Monday, March 31, 2014

WSU hires Ernie Kent as its new basketball coach

Posted by on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 4:13 PM

Less that two weeks after the much-expected firing of Ken Bone, Washington State University has found its next head basketball coach.

And he's no stranger to the Pac-12. Ernie Kent, who coached at the University of Oregon from 1997 to 2010, during which he took the Ducks to two Elite Eights, was named the new head coach this afternoon.

“I am excited that Ernie will be the leader of our men’s basketball program. I have witnessed firsthand his many talents. He has proven that he can win championships in our conference. Together we saw tremendous success at his alma mater and I have every reason to expect to see the same at mine," said WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos in a statement.

Kent will be formally introduced in Pullman on Wednesday.

The hire comes just a few days after WSU's efforts to woo Boise State head coach (and former Gonzaga assistant) Leon Rice fell flat and Rice decided to stay at BSU, receiving a nice raise in the process.

Before coaching at Oregon, Kent — who played at Oregon, too — had a successful run at Saint Mary's. His all-time head coaching record is 235-174.

Since being let go by Oregon four years ago, Kent has been a commentator for the Pac-12 network.
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Saturday, March 22, 2014

NCAAs in Spokane: North Dakota State's magic ends

Posted by on Sat, Mar 22, 2014 at 5:27 PM

North Dakota State's fans couldn't bring home the win today in Spokane.
  • North Dakota State's fans couldn't bring home the win today in Spokane.
Whatever upset magic was in the Spokane Arena air on Thursday doesn't seem to be in as great of supply today.

North Dakota State, despite bringing in one of the nicest, loudest crowds to Spokane with them, couldn't overtake San Diego State, who held the NDSU to just 44  points in a game in which the Aztecs played some of the best defense that's been seen in this year's NCAA tournament. The final score of 63-44 is a little deceiving. NDSU was in the game for most of it, but their cold shooting saw them fall farther and farther behind as time ticked down.

The Aztecs were led by 30 points from Xavier Thames. If that Senior guard's name sounds familiar to you in the Inland Northwest, that's because he played for Washington State his freshman year before transferring south.

It's the end of a run for North Dakota State, who earned no shortage of fans in Spokane this weekend after their hard-fought win on Thursday over Oklahoma.

Poor kid...
  • Poor kid...
If you were at the game, you probably couldn't help but notice the bare-chested, headressed young man waving around a conch shell during every stoppage of play. This is San Diego State's mascot. Assumedly, this guy is supposed to be an Aztec. But walking around half naked in a part of the country that's yet to emerge from winter, the Aztec threw around a whole lot of weird at the Arena this weekend.

From his habit of yelling odd taunts at the North Dakota fans to blowing his conch while his own team's pep band was playing, this guy was far and away the most amusing mascot of the games in Spokane. This is why mascots where masks, FYI. That's him on the right.

NDSU, on the other hand, had a burly ol' Bison. He didn't do anything terribly interesting today, but that was only because it's likely that he was afraid SDSU's beefcakey warrior was fixing to slaughter him. For the record, the kid who portrays the SDSU Aztec is probably a perfectly nice kid who just happens to have a crappy job. Still, I really hope SDSU continues through the tournament so more people can get a look at this college basketball oddity.

Harvard and Michigan State just took the floor for the nightcap here at the Arena. So far, the crowd appears to have a lot of Spartan green in it. Michigan State — picked by many to win the whole tournament, despite being a 4-seed — will have their hands full with Harvard's guards. Don't expect this one to become a blowout — unless MSU's Adriean Payne drops 41 points like he did on Thursday.
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Welcome to the city of Spokane, North Dakota

Posted by on Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 7:44 PM

In a crazy day of college basketball, one of the craziest games happened right here in Spokane.

North Dakota State, whose fans we told you about earlier today, just beat Oklahoma 80-75 in overtime. And it was crazy.

