Monday, March 7, 2016

MONDAY MORNING PLACE KICKER: Zags season on the line tonight; Idaho, EWU have Big (Sky) dreams

Posted By on Mon, Mar 7, 2016 at 10:46 AM

Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer leads the team against BYU Monday night. - GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics
  • Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer leads the team against BYU Monday night.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your madness! 

Actually, in some cases for teams around the Inland Northwest, March Madness has already come to an abrupt end. That's a bummer for Whitworth's men's team, which lost a home game against Whitman to kick off (and abruptly end) its NCAA Division III run, and for Gonzaga's women, who lost to Santa Clara in its opening game of the WCC women's tourney. 

But let's not dwell on the negative. For most of our regional hoops teams, opportunity is right in front of them. Let's break it down. 


Even the most casual of basketball fans knows that Gonzaga hasn't had quite the dominant year that they (or HBO) imagined they would have when the season began. They lost to nearly every marquee name on their schedule, lost their starting center to injury and find themselves having to win the WCC tournament in Las Vegas this week to assure themselves a spot in March Madness. 

The started strong, pummeling Portland on Saturday behind strong games from the usual suspects: Kyle Wiltjer, Eric McClellan, a resilient Silas Melson and an increasingly ridiculous Domantas Sabonis, who is suddenly capable of drilling three-pointers at will, at least against the Pilots. 

After taking Sunday off, the Zags take on BYU tonight in the WCC semi-final. The game is at 8:30 pm on ESPN2. A victory would put Gonzaga in the WCC championship game Tuesday against the winner between St. Mary's and Pepperdine. That game will be at 6 pm on ESPN. 


On the men's side of the Big Sky, both the Vandals and Eagles have legit shots at making a run at the tournament title and landing in March Madness. 

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Monday, February 29, 2016

Monday Morning Place Kicker: Did Gonzaga just save its March Madness streak? Plus, Whitworth hosts NCAA game Saturday

Posted By on Mon, Feb 29, 2016 at 11:34 AM

Kyle Wiltjer will try to lead the Zags to the NCAA tournament when the WCC conference tournament kicks off this weekend.
  • Kyle Wiltjer will try to lead the Zags to the NCAA tournament when the WCC conference tournament kicks off this weekend.

If Gonzaga's two road wins to close down its WCC season helped the team earn a tie for the conference championship (which it did, technically speaking), that's all well and good. But those wins against San Diego and BYU could have much greater significance in a little less than two weeks. 

That's when Selection Sunday for the NCAA tourney goes down, and Gonzaga could obviously get the WCC automatic bid if the team goes to Las Vegas this weekend and wins the conference tournament. But even if they, say, lose in the WCC final, they could sneak into March Madness thanks particularly to Saturday night's tough win at BYU's giant, 20,000-capacity arena. 

The beatdown of San Diego on Thursday was expected; that team lost to BYU by nearly 60 points a week previous. But BYU came into Spokane and beat the Bulldogs earlier this season, and were in the midst of a serious hot streak, scoring more than 90 points several times while putting together a five-game win streak. 

Gonzaga wasn't looking great leading up to Saturday night. Yes, the team was undefeated against the  WCC also-rans, but they were 0-3 combined against BYU and conference co-champ St. Mary's, including home losses to both. Add in losses to UCLA, Arizona and SMU over the course of the season, and Gonzaga just didn't seem capable of winning a big game. 

That makes Saturday night's 71-68 win all the more significant. For the first time in recent memory, the team put together the kind of complete game they'll need to beat good teams in March Madness. 

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday Morning Place Kicker: Zags on the bubble and HBO, Pirates clinch conference

Posted By on Mon, Feb 22, 2016 at 11:12 AM

Kyle Wiltjer struggled against St. Mary's Saturday.
  • Kyle Wiltjer struggled against St. Mary's Saturday.

Embrace the chaos. 

That seems the best advice for Gonzaga fans who suddenly find themselves in the rare position of REALLY needing the men's basketball team to win the WCC tournament in Las Vegas to assure themselves a spot in March Madness. 

Saturday's Senior NIght loss to St. Mary's — the second year in a row the Zags have lost their last home game — put the Gaels atop Gonzaga in the conference standings, winning the tie-breaker due to sweeping the season series with the Zags. And with a road trip that includes a visit to BYU, a team that beat the Zags in Spokane earlier this year, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Gonzaga ends the season in third place and with the No. 3 seed in the WCC tourney. 

