Friday, January 27, 2017

Spokane UFC fighter Julianna Peña faces biggest test yet this weekend

Ranked the No. 2 women's bantamweight, Peña stands to gain a title shot if victorious

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Peña (left) won her last UFC match, against Cat Zingano, in July 2016.
  • Peña (left) won her last UFC match, against Cat Zingano, in July 2016.

If you're a follower of mixed martial arts and the UFC, you may know that Spokane's highest-ever ranked athlete in the organization is facing her next opponent Saturday night. If you're not a follower (or rather, more of a casual fan of the oft-bloody combat sport) we're here to fill you in on feisty Spokane daughter Julianna Peña's next turn in the octagon this weekend.

Currently ranked the No. 2 women's bantamweight (135 lbs.), Peña has been rising in the ranks since returning to the division in 2015 following a serious knee injury that was almost career-ending. As the main card event for this weekend's UFC Fight Night Denver, Pena faces the No. 1 Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan. (In the UFC, each division's champion is at the "zero" spot; Brazil's Amanda Nunes is the current bantamweight champ.)

Though the odds favor Peña's opponent, they're very, very close odds, which means it stands to be a close five-round match with high potential to be quite exciting, considering Peña's early, aggressive bursts. And if she wins, and thereby moves into the No. 1 spot, Peña is almost ensured that her next fight will be against the champ Nunes.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Zags still undefeated after crushing San Diego; chasing a No. 1 ranking

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 10:17 PM

  • Nigel Williams-Goss

A large cardboard zero, representing the number of times Gonzaga (21-0, 9-0 WCC) has lost so far this season, has been floating around the student section for the past several home games. Tonight there was a large cardboard one numeral in the Kennel Club as well, not in case Gonzaga lost, but because of where the Zags are headed.

On Tuesday night, No 1. Villanova, No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Kentucky all lost. And with that, the way was paved for No. 3 Gonzaga to ascend to the top of the college basketball rankings for the first time since they earned the top stop at the end of the 2013 season.

With a 79-43 win over San Diego (10-11, 3-8 WCC) Thursday night, Gonzaga moved a step closer to that number one spot.

This is a San Diego team that, despite its record, can really score. On January 14 the Toreros put up 88 points in a victory over BYU. Gonzaga held them to less than half that number.

“That’s not an anomaly,” head coach Mark Few said of the Zags’ defensive performance. “That’s what we set out to do.”

Few’s right, even though defense is historically an Achilles’ heel for his teams. San Diego managed a paltry 0.66 points per possession Thursday, which this season is more the norm than the exception for teams playing the Zags. Gonzaga ranks fifth in the nation in defensive efficiency by holding teams to just 0.89 points per possession.

Nigel Williams-Goss led all scorers Thursday with 25 points. Johnathan Williams recorded his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds. University High product Brett Bailey, who leads the Toreros in scoring this season (17.4 ppg), did not have a happy homecoming. The senior forward managed just 5 points in his final collegiate trip to Spokane.

Gonzaga jumped on the Toreros early with a backwards but effective style of offense that has become almost typical of this team.

Przemek Karnowski, the 7-foot-1 center, dished out four assists over the first 10 minutes while Williams-Goss, the point guard, scored at will and connected on his first seven shots. The scoring column of the box score doesn’t look as balanced as we’re used to with the Zags, but the balance of skill at all positions was very clear on the floor.

It’s the kind of balance and skill that top teams have. And should the Zags win Saturday at Pepperdine, that top team will more than likely be them.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Gonzaga and St. Mary's finally face off — and it's all Zags

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 10:07 PM

Nigel Williams-Goss had a game high 19 points in a beat-down of Saint Mary's.
  • Nigel Williams-Goss had a game high 19 points in a beat-down of Saint Mary's.

It’s still technically winter break at Gonzaga, but a date with arch-rival Saint Mary’s drew the Kennel Club back to campus a few days before classes start up this week. 