By the time Lawrence Alexander hit a three pointer with 10 seconds left to tie the game, everyone in the Spokane Arena not wearing Oklahoma gear was on their feat cheering for the Bison. It was easy to do, considering how many people made the trek westward on I-90 from Fargo. There was more than an entire section of the arena decked out in yellow. Apparently, the yellow blazer is an easy-to-come-by piece of clothing in North Dakota, as evidenced tonight.

It's going to be nice to have these rowdy, yellow-loving folks back here on Saturday. They might even earn some bandwagon fans in the meantime.

So far, two different 12 seeds have emerged out of Spokane, after Harvard knocked off Cincinnati earlier today.

And nationwide, this was the third overtime contest. Not a bad day of hoops. Hopefully you didn't waste your day doing something stupid, like working and got to see some of this.

Next up, New Mexico State takes on San Diego State.
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NCAA Spokane: Harvard pulls the upset, pep bands and road trips

Posted by on Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 3:10 PM

The first game of the four contests at the Spokane Arena is in the books and it was a good one.

Twelfth-seeded Harvard pulled off a shocker and downed fifth-seeded Cincinnati by a score of 61-57. Because people love an underdog, the Spokane crowd was behind the Crimson for pretty much the whole game as they maintained a slim lead over the Bearcats throughout the entire contest. In the end, it was Harvard's defense that won the game, holding Cincy to just 37 percent shooting.

The weird thing about this game was that it was an upset for sure, but Harvard looked like the better team for most of the contest. They didn't look small or unathletic. They straight outplayed Cincy.

On the court now, the Michigan State Spartans are showing why so many folks have them winning the whole thing in their brackets, even if Delaware is hanging in there. The Spartans have a 44-33 lead on Delaware at halftime.

And here are some other things that happened today...

The Harvard band looks like Harry Potter, sound like a dream.
  • The Harvard band looks like Harry Potter, sound like a dream.

If you go to Harvard, you're probably a smart person. That's kind of their thing — being smart. And some of those smart people make up the Harvard pep band, which was on hand for this morning's contest.

They played some Top-40 hip hop in their set, with some added flair. They also looked downright awesome doing it. If you didn't know any better, you'd think they just came from pumping up the crowd at a Hogwart's quidditch match (yeah, I know my Harry Potter). Their blazers and ties are the sort of class you'd expect from Harvard, which also brought with them a sizable cheering section.

Whether it was the band or not, the Spokane Arena sided with Harvard today. When time ran out and their win was final, you would have thought it was Gonzaga on the court by the way folks roared.

Anthony Lee, left, and eight of his buddies drove all the way to Spokane from North Dakota.
  • Anthony Lee, left, and eight of his buddies drove all the way to Spokane from North Dakota.

It's been awesome getting travel stories from all the fans who've descended on Spokane for the tournament. The best I've found so far is from nine guys from Westhope, North Dakota (a tiny town near the Canadian border) who drove all the way to Spokane in one push — all in one rented passenger van.

Anthony Lee is one of the guys who charged some 16 hours straight to cheer on his North Dakota State Bison in a game against Oklahoma later today.

"The second we heard that they were playing in Spokane, we decided we'd make the drive," says Lee.

He and his buddies haven't had a chance to see much of the town. They rolled up to their hotel, checked in and then came to the Arena. Hopefully they'll get some sleep in there sometime.

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Share your own best Stockton caption

Posted by on Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 10:35 AM

When we saw that John and David Stockton finished second and third in our Best Athlete category in our readers poll this year, we knew we had to feature them in our annual Zags poster.

So Mike Bookey and I bandied some catchy headlines back and forth: The Family Swishness; Stockton and Son, Inc.; Longer Shorts, Same Hair; Chip Off the Old Stock’; Blue-Chip Stocktons; Generation Zag. Kudos to our art director, Chris Bovey, for a cool design.

Pick up our Best Of issue today to see what we finally chose; in the meantime, share your own best caption idea!

