Friday, May 1, 2015

Connor Halliday waits his turn in the NFL draft as his mom pens a piece for Sports Illustrated

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2015 at 11:45 AM

  • WSU Athletics photo

The last time many of us saw Connor Halliday, the prolific WSU quarterback was sprawled on the field with a broken leg that ended his season, and his college football career. It was a heart-breaking low point in a long, rough season for the Cougars, and for the Spokane native.

This weekend, though, there's a potential happy ending in the making. The NFL draft started last night, and while Halliday wasn't ever expected to be a top pick, there are six more rounds coming between Friday and Saturday, and it wouldn't be shocking for a team to take a flyer on the rehabbing gunslinger with the huge arm and deep catalog of eye-popping passing stats. 

While we wait to see where Halliday might end up trying to make a pro team this summer — either by being drafted this weekend or as a free agent — let us recommend a read through a piece his mother Jessica Halliday, a Gonzaga writing teacher, penned for Sports Illustrated's website this week about the trials of being an athlete's mother, in good times and bad. The piece is part of Peter King's MMQB site, and is well worth the time. 

Here's a sample: 
I knew from the way his hands came up as he went down that it was bad. Nearly 20 years of watching Connor has schooled me. Hands to the helmet after a hit: bad. I stood up in the stands, watching for him to move. No movement. People kneeling. Idiot in the row across, “Halliday’s f—— useless.” When Coach Leach ran out and Connor reached up—Help me—I bolted, grateful we were playing at home so I knew my way to the locker room. People stared; crowd control parted at my shout, I’m Connor’s mom! Trainers directed me not to the training room but to the driveway below, to the ambulance waiting for my son.
You can read Halliday's essay right here
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Friday, April 24, 2015

Let the Hoopfest hype begin: The new poster is out

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 11:23 AM

If you're closely watching the clock run down on the Spokane Hoopfest website — as a player, fan, or someone who wants to Airbnb your house during the craziness — you know that we're only (as of this writing) 63 days, 20 hours and 50 minutes from tip-off. 

Plenty of time to work on your jumper, sure. And the arrival of this year's poster featuring now-former Gonzaga hoops legends Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr., along with Gonzaga Prep grad and former EWU hoopster Parker Kelly, is reason to get excited. The photo is by Danscape Media, and features a back alley showdown between the three guys who just finished off amazing seasons at their respective schools, and three colorfully clad kids ready to hoop it up.

Here it is: 

If you want to play in the 2015 Spokane Hoopfest, deadline for guaranteed registration is May 11, and you can do it right here. You might be able to get in after that, but it'll cost more, and there are no guarantees. 
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Monday, April 6, 2015

Spokane UFC fighters Julianna Pena and Mike Chiesa win big this weekend

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2015 at 12:37 PM

Julianna Pena returned to the UFC this weekend after 16 months of recovery from a severe knee injury. - MMAJUNKIE.COM
  • Julianna Pena returned to the UFC this weekend after 16 months of recovery from a severe knee injury.

On Saturday morning, in Fairfax, Virginia, Julianna Pena did exactly what she set out to do a little over a year ago. 

After sustaining a devastating knee injury during a practice session in January 2014 — she tore every major tendon and ligament in her knee, a potentially career-ending injury for the rising mixed martial arts fighter — Pena stepped back into the cage for the first time in 16 months. 

Before she even was scheduled to make her return as an athlete with MMA's biggest promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the fiercely determined 25-year-old knew she had to make an impression on fans and decision-makers within the organization. 

Up against Russian fighter Milana Dudieva — who most recently fought and defeated Pena's teammate and training partner Elizabeth Phillips after a controversial judges' decision — Pena was ruthless. She landed a technical knockout in the first of three rounds, finishing Dudieva in a flurry of fists and elbows as she straddled her opponent on the ground. Her win and triumphant return also netted Pena a $50,000 bonus check from the UFC. After the contest, Pena told fans she dedicated the win to teammate Phillips, who was part of Pena's corner support team at the event.

When asked what's next, Pena told the crowd she'd be happy to fight anyone the UFC may bring her way. Even during the early days of her recovery when an outlook was less clear, Pena has been incredibly vocal about wanting a chance to knock off undefeated women's bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey, who finished her last opponent in a stunning 14-second arm bar finish. Pena believes she'll have to beat one of the top five ranked women in the class before she'll get the chance to face Rousey.

It was an all-around successful day for the Spokane-based Sik-Jitsu team, as Pena's teammate Mike Chiesa (12-2) bested Canadian fighter Mitch Clarke directly after Pena's big win. The 6-foot-1 Spokane native in the 155-lb. lightweight division took Clarke through three brutal rounds to be unanimously declared the winner based on the judges' scores. 