That wasn't exactly the plan at the beginning of the year, when it looked like — with a little luck and great play from the new guards — Gonzaga could equal last year's run to the Elite Eight based on the play of preseason College Player of the Year Kyle Wiltjer, manchild Domantas Sabonis and giant center Przemek Karnowski. As we all know, Karnowski got hurt early and was lost for the season, Wiltjer has been inconsistent and Sabonis, well, Sabonis has been even better than expected. He's NBA-ready, and Zag fans need to start hoping he hangs around for another year. 

Saturday's loss was pretty ugly. The Zags shot just 36 percent from the field compared to St. Mary's 48 percent. Wiltjer had just 13 points in his home finale, and Sabonis had just 7. The Zags were down seven at halftime, and lost by 5, and never really looked in control. 

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Fore! Two Spokane golf courses open for action this weekend

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2016 at 12:20 PM

Qualchan probably won't look quite this nice, but it's open this weekend, along with Downriver Golf Course. - SPOKANE PARKS AND RECREATION
  • Spokane Parks and Recreation
  • Qualchan probably won't look quite this nice, but it's open this weekend, along with Downriver Golf Course.

It's hard to imagine by looking at the calendar or even looking at the overcast skies today, but two of Spokane's golf courses are open for duffers to hit the links this weekend. 

Both Downriver Golf Course and Qualchan Golf Course are taking reservations for play on Saturday and Sunday. Downriver is Spokane's oldest course, and Qualchan is its newest.

“We’re excited to be able to kick off the season this early,” says Jason Conley, executive officer of Spokane Parks and Recreation in a press release. “Saturday is expected to have temperatures in the high 40s. What more could you ask for in Spokane during February?”

Well, we could think of a few things. Maybe a Springsteen concert? Temperatures in the 70s? Winning the lottery? 

But we get it — golfing in February is a gift for people who love it. As of midday Friday, 183 folks had already booked tee times at Qualchan, and another 113 did the same at Downriver. 

You can book a tee time online right here, and you should probably do it quickly before the spots fill up.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Gonzaga: March to Madness, Episode One

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2016 at 5:49 PM


Last night, Gonzaga basketball made its debut as the subject of Gonzaga: March to Madness, and if you missed it, or don't have HBO, let's bring you up to speed.

So the show, which airs on HBO at 10 pm for the next four Tuesdays, got off to a face-in-palm start when the lead-in announcer said, "And now, GonZOGa, the March to Madness." Really? You're going to devote five segments of programming to a basketball team, but you're not going to learn how to pronounce it?
When the actual show began, we were out in the wilds somewhere outside of Spokane, assumedly upon the expansive stretch of land that Coach Mark Few calls home. He talked about the beauty of the area, and the beauty of basketball, before getting in his car and heading to Spokane.

In Spokane, of course, the shots were of railroad tracks, bridges and defunct grain silos. I expected a hobo with one of those knapsacks tied to a stick eating beans out of a can to come pacing through the frame. But then we eventually got to the idyllic Gonzaga campus and the immaculate interior of McCarthey Athletic Center where the Zags were out on the court in the middle of practice.

And it was last week's practice, which was a bit of a surprise. Maybe I was the only one who assumed that it would begin in the early stages of the season, given that the crews were rumored to have followed the team across the world in their early-season adventures. Instead, we saw the Zags prepping for a trip to Portland before jetting off to a nationally televised showdown with SMU.

For deep Zag fans, it was a whole lot of what you already know — Karnowski is injured, they've had some bad losses, but are still playing solid basketball. If you were waiting for some backstory, that was about all you got. But maybe in an upcoming episode they'll explain how Gonzaga became, well, Gonzaga.

But as far as behind the scenes stuff goes, we weren't disappointed. And I'll just get it out of the way — the Zags' travel accommodations are pretty damn sweet. I'm pretty sure they got off a charter bus on the freaking runway and walked directly into a charted jet. Anybody else catch that?

We also saw Kyle Wiltjer spend an evening at his folks' home in Portland the night before the showdown with the Pilots. We didn't learn a whole lot about him, other than that he won a National Championship at Kentucky before transferring out West, which you probably already knew. But when his dad jockeyed the car around to illuminate the driveway hoop with the headlights, it was TV gold. Then, on the hoop he grew up on, Wiltjer proceeded to drain a long string of deep shots... and you couldn't but help that he would have saved some of that magic for Dallas.