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Meet the people who followed their teams to the NCAA tournament

Posted by on Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 10:31 AM

David and Jill Henry battled overbooked flights to make a last-minute jaunt to Spokane to cheer on Cincinnati.
  • David and Jill Henry battled overbooked flights to make a last-minute jaunt to Spokane to cheer on Cincinnati.

The NCAA tournament is fully underway right now and you should be watching it. Even if you're at work — especially if you're at work. Here's how to do that.

Here at the Spokane Arena, we're getting ready for the tip-off of what's quite likely to be a fascinating matchup between Harvard (12 seed) and Cincinnati (5 seed). Before the doors to the stadium opened, fans were already lined up to head into the game.

Two of those fans were David and Jill Henry, who flew from Cincinnati to Spokane — despite overbooked flights — to be here to cheer on their beloved Bearcats. That's them in the photo.

The husband and wife are both alums of the University of Cincinnati and decided early on that they were going to see the team play in the NCAA tournament.

"We had the week off, so we were just waiting on Sunday to see where we'd be heading," said Jill, who is at her first-ever NCAA tournament.

Then they had to track down tickets — and find a way to get to Spokane, but they made it. They've never been here, but find the town excellent so far. Mostly, though, they're just glad they made it. And, after a long winter in Ohio, they were just thankful that it wasn't snowing here.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

NCAA Tourney hits the Spokane Arena

Posted by on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 4:45 PM


As far as I'm concerned, the first two days of the NCAA tournament are a national holiday. And we at the Inlander will be treating it as such, especially considering there are second and third round (ol' timers like me still call these "first and second round") games being played right here in Spokane.

We will be on press row for all the games tomorrow and Saturday and will be giving you coverage of all the happenings on the court and in the stands, where we'll talk to fans who've traveled from far and wide to see some hoops in the Lilac City.

And pick up this week's issue of the paper, which happens to be our Best Of the Inland Northwest issue, for previews on all the games happening at the Arena.

Today at the Spokane Arena, it was clear how big this event is for the city as media from all over the place had assembled to get a look at the eight teams practice. We caught some of the Delaware Blue Hens practice as they warmed up for their date with Michigan State tomorrow afternoon.

If you want to get a look at the teams, practices are open to the public and are totally free. The last practice features New Mexico State and starts at 6:40 pm. Head down there.

If you like what you see, there are still a few tickets available.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Mitch Holmberg becomes the Spokane Chiefs' top career goal-scorer

Posted by on Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 2:43 PM

  • Gary Peterson

Mitch Holmberg’s final season with the Spokane Chiefs has been a good one. We wrote about the 20-year-old back in February:

Defensive play was once a weakness for Holmberg, a right wing who isn't all that big (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) or physical (less than 100 career penalty minutes). He's never been drafted by a National Hockey League team, even after last season, when he totaled 39 goals and 80 points in 66 games.

"I thought I had a good year," Holmberg says. "I think it's hard whenever you don't get drafted ... [but] it's kind of a blessing in disguise that I wasn't. It always pushes you harder if you can prove someone wrong in the long run."

Since then, he’s been named the Chiefs’ Player of the Year and Most Sportsmanlike Player (for the third year in a row), broke the Chiefs’ record for career goals and earned the Bob Clarke trophy for leading the Western Hockey League in regular-season scoring.

Holmberg’s franchise record-breaking goal — his 62nd of the season — came last Friday, as Spokane beat the Tri-City Americans, 4-3, in front of a sold-out crowd at the Spokane Arena. He broke the record of 146 held by Pat Falloon, who was inducted into the Chiefs hall of fame this past fall.

The Chiefs are taking on the Victoria Royals for their first round Western Hockey League playoff series beginning this Saturday, March 22, with home games on March 26, 27 and 31.

Read the previous feature about Holmberg here.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Zag Watch: What happens in Vegas edition

Posted by on Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 4:45 PM

Gonzaga's student section cheers during a game early in the season. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Gonzaga's student section cheers during a game early in the season.