Pena's teammate Mike Chiesa also bested his opponent during Saturday's UFC event in Fairfax, Virginia. - MMAJUNKIE.COM
  • Pena's teammate Mike Chiesa also bested his opponent during Saturday's UFC event in Fairfax, Virginia.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

The morning after: Gonzaga's season comes to an end

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 11:31 AM

It's good to see you survived the night, Zag Nation. That was a tough one and some of you are still likely feeling a bit of a sting after seeing Gonzaga's season end yesterday afternoon with a 66-52 loss to Duke.

What you're feeling is the reality that unless you cut down the nets in the Final Four, every team that makes the NCAA tournament ends its season with a loss. That's also what makes this sporting event one of the last great things in all of sports. But I know, it still stings because the reality of a Gonzaga Final Four was right there for you to almost touch. Many Northwest sports fans might not feel too bad, considering they encountered the deepest pit of sporting despair in the final seconds of the Super Bowl. Comparatively, this is just a little scratch, compared to that faith-destroying turn of events.

And, all in all, it's hard to say the Zags let anyone down. They won 35 games this season and made it to the Elite Eight, where they lost to the No. 1 seed, which is how things were supposed to go. The Final Four would have been a delicious icing on the cake this special unit of kids had baked throughout the season, but it wasn't to be. And perhaps worse than the outcome of the game is the realization that two of the program's most beloved players, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., are done playing in Spokane.

"You know, we made it to an Elite Eight, and this is something you dream of, to play on this stage, the final eight teams playing college basketball. You dream of that stuff growing up. And to be playing for a guy like Coach Few made me a better basketball player. Definitely fortunate enough to be in this position right now," said Bell after the game.

What exactly happened? Well, if you look at the box score, it's hard to suss out why the Zags didn't top Duke. Gonzaga shot better from the field, scored more field goals, and out-rebounded the Blue Devils. But Duke hit eight threes, including four by Matt Jones, and also hit 16 of 19 free throws (Zags went just 6 for 9). And Gonzaga turned it over 13 times to Duke's mere two.

There was hope, especially at the start of the second half when this happened:

It had to be a sign that the tides were changing, right? Jahlil Okafor, the top NBA prospect in the country, just air-balled a free throw. Surely, the Zags would steamroll from here on out. And Tony Romo, the king of the choke, was decked out in blue behind the Duke bench. All harbingers of good things to come.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

What's changed since Gonzaga was last in the Elite Eight?

Posted By on Sat, Mar 28, 2015 at 1:10 PM

  • Rajah Bose photo

Yesterday evening, Gonzaga clawed their way to a hard-fought victory over UCLA to punch a ticket to the program's first Elite Eight since the program's Cinderella run in 1999.

The game, played inside what felt like the largest building on the planet, was marked by poor outside shooting by both teams, but gave us a Gonzaga team that knows how to grind out a win when they need to. Thanks to Przemek Karnowski's 18 points, the Zags knocked off UCLA. He also made TWO passes like this to lead the way to a 74-62 win.

Now, Gonzaga takes on Duke at 2:05 pm on Sunday. The game is on CBS.

It's been a long, long while since the Zags were in the Elite Eight and there are some naysayers out there who think that their inability to make it deep into March (and often getting stuck in the Round of 32) is a sign that Gonzaga is not a true national power. True, Mark Few's teams haven't always executed in the tournament, but the years since that first trip to the Elite Eight have seen the program, and the university, make some huge strides.

Here's just a few things that have happened since the then-Dan Monson-coached team beat Florida to get to the Elite Eight in March of 1999. 

- Gonzaga has won 438 games, averaging 27 wins a season.

- Undergraduate enrollment at Gonzaga was just 2,747 in 1999. Now it's 4,896.

- The Zags played in the tiny Martin Centre back then, now their campus is home to the 6,000-seat, $25 million McCarthey Athletic Center. 

- Back then, the team flew commercial and slept in often less-than-great motels. Now, the Zags travel by chartered jet.

- A total of 10 Gonzaga players have gone on to make an NBA roster (Richie Frahm, Dan Dickau, Ronny Turiaf, Adam Morrison, Jeremy Pargo, Austin Daye, Robert Sacre, Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris,  David Stockton).

- Mark and Marcy Few's Coaches vs. Cancer events in Spokane raised about $7 million for cancer research and assistance for cancer patients.

- Gonzaga's acceptance rate dropped from about 85 percent in 1999 to about 61 percent in recent years asthe university became a more prominent regional school.

- The school has built about $56 million worth of new facilities (not including the McCarthey Center).

- Gonzaga has made 17-straight NCAA tournaments. The only teams with a longer streak are Duke and Kansas.