So the Zags romp Portland and then head to SMU, where former President George W. Bush watched the Zags lose a game that saw Wiltjer miss 15 of the 17 shots he tossed up. There was no driveway magic to be found.

Perhaps the most interesting moment of this debut episode came in the locker room when the players sat in silence, heads to the floor until Few came in and gave them a talk about what went wrong and basically took the blame for the loss.

Next week, the promo told us, the series watches the Zags prepare for their rematch with St. Mary's.
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Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday Morning Place Kicker: Zags slow their roll, EWU is very hot & the NBA All-Star game was a point-packed spectacle

Posted By on Mon, Feb 15, 2016 at 1:01 PM

There is no more football, OK? None. So get over it. It's basketball season, son. Start acting like it.

Sorry. Just had to get that out of the way after a weekend in which it seemed that not enough folks were obsessing over basketball, as they should be this deep into February. And wowee-zowie there was a lot of hoops going on over the course of the last few days. Hold onto your butts, and let's begin.

One man does not make a basketball team, sure. But when that man is Kyle Wiltjer and the team is a really unsteady Gonzaga that's lacking in reliable scoring threats other than Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, then the adage is kind of true.

And the Zags, for all intents and purposes, were without Wiltjer when they headed down to SMU for a prime-time matchup with Larry Brown's Mustangs on Saturday night. Oh, Wiltjer was there all right. He just didn't score much...and it was bad. He made just two of 17 shots (that's less than 12%) and missed all eight of his three-point attempts for just four points in the game and the Zags lost 69-60. Near the end of the contest, Wiltjer was even giving up semi-open looks, seemingly resigned to the fact that it just wasn't his night.

Sabonis, on the other hand, was a monster near the basket. He hauled down 16 boards and scored 20 points. It wasn't enough for the Zags, though, who continued to run their offense through Wiltjer well into the second half, even though that wasn't working.

In all fairness, the No. 21-ranked Mustangs are very good and given that they are ineligible to make either their conference tournament or the NCAA tournament because of a number of NCAA violations, including academic fraud, they were putting a lot of energy into this big-stage game.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Monday Morning Place Kicker: Zags streak, Cougs slump and Beyonce wins the Super Bowl

Posted By on Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 11:41 AM


Is it over yet? 

Unless you had a serious rooting interest in the Super Bowl, there's no denying that was the most boring one in recent memory. Hell, I would have won some good money if Carolina won, and I could barely keep my eyes open watching that sloppy show in Santa Clara.

Given the hype leading up to the game — Is this Peyton Manning's last game? Is MVP Cam Newton the new model of a quarterback? Is Coldplay really the half-time show? — what went down on Sunday between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers was just plain ugly. And stultifyingly dull. 

The 24-10 win by Denver was all about the defense. Both Denver TDs came courtesy of Carolina fumbles either in the end zone or really damn close. Manning had the lowest QB rating (9.9) for a winning quarterback in the playoffs since they started keeping track, and Newton was harassed all day, in addition to having passes dropped by his receivers seemingly every other pass he threw. Players slipped and complained about the turf. There were egregious penalties. But mostly, very little happened. This was a rare case when I actually looked forward to the commercials (yay wiener dogs on wiener buns!) between segments of seemingly endless three-and-outs by both teams. It was rough. 

Thankfully, there were some decent distractions. Say what you will about Lady Gaga, but she killed with her performance of the National Anthem. Little did we know that would be one of the few interesting things to happen for several hours. Coldplay turned its halftime show into something that seemed more geared toward the Olympics or a World Cup, and after sounding severely under-amplified on their own songs, Chris Martin and Co. eventually ceded the stage to Bruno Mars and Beyonce, the queen of all she surveys, who used her spot to introduce the world to her brand new song "Formation," and followed the performance with an ad announcing her new stadium tour. Savvy. How many artists do you think can play a song virtually no one has heard and make it work? Even Beyonce's near-slip was no big whoop:

As the game hurtled toward its conclusion, Twitter lit up with the announcement and reaction to Marshawn Lynch's apparent retirement, which came via a subtle tweet from Beast Mode himself, a photo and the emoji message "Peace out." 

