Monday, February 23, 2015

MONDAY MORNING PLACEKICKER: Pangos' hair tweets, Zags clinch, Eags scuffle

Posted By 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: 

Kevin Pangos and the Zags are regular season conference champs — again. - RYAN SULLIVAN
  • Ryan Sullivan
  • 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. 

Then they fell immediately behind, eventually trailing by 17 thanks to poor shooting and shoddy defense, before storming back late to take down the Gaels and clinch the conference regular season championship. You can call this year's Zags many things — deep, prolific on offense, really, really good in the hair department — and this game proved you can call them resilient as well. Wiltjer, coming off a 45-point night, had two at halftime, but finished with 16 (and 12 rebounds, including every significant one the last few minutes). Kevin Pangos had 14 points and seven assists. 

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:  
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. 

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. 
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Friday, February 20, 2015

Former Zag David Stockton signs NBA contract

Posted By on Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 12:53 PM


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.
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About Kyle Wiltjer's 45 points last night

Posted By on Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 10:50 AM


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.

To put 45 points in perspective, in a Pac-12 game happening concurrently as the Zags/Pacific contest featured a winning team (Utah) that scored just 47 points as a team. The losing team of that contest (Oregon State), scored just 37.

Here's how he did it.

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.


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.

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.
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Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Morning Placekicker: Zags on fire, EWU stumbles, Kyle Wiltjer's insane shot, and the NBA All-Star Game

Posted By on Mon, Feb 16, 2015 at 12:11 PM

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.

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 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:   
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Friday, February 13, 2015

Sabonis isn't leaving early; and a look at the NBA prospects of other Zags

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2015 at 11:41 AM


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.”
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Monday, February 9, 2015

MONDAY MORNING PLACEKICKER: EWU's Adams goes to Oregon, and Ernie's nasty homecoming

Posted By 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

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. 

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. 
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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

CDA's mayor (and many others) send a letter opposing Greyhound Park machines

Posted By on Wed, Feb 4, 2015 at 11:54 AM

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.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Monday Morning Placekicker: What the hell happened last night?

Posted By on Mon, Feb 2, 2015 at 11:53 AM

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. 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?

Sadly, that play call and the ultimate ending to the game just about erased from the collective memory of Jermaine Kearse's otherworldly catch, which may have been the greatest grab in Super Bowl history.

OK, that's just about all I can type about this game without becoming physically ill.

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.

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.

As we've said in this column just about every week, you should jump on the Eagles' bandwagon. The tickets are cheap and the basketball is as exciting as anything you'll find in the nation

You never know what you're going to get from this year's WSU squad, but they got what might have been their most impressive win of the season by edging Stanford 89-88 on Saturday. 
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Local UFC athletes celebrate a weekend victory, prep for upcoming bouts

Posted By on Wed, Jan 28, 2015 at 3:03 PM


She's back! 

Spokane's own Julianna Pena — the fiery mixed martial artist who's become a fan favorite since landing a contract in 2013 with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as champion of its 18th consecutive The Ultimate Fighter competition series — is getting back into the cage this spring.

The classically beautiful and deeply motivated athlete hasn't been able to compete since that November 2013 victory. Pena sustained a devastating knee injury one year ago while training at her Spokane gym, Sikjitsu, and initial predictions were that she might never return to the sport. Those sentiments, however, only made the relentlessly determined Pena — one of a small percentage of women in a sport dominated by male athletes and fans — push herself even harder to make a full recovery and return.

And just yesterday, the UFC announced Pena is indeed scheduled to return to the ring on April 4, against a recent UFC newcomer, Russian fighter Milana Dudieva. What's remarkable about that matchup, however, is that Dudieva most recently fought Pena's teammate and training partner, Elizabeth Phillips, at a hotly contested matchup in Macau, China, last summer. (Read our feature on Phillips and Pena written just before that event.)

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Calling all 12s! Fresh Brewed Tees rolls through Spokane tonight

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2015 at 12:40 PM

This Fresh Brewed Tees apparel truck rolls through Spokane as part of its #TwelveTour to the Super Bowl.
  • This Fresh Brewed Tees apparel truck rolls through Spokane as part of its #TwelveTour to the Super Bowl.

You could head over to the Grocery Outlet parking lot on West Third for some knockoff Seahawks Super Bowl swag, OR you could meet up with the Fresh Brewed Tees Seattle truck this evening. The producer of super soft and sassy (licensed) sports-themed T-shirts is stopping in Spokane from 5 to 7 pm at the Swinging Doors in its blue and green apparel truck — the whole idea being to rally the 12th Mans together before heading to Super Bowl XLIX.

“Anytime the 12s are gathered, it’s going to be a party,” says Fresh Brewed Tees partner Jamie Munson, who runs the Seattle branch.

Boutique trucks aren’t a new thing, as reported on earlier this year, but one 

that’s road-tripping through the country en route to the Super Bowl is certainly different. The six-city tour kicked off in Seattle this morning and continues through Spokane, Boise, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas before arriving in Phoenix on Friday just in time to gear up for the big game — where the Seahawks are set to deflate the Patriots’ huge-ass egos and repeat sweet victory.

Originally from Cleveland, a city that’s had its unfair share of sports heartbreak (although Mariners fans may beg to differ), Fresh Brewed Tees started a Seattle branch after owner Tony Madalone experienced last year’s NFC Championships, when the Hawks beat the 49ers.

“Tony was blown away by the city of Seattle and its fans,” explains Munson, while stopped at a Jack in the Box to eat before taking on Snoqualmie Pass in the company van. “He decided he wanted to expand the company to the Seattle market too.”

A recent (slightly trippy) Fresh Brewed Tee design.
  • A recent (slightly trippy) Fresh Brewed Tee design.
Finding Munson, a Seattle native, on Twitter, the Madalone's company has successfully expanded. This week, the Fresh Brewed Tees caravan includes Munson and Madalone as well as five other people and one other vehicle. They don’t have Super Bowl tickets yet, but are still open to going if anyone is offering.

Tonight, expect various drawings, $100 worth of giveaways and no Patriots gear. While there won’t be any tees not already offered online, there will be shirts autographed by Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane. 

And if the Cleveland Browns ever met the Seahawks in the Super Bowl? 

"We'd root for our respective teams," Munson says with a laugh. "Our company would be able to handle it." 
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