This article has been updated since it was originally posted. 

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Gonzaga's women take their turn in the Sweet 16 spotlight Saturday

Posted By on Sat, Mar 28, 2015 at 7:21 AM

Five-on-five, the sixth-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols are better than the unranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. That’s why the GU women are counting on about 9,000 of their friends to help them out Saturday afternoon when Tennessee and the Zags tangle at the Spokane Arena in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.

“We’re so fortunate to have the support here,” Gonzaga forward Sunny Greinacher said at a Friday afternoon press conference in the arena.

“Our fans are amazing to us,” guard Keani Albanez added, “and to be able to play in front of those fans again, that just means to world to me.”

The Bulldogs, who had to hold their breath to find out if they would even be picked to play in the NCAA tournament, went 2-0 on the opening weekend of play to earn the right to play at least one more game in Spokane.

The Bulldogs are 26-7 and seeded 11th in the 16-team Spokane Region. Gonzaga has knocked off No. 6 seed George Washington (of Washington, D.C.) and No. 3 seed Oregon State in Corvallis. Now they face No. 2 seed Tennessee (29-5), the eight-time NCAA champion, on ESPN at 4 p.m.

ESPN also carries the 1:30 p.m. contest between fourth-ranked Maryland (32-2), the No. 1 seed, and 16th-ranked Duke (23-10), the No. 4 seed. Ticket sales for the Spokane games — including Monday’s Elite Eight contest, a Final Four qualifier — skyrocketed after Gonzaga pulled off two upsets in Corvallis.

The Bulldogs rank among the national leaders in women’s basketball attendance with a 5,366 average at the 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center on GU's campus. Of course, Tennessee averages almost twice as many home fans (10,413), and the Lady Vols recently played in front of 14,390 mostly enemy fans at South Carolina.

“We haven’t even discussed the crowd, to be honest with you,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “Our schedule is pretty tough, and we have been in some pretty tough environments.”

Both teams have balanced scoring, but no overwhelming individuals. The Lady Vols lost leading scorer and rebounder Isabelle Harrison with a blown knee last month.
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Friday, March 27, 2015

Sweet 16: Gonzaga vs. UCLA, round two

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 10:07 AM

  • Rajah Bose photo

Because college basketball seasons are long enough to span two calendar years, let us remind you that Gonzaga has already played UCLA this season. And they already beat them, too.

Yeah, it seems forever ago when a Gonzaga team, one week after a soul-crushing, almost-had-it loss to Arizona, strutted onto the floor of Pauley Pavillion, one of the most hallowed halls in all of college hoops, and soundly crushed UCLA. A quick refresher: the Zags were led by 24 points from Kyle Wiltjer and another 20 from Byron Wesley to win 87-74. Gonzaga shot an incredible 58 percent from the field and hit 9 of 19 from three to come out of Los Angeles with the convincing win.

So, after that, UCLA played pretty sloppy, going on to lose five in a row, including a game against Kentucky where they embarrassed everybody to ever wear the baby blue by scoring just seven points in the first half. Seriously. But the Bruins came back, making a respectable run through the Pac-12 schedule and finishing strong enough to get a questionable bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Questionable or not, they made it into the field and proved doubters, like myself, incorrect by making the Sweet 16 with wins against SMU and UAB.

Here are some things to keep in mind going into today's game (4:15 tip off, CBS).

Gonzaga is known for its big men, namely Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis, both of whom can play with just about anybody in the country. But they will get a test from probably one-and-done freshman center Kevon Looney, a man who appears to have been born to rebound the basketball. After Looney, though, the Bruins will struggle to match up against the Zags' bigs. But after a farm boy strapped on a jersey and muscled in 22 points for North Dakota State against Gonzaga in the first round, so who knows.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

EWU's Tyler Harvey considering the NBA draft

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 4:15 PM


Tyler Harvey, who has progressed from walk-on to national scoring leader at Eastern Washington, will explore his NBA options before deciding whether to return for his senior season with the Eagles.

Eastern coach Jim Hayford told the Inlander on Wednesday afternoon that Harvey will seek an evaluation of his draft status from the NBA next month before making a decision.

“His plans at this time are to return to Eastern,” Hayford said.

Harvey’s decision could be complicated if Hayford does not return. Hayford may draw interest from other schools after guiding the Eagles to a 26-9 season, regular-season (shared) and tournament titles in the Big Sky Conference and the second NCAA tournament appearance in school history.

Asked if he’s been pursued by any schools, Hayford would only say, “I love the job I have right now. That’s all I’m talking about.”