After a string of games in front of docile crowds for the holiday break, the students showed a national television audience just how electric this building can be, even in a blowout.

And that youthful  energy powered the fifth-ranked Zags to a 17-0 record by dispatching the 21st ranked Gaels 79-56.

“We know it’s the toughest game on the schedule,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said of the annual trip to Gonzaga.

That tough atmosphere came into play in the Zags favor over the final minutes of the first half. After a string of lackluster defensive possessions, Mark Few had his team employ a trap on a Saint Mary’s inbounds play. It frustrated the Gaels and the ball ended up with Johnathan Williams near half court. The junior forward took it to the basket for a thunderous dunk that sent the Kennel into a frenzy.

The building kept rocking as the Zags followed that by forcing a shot clock violation.

Saint Mary’s likes to play slow on the offensive end, with their possessions this season lasting an average of 20 seconds. But if they last 30 ticks, they're served with a violation. Gonzaga’s defense frustrated the Gaels all night, blocking six shots and forcing nine turnovers.

On the offensive end, Nigel Williams-Goss led the way with a game-high 19 points and six assists. Jordan Mathews (16 points), Johnathan Williams (14 points) and Zach Collins (10 points) also scored in double figures. Most impressively, however, was  the Zags' shooting touch tonight.

Of the eight Bulldogs who saw game action before garbage time, only Przemek Karnowski (nine points) shot below 50 percent from the field. Overall, Gonzaga went 65 percent from the field Saturday. And that happened against a strong defense.

Saint Mary’s gave up 56.6 points per game over their first 16 contests this season. The hot shooting Zags needed just 31 minutes to pass that mark.

Gaels’ junior center Jock Landale, an all-America candidate averaging 17.8 points per game, was held to just 10 tonight. The big Aussie went into foul trouble early in the first half, and again in the second, before fouling out of the game late.

When he picked up his fifth and final foul a full throated Kennel Club let a chant rain down on the Gael, “na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

EWU's Cooper Kupp named FCS Offensive Player of the Year

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 11:18 AM

EWU receiver Cooper Kupp is the national offensive player of the year.
  • EWU receiver Cooper Kupp is the national offensive player of the year.

The season might not have ended exactly as Eastern Washington's players and fans wanted thanks to a freakish play at the end of their semifinal matchup with Youngstown State, but there is still plenty to celebrate from the Eagles' season.

Top of that list is a successful senior campaign by star wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who today was awarded the Offensive Player of the Year award for a season that featured him making 117 receptions for more than 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also ran for several hundred more yards and a few more TDs.

Kupp was just one part of the Eags' prolific offense, but his decision to return for his senior year rather than going to the NFL set the tone for an entire team dedicated to trying to win a national championship. The fact they fell just short does nothing to detract from Kupp or the team's efforts.

Kupp is currently training for the NFL draft and won't attend the FCS national championship game in Texas to get the award in person. He's a four-time consensus All-American and ended his career with more receiving yards than anyone in college football history, at any level.

The NFL draft, where we'll learn where Kupp with be catching balls next year, runs April 27-29.
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Friday, December 30, 2016

Zags crush Waves, play Pacific on New Year's Eve

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2016 at 12:03 PM

Gonzaga coach Mark Few got the team to buckle down on D at halftime. - GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics
  • Gonzaga coach Mark Few got the team to buckle down on D at halftime.

The sound of shoe squeaks bounced around a near-silent McCarthey Athletic Center for 40 minutes as the Zags and Waves played in front of a sold out but student-less crowd Thursday night.

Back when the Zags were rising to national prominence the Waves were their chief competition in the WCC. This season Pepperdine sits dead last in the league with a 4-9 record. In conference play, though, there is so much familiarity that even last place can scare the league leaders. Gonzaga eventually rolled past the Waves, opening conference play with a win for the 21st consecutive season. But in the first half of this 92-62 victory, it wasn’t pretty.