For the sixth consecutive year, a whole lot of people from Spokane are spending part of their March down in Las Vegas. Yeah, it's spring break for Gonzaga students, but it's also time for the West Coast Conference basketball tournament. 

It's a wholesome celebration of the left side of the country's best mid-major basketball coupled with some good ol' fashioned Vegas debauchery. But there is a Catholic Mass on Sunday (on which there are no games) so believing Zag fans can get cleansed of whatever sort of nonsense they found on the strip the night before — and also maybe pray for a win in the next round...

Both Gonzaga men's and women's squads came out as regular season champions, earning number one seeds in the tournament. The women's team is playing tonight at 6 pm (BYUtv) against San Francisco, who eeked out a one-point win yesterday against LMU. The men are slated to play on Saturday night against Santa Clara at 6pm (ESPN2), who easily beat conference newcomer Pacific last night, 81-64.

There's a different look to the brackets of this year's WCC tournament. With the addition of Pacific to the conference, things had to be tweaked a bit. And that meant that the number one and two seeds in both the men's and women's tourneys no longer get double byes.

Last year, both the men and women had to win just two games to take home their respective WCC tourney trophies. This year, both squads will have to play three games in order to win. Some people in Zagland are not too happy about that — you can read some of their viewpoints here on the GU message boards.

The main gripe is that playing more in-conference games — especially against lower seeded teams, which is how a tournament works — the Zags are hurting their overall tournament resume. On the other hand, others have argued, it gives the conference more ESPN coverage than before (two quarterfinals, and all the semifinal and final games on the men's side are on ESPN), which is good for both exposure and the bottom line of the conference.

Another change is that teams no longer play back-to-back games because of the women's quarters taking place today and the men tomorrow. And with the BYU-mandated no-games-on-Sundays policy, there's a break between the quarters and semis. The final is now on Tuesday rather than Monday.

It's good for rest, but seems like a hell of a long time to be in Las Vegas. That place gets weird.

Things got a little dicey for Mark Few's boys in the final weeks of the regular season. They went to Provo and lost. Then, they went down to San Diego and couldn't make a damn shot toward the end of the game, and lost that, too.

There was more than a little nervousness rippling around Zag Nation. Some blamed Kevin Pangos' ongoing toe troubles (more serious than you think), which might have explained his mere four points against USD, while others went as far as to claim that Few had lost his mojo.

But the Zags roared back for the final two games of the season in order to secure the regular season conference championship and secure the number one seed for this weekend's tournament. First, they defeated Pacific, thanks to a bounce-back 18 points from Pangos and another 17 from the friendly boy next door, Drew Barham. Then, in what preseason prognosticators figured to be a big conference matchup, the Zags dismantled St. Mary's down in Moraga, a building in which Gonzaga hasn't always played that well. That night, the Zags pounded the Gaels by 28 points, 75-47, with senior Sammy Dower Jr, Esq. dropping in 15 points and hauling in 10 boards.

Suddenly, Zag fans could let out a deep breath. All is well heading down to Vegas.

Unless something went really haywire tomorrow night and an injustice unlike few others in the history of the game unfolded on Selection Sunday, the Zags are going to the NCAA tournament. Right now, ESPN has them as a nine seed, which is about where I'd put them, too. A couple big wins down in Sin City and maybe they move up a bit.

One thing is for certain — although the Spokane Arena is hosting NCAA tourney games this year, rules prevent the Zags from ending up there.

I'm an unapologetic supporter of college kids being irrationally excited about their school's basketball team, but there are rules, man. This ain't 'Nam.

Earlier this week there was plenty of press about players getting mixed up with fans when the student section flooded the court after big upsets. Gonzaga's David Stockton even said he got roughed up a bit when USD students celebrated their win.