Chad Ford, the NBA draft expert of ESPN, lists Harvey as the 41st-best prospect for this year’s draft. The draft involves 30 players in each of the two rounds. Only first-round picks are automatically guaranteed money, but second-round picks can negotiate for guaranteed money.

“My advice to Tyler is if there’s guaranteed money going into the NBA draft, I think he should do that,” Hayford said. “If not, let’s go have a great senior year and improve your position in the draft for the following year. I have nothing but Tyler’s best interest in mind.”

After Harvey scored 27 points in a loss to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament last week, Ford wrote that NBA teams “will give him a long look in the first round. Harvey graduates this spring, so he could make the leap to the NBA if he wants to. Given how hot his draft stock is right now, it probably would be a very good idea.”

Graduating early also would permit Harvey to transfer to another Division I school without sitting out a year, which the NCAA requires of most transfers between Division I schools. Harvey, an Academic All-American, told the Inlander last week that he is not interested in transferring.

Hayford was the only coach who recruited Harvey out of high school. The two were headed to NCAA Division III Whitworth in Spokane before Hayford left the Pirates to take the Eastern job four years ago. Hayford agreed to give Harvey a scholarship at Eastern after he paid his own way the first year while redshirting to add strength and weight to his once-skinny body.

Harvey is now listed at 6 feet, 4 inches and 185 pounds. The Torrance, Calif., native leads NCAA Division I with 23.1 points and 4.0 3-point field goals per game and ranks 14th in 3-point shooting percentage at 43.1.

The only NBA player produced by Eastern was guard Rodney Stuckey, who starred at Kentwood High School in Kent. Stuckey averaged 24.6 points as a redshirt sophomore at Eastern in 2006-07, then was drafted 15th overall by Detroit. Now with Indiana, Stuckey has averaged 13.4 points in eight NBA seasons.
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Monday, March 23, 2015

Explore Gonzaga hoops history while you wait for the Sweet 16

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 3:28 PM

If you're a Zags fan and can't believe you have to wait until Friday to see the men's hoops Sweet 16 matchup, and Saturday for the women's game at Spokane Arena, you might want to make your way to the Gonzaga University campus, where the Foley Center is hosting a display of Gonzaga hoops history sure to satisfy your sports cravings until the weekend. 

"Slam-Dunk: GU Basketball Highlights" celebrates the long, winning histories of both the men's and women's teams through more than 30 items culled from the library's University Archives and Special Collections. 

Among the objects are a 1912 game ticket, a page from men's coach Claude McGrath's notebook from the 1930s, and a slew of photos covering the last century-plus of basketball on Gonzaga's campus, from players to team photos to shots of the first gym on campus. 

The Slam Dunk exhibit will remain on display through the NCAA basketball tournaments, free and open to the public Mondays-Thursdays from 8 am to 2 am, Fridays from 8 am to 9 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 6 pm, and Sundays 10 am to 2 am. 
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Gonzaga dominates Iowa, gets the Sweet 16 monkey off its back

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 12:41 AM


The volume inside of Key Arena just a few minutes into Gonzaga's round-of-32 game against Iowa was the sort of thing that gives you goosebumps, even if you're sitting in the press area trying to be as objective as possible.

Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos were taking turns hitting big threes and the largely Zag crowd in Seattle was working out six years of frustrating second-round exits from the NCAA tournament. There was plenty of reason to make a ruckus in the Emerald City this weekend.

Things stayed mostly loud throughout the game, which ended in an 87-68 blowout of a team that a lot of prognosticators (yours truly included) thought would give Gonzaga a serious run for their money. Instead, the Zags pulled out their best offensive game of the season, posting the sort of offensive stats that I hesitate to even post here because there might be kids reading this and the figures border on basketball pornography. But just a taste: 61.5 percent from the field, 10 of 16 from three-point range. That is insane.

Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis and Kevin Pangos took to the press conference podium with coach Mark Few after the game, all with the stoic eyes of men accustomed to these sort of wins. But Wiltjer's tweet from the locker room a few minutes prior suggested they might, just might, have been masking a little excitement.
Yes, that is Mark Few doing a handstand or something very close to a handstand.

The Zags head onto Houston for a matchup against UCLA on Friday (4:15 pm on CBS), who they already dismantled back in December. Wiltjer said there's a treat waiting for the team down in Texas.

"Tonight we were extra motivated because we were going to dinner last night and we passed one of my favorite restaurants, Benihana...So I was like, 'Coach, we should to go to Benihana.' And one of our assistants said, 'Hey, if you get the win tonight, we'll go to Benihana in Houston.' So I was extra motivated because now we get to go to Benihana. So I'm hyped," said Wiltjer.

It's surprisingly what a little corporate Japanese cuisine will do to get young men motivated.
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