At least that gave Seahawks fans something to talk about for the rest of their Super Bowl parties. And now you can watch a classy Marshawn video from the Seahawks organization right here


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Friday, January 29, 2016

Free bacon, free t-shirts and free three pointers at tomorrow's EWU basketball game

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 3:59 PM


Last night, Eastern Washington's men's basketball team scored 112 points against Portland State. That number is impressive, but more insane is the fact that they hit 20 three-pointers (on just 31 attempts, a school record.) Five Eagles finished in double figures and the team shot 64 percent from the field.

If those numbers, and the fact that EWU is scoring 104 points per game at home in Big Sky Conference play this season aren't enough to get you out to Cheney for tomorrow's game against Sacramento State, the EWU athletic department has a few more enticements to lure you to Reese Court.

First off, if you're an EWU student, you could get yourself some free bacon. Yes, bacon. The first 300 students through the door get bacon. This is not a joke. There might be no such thing as a free lunch, but, apparently, free bacon is a very real thing.

For the rest of us, we could get a free Eastern basketball shirt. Those go to the first 1,000 people through the door to help with the "Red Out" planned for the game.

Tip off is set for 12:05 pm. Here's where to get advance tickets.
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Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Morning Place Kicker: Super Bowl set and a whole lotta hoops

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2016 at 11:49 AM

Ike Iroegbu can't do it by himself for the Cougars, who are in the midst of a five-game losing streak. - WSUCOUGARS.COM
  • Ike Iroegbu can't do it by himself for the Cougars, who are in the midst of a five-game losing streak.

After months of celebration and consternation among NFL fans, we finally have our matchup for Super Bowl Sunday, so start planning your menus for the Denver Broncos vs. the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Feb. 7. (Allow me to suggest some pulled pork barbecue to represent Carolina, and, um, Rocky Mountain Oysters for Denver? 

Denver and its geriatric QB Peyton Manning managed to outlast defending Super Bowl champs New England thanks to a stellar defense, a missed extra point and a last-ditch two-point conversion that went awry. It was a pretty ugly game overall, ending up 20-18. At least the ending was exciting as the Patriots repeatedly got into scoring range, only to be repelled by the Denver D. 

Facing the Broncos will be the Carolina Panthers, the team that took out the Seahawks and made the Arizona Cardinals look absolutely ridiculous on Sunday, routing the NFC West champs 49-15. Much like last week, the Panthers ran out to a big lead, but the Cards had no second-half surge in them and this one was a laugher. No doubt that Seahawks fan who hates Panthers QB Cam Newton — aka the about-to-be-named MVP — is not too happy this morning. 

Now we get two weeks of hype about how old Manning is, how brash Newton is, and how good both defenses are. And a whole lotta Papa John's commercials starring one of the teams' QBs. 

The Super Bowl is Feb. 7 at 3:30 pm Pacific time on CBS. 

Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. - GOZAGS.COM
  • Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis.

One great thing about living in Spokane is the access to so many college hoops teams in the area. From nationally ranked programs like (usually) Gonzaga and Whitworth, to up-and-coming teams like Idaho and Eastern, there's always someone to cheer for. Here's how they all did this weekend: 

Zags Rebound
After a borderline-inexplicable loss to St. Mary's on Thursday, in which Gonzaga frittered away a large second-half lead and lost what could have been a huge win in the West Coast Conference, the team came back strong to beat the surprisingly frisky Pacific Tigers. It was close for much of the game before Kyle Wiltjer and Co. pulled away for a 10-point win. The Zags now sit alone in second place, one game behind St. Mary's, who will have to visit the Kennel later this season. 

Next on the docket: Two homes games this week, with Santa Clara visiting on Thursday and San Francisco coming through Spokane on Saturday. 

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

The first preview trailer of Gonzaga's HBO series is here

Posted By on Sat, Jan 23, 2016 at 8:58 AM

As we told you a few weeks ago, the Gonzaga men's basketball team is to be the subject of a five-part HBO series beginning Feb. 16 on HBO. A lot of Zag fans I've ran into since the series was announced are excited to see such a high-profile look at the team, especially when it comes to the off-court stuff we don't get to see. But, they all seem to add, "Why did it have to be this season?" Then again, the Zags unexpected losses could add some interesting drama to the series.

But from this first look at Gonzaga: March to Madness, it looks like things are going to be pretty booster-y. Regardless of how the season is playing out, you can't help but get a few goosebumps from this trailer, released this morning. The Zags take on Pacific today at 1 pm in the hopes of getting back on track their devastating loss to St. Mary's on Thursday night. 
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