time in 15 years. The third-ranked Bulldogs carry a 29-2 record (17-1 WCC) into the conference tournament, which opens Friday in Las Vegas. Gonzaga has a first-round bye, then plays Saturday.
Regardless of how they fare in Las Vegas, the Bulldogs are assured of playing in the NCAA tournament for the 17th consecutive year. Gonzaga’s three seniors — starting guards Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley — have played key roles in Gonzaga’s magical year.
Described as “unbelievably special guys” by Few, the three seniors were greeted by family members at center court prior to the game after walking down an aisle through the student section. Afterwards, the players addressed a crowd that was chanting and roaring even after the defeat.
“This whole year has been amazing,” said Wesley, who played at USC the previous three seasons. “I’m sorry we didn’t pull through for you tonight. You guys have been amazing. This has been the best year of my life.”
Bell took the microphone and said, “Obviously, we’re sorry we didn’t win tonight. We’re going to use this to fuel the fire.”
Pangos, a fan favorite who has started alongside Bell the past four years, informed the fans that they are “the best in the country.” He hopes the same can be said about his team at season’s end.
“We’re going to have a special journey,” Pangos said, “so stick with us.”
The Bulldogs’ play has been spotty of late at both ends of the floor.
“I’m concerned,” Few said, “but I’m concerned all the time. That’s pretty much the state of mind I’m in all season.”
By Dan Nailen
on Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 11:07 AM
We had a pretty light sports weekend unless you're a NASCAR fan, but a couple of local hoops teams had huge games. Here's the breakdown to help you get through any watercooler chat at the office:
ZAGS LOSE FIRST CONFERENCE GAME CLINCH WEST COAST CONFERENCE
Kevin Pangos and the Zags are regular season conference champs — again.
Gonzaga was bound to have a nail-biter eventually, and they got it Saturday night at St. Mary's. No shocker there, given St. Mary's success in recent years, but the Zags seemed to be on a Kyle Wiltjer-driven roll in California when tip-off came on Saturday night.
Most importantly, the Zags stayed in line to potentially get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney if they win out. They'll probably want to work on their "D" and free throw-shooting the rest of the way. This week, they welcome San Diego on Thursday and finish out the regular season against BYU Saturday. Until then, enjoy Pangos reading tweets about his 'do: EAGLES IN A RACE
The news for the Eastern Washington hoops squad wasn't quite as good. They headed into the weekend with the conference lead in the standings, but a tough loss at Northern Arizona has them basically tied with Sacramento St. and Montana for Big Sky supremacy and the chance to host the conference tournament. And after their win, Northern Arizona is suddenly in the thick of things, too.
EWU hosts Montana St. and Montana Thursday and Saturday in two huge games to close out their home schedule.
COUGS CRAWL ALONG
Ernie Kent's first season in Pullman should be viewed as a success already, given the Cougs dismal expectations at the start of the season. But Sunday's loss to the rival UW Huskies, who were in the midst of an epic collapse via seven-game losing streak, has gotta hurt. No way the Cougars should have lost at home. Hopefully it's a lesson learned as the team stumbles toward the Pac-12 tourney. They play USC on Wednesday.
Few colleges pursued John Stockton when he played at Gonzaga Prep, and son David drew even less interest from recruiters while playing for the Bullpups. When Gonzaga University added David as a non-scholarship player, it was widely viewed as a favor to his Hall of Fame father, the greatest player in GU history.
While David Stockton never approached his father’s skill level, he did develop into a rock-solid point guard at Gonzaga. His hard work and talent earned him a rookie contract with Reno in the NBA Development League this season, and on Friday morning, Stockton was called up to the NBA by the Sacramento Kings.
“This is a testament to Stockton’s work ethic, and I am very excited for him to have this opportunity,” Reno coach Dave Arseneault Jr. said.
