A Grip on Sports: If there are too many rock fights, NCAA’s glass house could collapse

A MASTER OF THE SPORT • We left the house yesterday. Went for a walk. Purified the air with clear air. And then I went back inside to watch some more rock fights.


• Love this term. Rock fight. Hate what that entails. Basketball shouldn’t be so physical. More throughput is better. But when teams – we’re looking at you Houston and Auburn – decide to play rugby instead of basketball, the officials have no choice but to whistle. Often. Don’t call it a benchmark show. Call it doing their job. And blame Kelvin Sampson and Bruce Pearl.

It’s their philosophy. Others have it too. Foul several times on each possession and challenge the officials to call them. Coaches who do it this way rarely lose that bet. The NBA has cleaned up its game tremendously. It’s time for the NCAA to do the same.

• OK, declaim. Let’s celebrate what we’ve seen. UCLA beat Northwestern, but lost another key player to what looked like a fairly serious ankle injury. Tennessee did everyone a favor and sent Duke home. Arkansas has assured there will be a new champion. Princeton looks like a real contender. San Diego State played like we hate it, but won. And Alabama, Houston and Texas look like the best of the best.

There are eight more NCAA men’s games today. Which ones are we looking forward to the most? Thanks for asking. We actually support Gonzaga, for the sole reason that TCU coach Jamie Dixon attended Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, CA. And we despise Notre Dame High. Rivalries never die. Therefore, anyone connected to the school is on our Sicilian hate list until death. Nice enough, Dixon. We had a nice conversation with him about ten years ago. Never mind. He’s a dark knight. And on our list.

We also hope that UConn, Kentucky, Miami and Michigan State can find a way to win. It’s the only way… forget it. You don’t care about a parenthesis. Let’s get out of here.

• Yesterday we saw Washington State’s disappointing loss to Florida Gulf Coast in the NCAA Women’s Tournament. About halfway through, we had two thoughts: despite the seeding, it wasn’t an upset (bettors had the 12th seed FGCU as a one-point favorite) and the game plan for the fifth-seeded Cougars. series, at both ends, was deeply flawed.

FGCU wants to shoot 3 points. Thirty-one per game in fact. It’s been almost 12 years. Kamie Ethridge and her team decided to take that down. They did it by not helping readers. Which revealed the Cougars’ relative lack of foot speed. Each Eagle seemed to have multiple straight-line drives to the rim for layups. FGCU scored 50 points in the paint in a 74-63 loss.

It turns out Washington State’s length might have been enough to harass the Eagles on a bad shooting night. Helping out would have been OK with good fencing, which the Cougars are more than capable of. But the worry of a pierced gap, a kick and a slow close must have been overwhelming.

On the offensive side, FGCU filled in the gaps themselves. Removed penetration. Well recovered. And when the ball went into the post? No less than three Eagles attacked. Ultimately, the Cougars stopped trying to get him in. And the offense has stagnated. No traffic lanes, no post-attack, no luck.

It reminded us of how Mike Montgomery used to attack Tony Bennett’s doubles position back in Bennett’s WSU days. The Montgomery Bears ran sets depending on where the double came from. Throw him into the post, invite the double, hide the behind and kick him. Hit open shots and, a few possessions later, more post doubles. Something Bennett’s team did well quickly became a liability.

The FGCU adapted to what Washington State was doing. The same couldn’t be said for the Cougars. After the game, Ethridge said she hoped her third straight NCAA first-round loss would be a knockout blow for her team.

More than likely, it will be for the staff as well.

• If you’re a baseball fan and you weren’t thrilled with the spectacular win over Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic last night, turn in your fan card. Even though Trey Turner failed to make a grand slam in the eighth inning with two out and two strikes and USA lost, the game – and the atmosphere – was unrivalled.

A sold-out crowd in Miami sold out the entire game, providing a human soundtrack that made the game electric. You could feel the emotion through the TV.

The four semi-finalists: the United States, Cuba, Japan and Mexico. The first two play today (4 p.m., FS1), the next two on Monday (4 p.m., FS1).