Pepperdine in the first half shot over 50% from the field and connected on four of eight from long range against Gonzaga’s best-in-the-nation three point defense. But Gonzaga was lighting it up as well. Led by Jordan Mathews’ 5-11 shooting display four Zags combined to make 10 three pointers.

Przemek Karnowski and Nigel Williams-Goss led the team with 16 points a piece. Five Zags scored in double figures. Balanced, as always. Pepperdine’s Lamond Murray Jr. scored the game high with 19. And Chris Reyes added 10 points of his own, but suffered his second loss to the Zags in 2016. Reyes previously played for Utah, which Gonzaga knocked out of the NCAA Tournament.

Assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said at halftime that the Zags weren’t hustling. Well, early in the second half a full-court press forced the Waves to turn the ball over. And on the next possession enormous human Karnowski stole the ball. From that point the Gonzaga lead, which had been floating in the single digits for most of the game, expanded into the teens and twenties.

The game clearly in hand, Mark Few was able to empty his bench late, allowing fan favorite Rui Hachimura and birthday boy Bryan Alberts to see the floor. With their entrance the crowd erupted. It took until the 2:38 mark of the second half but there was a huge lead and a lot of noise. And the Kennel, even without its club, felt normal.

Next up for the 13-0 Bulldogs is a New Year’s Eve date with the Pacific Tigers in Stockton, California.
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Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday Morning Place Kicker: Eags' heartbreak, Holiday Bowl a go, Zags escape Vols

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 10:15 AM

It was a bit of a strange sports weekend since the Seahawks played on Thursday and we're still waiting around for bowl season to gain some steam, but the biggest news went down just southwest of Spokane. Let's break it down:

Eagles quarterback Gage Gubrud will be back next season. - EWU ATHLETICS
  • EWU Athletics
  • Eagles quarterback Gage Gubrud will be back next season.

Things looked like they were lining up nicely for Eastern Washington's football team and its run for a national championship. The Eags were hosting a home semifinal on Saturday in insanely cold temperatures, the powerhouse North Dakota State had lost on Friday night to James Madison in the other semifinal, and Eastern had decimated Richmond a week earlier, looking great on both offense and defense.

If only they didn't have to play a team of Penguins.

Youngstown State came to Cheney and took a lot of big punches from the Eags, including a lead-taking touchdown with less than five minutes to play. But then Youngstown State took their last possession, drove down the field and then pulled off one of the most amazing plays you'll ever see on the final snap of the game:

That play made it a 40-38 victory for YSU, and leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Eastern's players who got so close to the national championship game this year. Quarterback Gage Gubrud broke Vernon Adams' record for single-season yardage, and Cooper Kupp added to his legendary career stats with 10 catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. But the Penguins dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for nearly 40 minutes on the day, and tallied more than 500 yards of offense themselves.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday Morning Place Kicker: Eags in semis, Seahawks flail and Zags get zippy

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 12:05 PM

Talk about some dramatic highs (EWU) and lows (um, the Seahawks game) — this weekend had a little something for every emotional state Inland Northwest sports fans might have felt. Let's break it down.

Eastern Washington is in the final four of the FCS playoffs, and host Youngstown State on Saturday. - EWU ATHLETICS
  • EWU Athletics
  • Eastern Washington is in the final four of the FCS playoffs, and host Youngstown State on Saturday.


Talk about your rude welcomings. The Richmond Spiders traveled across the country to play Eastern in a FCS national quarterfinal only to be greeted with some seriously wintry conditions, and team ready to smash them like the bugs they are. The Eags didn't bother with the slow starts of recent games, jumping on Richmond early, taking a 21-0 lead into halftime, and ultimately rolling to a 38-0 emphatic win to advance to the semi-finals. The guys who have led the Eags to their 12-1 record did their typical business — Gage Gubrud, Cooper Kupp, Shaq Hill and Jabari Wilson all contributed — but the defense was the big story, pitching a shutout for the first time since 2009. EWU will host Youngstown State on Saturday for a chance to play in the national championship game in January. This Saturday's game is at 3:30 pm, and will air on ESPNU.
The Big Takeaway: If EWU's defense can play at the same level as its high-scoring offense, there will be another national championship trophy coming to Cheney next month.
What to say to your Eags' fan friends today: "What kind of gear do I have to wear to be outside in 7-degree weather for four hours?"