Stockton is expected to be in uniform tonight in Sacramento when the Kings take on the Boston Celtics. Kelly Olynyk, a former Gonzaga teammate of Stockton, plays for Boston. The 7 p.m. contest will not be televised locally, but some satellite TV systems in the area may be able to pick up the broadcast.
Stockton has signed a 10-day contract with the Kings. Darren Collison, Sacramento’s starting point guard, is questionable due to a hip injury.
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Stockton ranks second in the NBDL with 2.4 steals per game, and he’s fourth in assists at 7.9. He’s averaging 16.6 points and shooting 46 percent from the field, including 36.4 percent on 3-pointers.
Tonight marks the Sacramento debut of veteran NBA coach George Karl, a former Seattle SuperSonics coach.
There are few pleasures greater than watching a shooter get white hot. Every time he touches the ball, you scoot up in your seat. You stand when he releases a shot and a millisecond later you can just tell it's good. Such was the rare joy of Kyle Wiltjer's out-of-body performance last night at Pacific during which he tossed in 45 points. The Zags won 86-74.
It was the most points by a Zag since Frank Burgess scored 52 in 1961 and topped the almost-decade-standing 43 points that Adam Morrison dropped back in 2006. It started as one of those games where a guy starts obnoxiously strong and you think "if he keeps this up, he's going to score 50." That almost never happens because of foul trouble or defensive changes or, more likely, a dude just loses his touch. Wiltjer scored 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the game and there was a he's-going-to-score-50 vibe to his game that made things feel special in Stockton, California, a place where things tend to be more murderous than magic on most nights.
THE THREE BALL, OF COURSE Yes, Kyle Wiltjer is 6-10 and plays defense, for the most part, down around the basket, so it's easy to forget that he is a deadly three point shooter. He took 10 threes last night and made seven of them. That is outrageous, especially considering he took the bulk of them immediately off the pass. Granted, one of those threes came in the final seconds after the Zags had run down the shot clock. How good of a long range bomber is the Kentucky transfer? Here he is making 70 out of 75 shots in practice.
HE IS A SEXY BEAST WITH THE BALL
Wiltjer, again, is 6-10, so when he wants to get close to the basket, he can. And he did, with much aplomb and grace and frequency, last night. There was an up-and-under in the second half that had even Pacific fans covering their mouths, lest they say "damn, you see that?"
His mid-range game was on, too. That's a skill that makes this still-improving player (read more about that in this excellent Grantland feature from this week) as deadly an offensive threat as there is in the country. Making him even more deadly is the fact that there are four (maybe more) guys on his squad who can drop 30 on you if Wiltjer isn't getting shots.
All of this is helped by the fact that a guy like Kevin Pangos leads the floor for the Zags. He found Wiltjer at least five times wide open. And, he gave the Zags extra possessions by putting his body in front of charging Pacific players on three different occasions. Pangos finished with eight assists.
INSANE EFFICIENCY Remember the days when Allen Iverson would score 45 points (or more) in a game? To do it he'd throw up 40 or so shots. Wiltjer got his 45 with just 22 shots. Yes, that made up for 44 percent of his team's field goal attempts, but when you score 52 percent of your team's total points, that's fine. The Zags shot a Space-Shuttle-reentering-the-atmosphere-hot 60 percent, but Wiltjer was even hotter than that, stroking it at a 68 percent clip.
No huge scoring game comes without the free throw line. Wiltjer got himself to the line for nine attempts and made eight of them. That helps.
Having one of your guys make the Sportscenter ticker for a huge night does not make you a great team. In fact, as BYU's Tyler Haws found out last year when he dropped 48 on Portland, you might not even win. The Zags were dynamite on the offensive end, but looked like many Zags teams of old when they allowed Pacific — the last-place team in the WCC — to hit 11 three pointers on them. The Zags also allowed Pacific 14 offensive rebounds. This is the sort of stuff that will hurt you in March.
But look for the Zags to fine tune that defense when they head to Saint Mary's (7 pm ESPN2) on Saturday. Kyle Wiltjer won't score 45 points, but there's a chance another Zag might.
