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
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.
SPOKANE OR BUST
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
SNAGGING THE WCC CROWN
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.
KEEP AN EYE ON HAWS
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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