Russell Wilson was better off holding the ball than throwing it on Sunday. - SEAHAWKS.COM
  • Russell Wilson was better off holding the ball than throwing it on Sunday.


The less said about the Seahawks game on Sunday, the better. Suffice to say, if Russell Wilson throws five interceptions in a game against anyone, chances aren't good the Seahawks will win. Do it on the road against a hot Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers? Ya, that's not going to go well, and it didn't. The Seahawks got smoked 38-10, with the turnovers putting the defense in tough positions all day, Earl Thomas's absence being obvious in the secondary, and Seattle getting virtually nothing going all day. While the loss doesn't risk the Seahawks' division lead, especially after the Cardinals lost, too, their playoff seeding is precarious, as the Lions now hold home-field advantage and the spot for a first-round bye over the Seahawks.
The Big Takeaway: Not rocket science — turnovers kill even good teams. The Seahawks have to turn around and play at home Thursday against the Rams, a chump team that always gives Seattle headaches.
What to say to your Seahawks' fan friends today: "So, what time did you turn off the game?"

Przemek Karnowski led the Zags to a win over the Akron Zips on Saturday. - GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga athletics
  • Przemek Karnowski led the Zags to a win over the Akron Zips on Saturday.
No doubt many Zags fans didn't figure a game against the Akron Zips the weekend before finals would be as tough as it turned out to be. But anyone who watched on Saturday knows that the final 61-43 score is not indicative of how competitive the game really was. The Zips played physical ball on the inside, had some decent outside shooting and kept it close up until the final minutes. Even so, the Zags still managed to post their first 10-0 start to a season since 1958 on the strength of Przemek Karnowski's 14 points and eight rebounds, both of which led the team. The Zags now pause until taking on Tennessee in Nashville on Sunday.
The Big Takeaway: Gonzaga is clearly a Top 10 squad heading into the West Coast Conference season.
What to say to your Zags' fan friends today: "I hope we don't play the Zips in March Madness."

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Zags were quick to show UW who runs the state of Washington

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 9:51 AM

Former Husky-turned-Zag Nigel Williams-Goss torched his old team last night for 23 points. - AUSTIN ILG PHOTO
  • Austin Ilg photo
  • Former Husky-turned-Zag Nigel Williams-Goss torched his old team last night for 23 points.

Remember when the Huskies used wanting to play other teams as their excuse for cancelling this rivalry a decade ago?

“It’s really not about us not wanting to play them,” former UW athletic director Todd Turner said at the time. “We want to be scheduling nationally.”

Well, last night UW got to play the eighth-ranked team in the nation. And it probably didn’t take long for the Huskies to get to the point of why their university hasn't wanted to come to Spokane.

Behind a season high 23 points from former Husky Nigel Williams-Goss, the Zags thoroughly outclassed their in-state rival 98-71.

If there was a moment to highlight in this beatdown it came just moments into the second half. Williams-Goss had scored on the Zags’ previous two possessions, and then Przemek Karnowski (17 points) — all 300 pounds of his 7-1 frame — beat the entire Washington defense down the court for a breakaway dunk.

Gonzaga’s lead was all the way up to 53-27, and there were over 18 minutes left to be played.
It only got worse for the UW defense, too. At one point, Karnowski brought the ball up the court like a point guard. The giant man with giant dribbles didn’t have the ball stolen from him, like he should against a Pac 12 team, but rather he drew a foul.