Happy President's Day, sports fans. Since you guys are all probably out enjoying the fruits of this May-in-February day, we'll keep this short and semi-sweet.
ZAGS MEN AND WOMEN STEAMROLLING THE WCC
The Gonzaga basketball teams have embarked on an impressive streak, having won a combined 34 consecutive games. The men are on a 19-game burner while the women have tightened up their game for a streak of 15 victories of their own.
We are spoiled with wins here in Spokane. That said, it looked a little shaky for the men on Saturday night when they clawed back to tie things up 30-30 at halftime against Pepperdine at home to eventually win 56-48. That 56 point total was the lowest offensive output on the season for the Zags, who average almost 80 a game. And if you watched the game, you know that 56 points is not terribly exciting to watch. It was, however, interesting to watch Mark Few put in a full-court press in the second half, a move which shut down Pepperdine's flow and held the Waves to just 18 points in the second half. Also interesting was the decision by Kevin Pangos to put the team on his back. The gorgeously coiffed senior finished with 19 points.
Kyle Wiltjer had 10 points on Saturday night, coming off 21 on Thursday against LMU, but forget about that for a second. Check out what he does in his free time.
Because they've yet to lose at their home Reese Court this season, it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that the Eastern Washington Eagles would knock off Portland State on Saturday. After all, they were coming off a win over Sacramento State on Thursday to take sole possession of the Big Sky lead and they were also getting Tyler "The Nation's Leading Scorer" Harvey back from injury.
Yeah, well, things went awry out in Cheney, even with Harvey tossing in 22 points. The Eagles shot a dismal 38 percent and let Portland State get out of there with a 68-66 win. Having Harvey back in the lineup after three games away was nice to see, but, as luck would have it, EWU's main big man, Venky Jois went out again with an ankle injury. With six games left in the Big Sky schedule, Eagle fans are itching to see those two guys out on the floor at the same time.
Thankfully, Sac State lost to Idaho on Saturday and EWU remains at the top of the conference, meaning they'd host the Big Sky tournament in mid-March if things stay this way. EWU will look for their 20th victory of the season on Thursday night at Southern Utah.
THE NBA ALL-STAR GAME The West beat the East by the ridiculous score of 163-158. Russell Westbrook scored 41 points, the west took 133 shots, the East threw up 68 three-pointers and things like this happened:
The third-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs raced to a 20-0 lead in their latest blowout win last night, but the Zags saved the best for last for their adoring fans.
Domantas Sabonis, the freshman sensation who is projected to be a 2015 first-round draft pick by NBA draft guru Chad Ford of ESPN, flatly declared that he will not turn pro after the season.
“Not this year,” Sabonis said after the 80-51 rout of Loyola Marymount. “I think I’m not ready. I still need to develop my game in many ways.
“I haven’t even thought about that. I’m just trying to take advantage of this experience out here.”
Sabonis, the son of Hall of Fame center Arvydas Sabonis, leads the 25-1 Bulldogs with 7.2 rebounds per game despite the fact that he doesn’t start. Sabonis averages 21.8 minutes and 9.9 points and shoots 70.2 percent from the field and at the free-throw line. His offensive game is limited largely to a dazzling array of drop-step moves.
The 6-foot-10, 231-pound Sabonis was the first name Loyola Marymount head coach Mike Dunlap mentioned when asked about Gonzaga’s NBA prospects. Dunlap, a former NBA head and assistant coach, said senior guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. and junior center Przemek Karnowski also would be “evaluated” for this year’s draft.
Dunlap did not include Gonzaga scoring leader Kyle Wiltjer (16.5). A 6-10, 240-pound junior forward with a nice outside shot, Wiltjer led all players with 21 points and 10 rebounds Thursday. Wiltjer and Pangos are on the current 20-man Watch List for the John Wooden Award as college player of the year.