Last night at UC Santa Barbara, things got even weirder and uglier when a UCSB student ran onto the court to confront Hawaii's head coach. Check out this insanity. The dude was arrested...eventually.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Zag Watch: Down the stretch edition

Posted by on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 4:07 PM

Mark Few and the Zags look to wrap up the WCC regular season title tonight at BYU. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
  • Young Kwak photo
  • Mark Few and the Zags look to wrap up the WCC regular season title tonight at BYU.

Zag Watch has been on hiatus for a bit, and for that, we extend sincere apologies. But Zag Watch was on Seahawk Watch for a good stretch and has been celebrating the Super Bowl championship ever since. Then we got into reruns of Bay Watch and things really got off the rails. But we're back, just in time for the Zags to head down the stretch of their WCC regular season.

Tonight, Gonzaga heads into the Marriott Center, a cavernous dome in the middle of Provo, Utah, where 21,000 people hopped up on caffeine-free Diet Coke will dress in matching shirts and scream wholeheartedly in the hopes that doing so will force the Zags to lose. Yup, the Zags are heading back to BYU, their first trip to Provo since that slugfest a year ago that ultimately ended with Gonzaga locking up a No. 1 national ranking.

Now, I'm not a betting man, but it was tough not to notice that the shadowy figures who decide the betting line on college basketball games have BYU as a three point favorite tonight. Sure, the Cougars are at home, where they've won all their games except for a squeaker to then 21-ranked Iowa State back in November, but the Zags already soundly defeated BYU last month in the Kennel thanks to some hot shooting from Kevin Pangos (and everyone else that night). And, there's the little detail that BYU has has some oddly bad losses this season, including a shellacking at the hands of Loyola Marymount (the last-place team in the WCC).

I'm not saying that Few's boys are going to run away with this by any means — a squad that shoots like BYU (see more on their guard Tyler Haws below) and is capable of a break-neck pace can get after you in a hurry — it just seems odd to be thinking of them as underdogs going into this. But perhaps the oddsmakers were figuring that BYU will come out on fire, considering that if they don't win this, they will miss out on an NCAA tournament bid for the second consecutive year.

One thing the Zags will have on their side is the game time. It's set for an 8 pm tipoff (ESPN2) which is 9 pm in the Mountain Time Zone. The late start might make for a smaller crowd...and maybe some sleepy Cougars.

Tonight, Gonzaga has a chance to secure its second straight outright WCC regular season conference championship. They are guaranteed at least a share of the title already, thanks to BYU, St. Mary's and San Francisco (all with five losses) sitting in what's essentially a three-way tie for second place. But the Zags would have to lose all of their remaining games for there to be a sharing scenario.

No, you're probably not a BYU fan, but if you don't get at least a moderate kick out of watching the Cougars' Tyler Haws play, you need basketball fan lessons. He is as deadly an offense weapon as exists in the college game today, complete with the ability to, like he did in a 3OT loss to Portland, drop in 48 points if you let him. Haws is currently the nation's fourth leading scorer with 24.1 points per game. Look for Gonzaga's defensive ace Gary Bell Jr. to spend a lot of time guarding Haws tonight.

Remember a few months ago when this very blog was worrying that Sam Dower's injury was going to hurt the Zags' season? Yeah, that hasn't happened. Sammy Jr. has come back in a mean way over the last few weeks, including a dominant 25 point, 15 rebound game against LMU last Saturday in front of his folks (and former roommate Kelly Olynyk), who flew into town for Senior Day. It's nice to see the big guy finishing his college career strong.

It's a little bit early to start guessing where the Zags might end up come Selection Sunday, but things would have to be bad in a sort of Roland Emmerich disaster movie sort of way for Gonzaga not to make the dance, so it's OK to speculate a bit. Last year, the Zags got some love from the selection committee with a number one seed (which was hard not to give them considering their top spot in the polls at the time). This year, don't expect anything near that high. Right now, ESPN's Joe Lunardi has them as an eight seed.

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