The only real positive for the Huskies, other than their willingness to once again face off with Gonzaga, came from freshman guard Markelle Fultz (25 points). Among NBA Draft experts, Fultz is considered to be a potential number one overall pick in the 2017 draft.
With Fultz, along with Gonzaga’s assortment of talent on display, NBA scouts from the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and numerous other teams, packed themselves into the Kennel’s press section to have a look in person.

In all, this didn’t look much like a rivalry. And maybe that's because it had been on ice for a decade. Or maybe because after this 40 minute drubbing Gonzaga, now 9-0 for only the second time in program history, has won 10 of the past 11 match-ups with the Huskies.
But it is indeed a rivalry game, and basketball in the Washington is better off now that it’s back, even if the Washington Huskies’ morale isn’t. Fans should be excited to see it continue next year over in Seattle.

The Zags are back in action on Saturday at 5 pm here in Spokane against a feisty Akron team (7-2) that will likely give them more of a run for their money than Washington could provide. It's televised on ROOT.

On the women's side, you can catch Gonzaga against Washington State tonight in the Kennel at 6 pm. As of now, there are still some tickets available. The Zags head to Cheney at 2 pm on Sunday to take on the EWU women.
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Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday Morning Place Kicker: Eags, Zags, 'hawks roll; Cougs and Vandals go bowling

Posted By on Mon, Dec 5, 2016 at 10:35 AM

The college football bowl bids are in, the NFL is barreling toward the playoffs and the Zags are already looking scary before the WCC season starts. Let's get caught up with the regional sports scene.

Gage Gubrud set a school record with 47 completed passes against Central Arkansas. - EWU ATHLETICS
  • EWU Athletics
  • Gage Gubrud set a school record with 47 completed passes against Central Arkansas.


Eastern Washington won its first game of this year's FCS playoffs on Saturday, taking down Central Arkansas 31-14 after falling behind early. Quarterback Gage Gubrud threw and ran for more than 500 yards of total offense, all-world wide receiver Cooper Kupp tallied a couple of touchdowns and the team is on to the quarterfinals this Saturday for a showdown against the Richmond Spiders in Cheney.
The Big Takeaway: The Eags enjoy home-field advantage through the semi-final round if they keep winning. If there's anything for fans to worry about, it's those slow starts of recent games.
What to say to your Eags-fan friends today: "Hey, the temperature's going to get up to 32 on Saturday! What time we tailgating?"

With Washington rolling to the Pac-12 championship by beating down Colorado on Friday night, the Huskies earned a spot in the Final Four of college football. They will play No. 1-ranked Alabama on New Year's Eve in the Chik-Fil-A Peach Bowl. So — good luck with that, Huskies.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Morning Place Kicker: Eags rule, 'hawks roll and Cougs playing for the Pac-12 North

Posted By on Mon, Nov 21, 2016 at 10:30 AM

As barrel into the long Thanksgiving weekend, the region's football teams are getting down to the wire. This weekend saw some good, some bad and plenty of reason to look forward to watching some ball between bouts of a turkey coma.

Let's break it down:
EWU is the nation's No. 2 seed in the FCS playoffs. - EWU ATHLETICS
  • EWU Athletics
  • EWU is the nation's No. 2 seed in the FCS playoffs.

Eastern Washington finished off an undefeated Big Sky season with a Friday night win at Portland State, winning 35-28. The Eags didn't make it easy on themselves, falling behind 14-0 early, and then needing two fourth-quarter touchdowns to win it, and end up tied atop the Big Sky standings with North Dakota, who also went 8-0 in conference.
The Big Takeaway: The Eags are the No. 2 seed in the country heading into the playoffs, meaning they'll get to play in Cheney every game until a potential National Championship battle in January down in Frisco, Texas. They get the coming weekend off before playing on Saturday, Dec. 3, against the winner of Illinois State/Central Arkansas.
What to say to your Eags-fan friend today: "Can your car make it to Texas?"

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