“Wiltjer’s not ready for the NBA at this point,” Dunlap said.
Sabonis, Pangos and Karnowski are the only Bulldogs that ESPN lists as prospects for the 2015 draft. Sabonis is ranked 29th; Pangos and Karnowski did not make ESPN’s top 100 list.
“Pangos is deceptive,” Dunlap said. “He looks like a choirboy and hits like an assassin. That’s what he is. He’s much better than advertised, in my opinion. He’s ‘advertised,’ but he’s far and away the best all-around player in the league.”
Bell, long recognized as one of the premier defensive players in the West Coast Conference, went through a shooting slump earlier this season. The former Kentridge High School star averages a career-low 8.2 points, but Bell and Pangos (12.0 points, 4.9 assists) routinely pass up shots for the good of the team.
“Bell does a lot of things that go unstated,” Dunlap said.
The same can be said for many of the Bulldogs. Gonzaga, riding an 18-game winning streak, leads the nation with 52 percent shooting from the field and has outrebounded 24 of 26 opponents. On Thursday, 19 of Gonzaga’s 26 field goals came with assists.
“We’re an unselfish group,” said junior guard Eric McClellan, a reserve at Gonzaga after playing more prominent roles at Tulsa and Vanderbilt. “We like playing with one another, and we play well with one another. That’s hard to find in college basketball with a group as talented as this.”
By Dan Nailen
on Mon, Feb 9, 2015 at 11:02 AM
Our first post-NFL edition of Monday Morning Placekicker comes complete with a little breaking news. Just as I started to write this post, Twitter blew up with the news that EWU star quarterback Vernon Adams, Jr., has decided to take his talents to Eugene for one season playing with the Oregon Ducks:
Adams has one year of eligibility left after graduating from EWU this spring, and he'll be playing in a perennial Top 5 program that consistently competes for national championships. He did the same at Eastern, but playing against Pac-12 competition will give him a shot at the NFL he might not have gotten had he stayed in Cheney. The Eagles did fine while Adams was hurt for a few games this past season, but losing a dynamic QB like him is definitely a hit for the Eagles. It should be fun to see Adams try to prove the naysayers wrong.
IN BETTER EAGLES NEWS
The men's hoops team continues to chase the Big Sky regular season title. The Eags swept a Montana road trip — no easy task, and one made more difficult when an injury kept leading scorer Tyler Harvey at home in Cheney. No worries, as the cast of supporting players scored enough points — and actually played "D"! — to beat the Griz in Missoula Thursday, then the Bobcats in Bozeman Saturday. Next up is a home showdown against league-leading Sacramento St.
The pregame hoopla was all about WSU coach Ernie Kent returning to the campus where he made his name, taking the Oregon Ducks to two Elite Eights during his tenure. Once tipoff came, the hoopla melted away into an ass-kicking, as the Cougs couldn't hang with the Ducks, losing 95-72. It wasn't even that close.
ZAGS DO WHAT THE ZAGS DO
Perhaps you've seen a Zags game this year? Then you know how Gonzaga's game against San Francisco went on Saturday. It was close until halftime, and actually stayed close in the second half longer than most of these games do, and then the Zags pulled away for relatively easy win. Kyle Wiltjer dropped 29 and the team won by 11. This week, the No. 2 Zags play Loyola Marymount on Thursday and pesky Pepperdine on Saturday.
Today, a crowd of former and current elected officials in Kootenai County sent a letter to the governor and numerous legislators opposing the "instant-racing machines" currently in use at Greyhound Park and Event Center in Kootenai County.
The machines appear in almost every sense to be slot machines, but because the result of each spin is pegged to historical horse races, they're allowed in Idaho. But lately they've come under fire.
The letter has been signed by a bevy of well-known North Idahoans, including Mayor Steve Widmyer, Coeur d’Alene City Council President Woody McEvers, former Mayor Sandi Bloem, Coeur d'Alene Public Schools Superintendent Matt Handelman, former Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson, and North Idaho College President Joe Dunlap.