• Spring sports are underway in high schools. It’s the busiest time of year, with around a dozen sports going on, if you count girls and boys.

Previews of these sports are available in today’s SR. The links are below.


WSU: The NCAA game is our main focus this morning. Colton Clark was there and has a game story about losing 11 points as well as another story about going forward. … We watched the ESPNU show, marveled at how much better it was than the one we watched on Friday night, and wrote this TV Take. … The baseball team fell to Oregon 14-8 in a pitcherless duel. … CJ Elleby is still out there, playing in the G League and hoping for another legit shot in the NBA. … Elsewhere in Pac-12 and college basketball, as we mentioned above, UCLA kept the conference alive in the NCAA with a victory over Northwestern. The Bruins suffered quite a few injuries. … Oregon is still alive in the NIT. …just like Colorado. … USC had a good season. … Arizona State pulled out of the NCAA with the loss to TCU. … Maybe Arizona’s loss wasn’t so bad. Princeton looks good. … On the women’s side, Washington is gearing up for its second WNIT game. … Stanford will have Cameron Brink back for today’s NCAA game against Ole Miss. … Colorado took down Middle Tennessee State in its NCAA opener. … UCLA beat Sacramento State 67-45 to advance home. … Utah also hosts and will face Princeton in the second round. … Arizona has already won in the underdog role. … In football news, yes, Oregon State is booming. But can the Beavers continue? … Oregon is days away from spring training and has a few injuries. … Arizona State has four quarterbacks to sort. …Arizona has an athletic tight end.

Gonzaga: The Big 12 and GU. The two seem related. Although, personally, we hope they never consummate the relationship in a conference-affiliated manner. Either way, the connection runs deep again today, with the Zags facing TCU in the NCAA second round. Theo Lawson gets some insight into the game. … Predictably, Texan Drew Timme has friends on the Texas Christian University basketball team. Theo also has this story. And the key game tonight. … Dave Boling praises the Zags for playing the way we criticized above. … Jim Meehan documents the recent shift in Julian Strawther’s game. …Jim also delves into Mark Few’s friendship with Dixon. Traitor. … Drew Timme has a tasty NIL deal with Pringles. Jim has this story. …Finally, Jim spoke with Ryan Nembhard, Andrew’s brother. … Elsewhere in the WCC, John Feinstein has a great story of winning Saint Mary. The Gaels take on UConn today. … The Oklahoma Women ended Portland’s NCAA Tournament appearance with an 85-63 win at Los Angeles. And, perhaps, certain academic careers.

EWU: Another local team will try to win a game today against a member of the Big 12. Eastern takes on Oklahoma State in Stillwater as part of the second round of the NIT. Dan Thompson has that insight. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Montana State needed a lot to win its NCAA first-round game. Not done enough.

Preps: Yes, Dave Nichols has a recap of Saturday’s action. Start there. …but skip today to focus on spring sports previews. We have a handful to pass on. There’s one on softball, with an overview of all GSL teams. … Baseball and teams are also covered. …just like athletics, just like schools. …Golf covers boys and girls as well as schools. … Men’s soccer is also played in the spring. … Tennis is also played. …Dave also forwards winter teams from all the leagues in the area.

Chefs: what happened this season? Kevin Dudley tries to explain how Spokane fought so hard and missed the playoffs. … With the season almost over, Spokane ends with an 8-2 loss at Tri-City.

Mariners: Julio Rodriguez is back in camp. …Seattle rallied but Cleveland held on for a win.

Seahawks: What a first week of free agency for the Hawks.

Kraken: The goalkeeper went to the locker room early, sick. And Seattle’s chances of a big win over visiting Edmonton went with it. The Oilers won 6-4. … It’s time for the Kraken to get back to their game.

Sounders: There was no score on the road at Lumen Field. Seattle and LAFC drew scoreless.


• I hope you have time this morning. We got up before 6 am and still feel rushed trying to put this together. I can’t wait for May when things slow down. Until later …

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