We are writing to you to voice our collective concern regarding Vegas-style casino gaming recently introduced at off-reservation locations such as Post Falls, Boise and Idaho Falls under the pretense of wagering on historical horse races. This new form of casino gaming, called Instant Racing, has been determined in several states to be nothing more than illegal video slot machines attempting to pass as horse racing. If Instant Racing is not stopped, we could see these installed in one location in every county in the state.
We believe it is your duty to uphold the Idaho State Constitution and take immediate action to stop illegal activity occurring in the State. We encourage you to take a thorough look at these new machines and stop these Instant Racing Machines before they spread to every county.
In particular, the signatories of the letter worry the machines could "directly harm" the Couer d'Alene Tribe, who are allowed to use slot machines, and Idaho's other Indian tribes.
Second down. One-yard line. Twenty-six seconds left. Down by four.
It's not going to be easy to forget what happened. It will haunt me for a long, long while. There will be a day in June when I'm mowing the lawn and the play will pop up in my mind and I'll utter a few obscenities and continue on with my life until it creeps back the next time. I am one of those people who lets silly games ruin their lives.
It will take a few years for history to determine the severity of the boondoggle that cost the Seahawks a Super Bowl, but right now, the decision to throw the goddamn ball when you have a timeout and the league's best running back feels like something just short of Bill Buckner and the Ground Ball.
If you somehow haven't heard or are wondering why people are sleeping at their desks today in your office, the Seahawks lost to the Patriots in last night's Super Bowl in perhaps the most dream-crushing fashion possible. The sadness permeating through the Northwest is so strong as to cast a fog across the entire region. It was supposed to be sunny today, actually.
Sportswriters and civilians alike are trying to make sense of Pete Carroll's decision (or, more likely, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's decision) to throw a slant pass to Ricardo Lockette instead of letting Marshawn Lynch bulldoze his way to victory. Some have contended that Lockette was actually somewhat open and the Patriots' Malcolm Butler actually made an incredible play.
The thing about the INT is Seattle got what it wanted with play-call. Unbelievable break on the ball by Butler. pic.twitter.com/zNEfTn8NfZ
Still the decision to throw in this situation was confounding to the point of feeling somehow diabolical. And, of course, there are some conspiracy theories floating around that the Seahawks needed Russell Wilson to throw the winning pass and be the hero, rather than Lynch. It's mostly nonsense, but can you imagine Roger Goodell (who was roundly booed when he took the stage) presenting the MVP trophy to Beast Mode?
OK, that's just about all I can type about this game without becoming physically ill.
THE ZAGS MOVE UP TO NUMBER 2
Allow the Inland Northwest to now sew its sporting hopes squarely on the shoulders of Gonzaga basketball now that the Super Bowl is over. The Zags are getting into position for a number one seed in the NCAA tournament and are now the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, jumping up a notch after Virginia lost to Duke on Saturday night.
Gonzaga looked like a top-tier team on Saturday when they easily dispatched a visiting Memphis squad. Sure, Memphis is not having its best year and is a shadow of the program it was under John Calipari, but the Zags 82-64 win over the Tigers was a clinic in efficiency. The Zags spread the scoring around and shot better than 55 percent as a team and 50 percent from 3-point land.
A COMEBACK FOR THE AGES AT EASTERN I was out at Eastern on Saturday afternoon to witness the most unbelievable comeback I'd ever encountered when EWU took down Idaho in overtime.
Eastern was down by 11 with 90 seconds left in the game and somehow managed to tie the contest and take it to overtime, where they scored 12 points and snuck away with a 98-95 win over a hot-shooting Vandals team. And EWU did it without Tyler Harvey, the nation's leading scorer, who went out of the game midway through the second half with a bruised thigh.
Thankfully, Drew Brandon was around to come just a rebound away from a triple-double, capped by a length-of-the-floor drive to tie things up at the end of regulation.