Man, we were ever so close to seeing a piece of Snohomish County sporting history.
We nearly had players on both top-ranked college basketball teams at the same time.
I spent Saturday mentally making all the preparations for writing an ode to the county reaching a college hoops pinnacle. King’s High School graduate and Edmonds native Corey Kispert is a member of the Gonzaga men’s team. Lynnwood High School alum Mikayla Pivec plays for the Oregon State women’s team. And they were about to intersect at No. 1 in the Associated Press polls.
But the rug was pulled out from under us at the last moment.
From the beginning of the college basketball season I had it in my head to keep an eye on the possibility of both the Gonzaga men and Oregon State women climbing in the polls, since we had local players along for the ride.
And these are no mere walk-ons or role players. Kispert, a junior, is the starting small forward for the Zags, leads Gonzaga in minutes and ranks second in scoring at 14.1 points per game. Plus he’s the player who does all the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
Meanwhile, Pivec, a senior shooting guard, is a legitimate star, leading the Beavers in scoring (15.3), rebounds (10.1) and assists (5.4). She’s well on her way to an All-American campaign as the best player on a top team.
As good as Kispert and Pivec may be, I never thought both their teams would reach No. 1. But I figured I’d better keep track just in case.
Lo and behold, that minuscule possibility became stark reality over the weekend.
The Gonzaga men already had reached the No. 1 spot. Top-ranked men’s teams dropped like flies in November and December, while the Bulldogs methodically inched up the poll. The Zags finally reached the top spot just before Christmas, and with Gonzaga now into West Coast Conference play — where the Zags will be favored in every game — I suspect the Bulldogs will remain No. 1 into the NCAA tournament.
But what about the Oregon State women? Sure, the Beavers were in the top-10 to start the season, but nobody thought OSU was the nation’s best team. Heck, the Beavers weren’t even the best team in their own state, as Oregon was the preseason No. 1. With perennial powers such as Connecticut and Baylor also ahead in the rankings, it was hard to imagine the Beavers leapfrogging the rest of the field.
But they nearly did. Oregon State won its first 14 games to rise to No. 3 and I started to believe it was actually possible.
Herald sports editor Kevin Brown and I began brainstorming. Was there ever the possibility of the county having players on both top-ranked teams in the past? The only county player we could come up with who might have been on a No. 1 team was Snohomish High School graduate Milena Flores, who played for the Stanford women from 1996-2000. Some internet sleuthing found the Cardinal spent five weeks at No. 1 at the start of the 1996-97 season. But none of the names on the Cincinnati or Kansas men’s team that were No. 1 during that stretch rang any bells.
We then went to look at OSU’s schedule to see when it played Oregon, thinking one win against the Ducks — now ranked No. 2 after a loss to Louisville in November — might be enough for the undefeated Beavers to vault to No. 1. We discovered that in a quirk of Pac-12 scheduling the Beavers and Ducks play each another twice in the same week (Jan. 24 and 26). Beating Oregon once seemed a possibility. Beating the Ducks twice in three days seemed a longshot.
But then the stars aligned. Connecticut, ranked No. 1, saw its 98-game home winning streak snapped by a 74-58 loss to No. 6 Baylor last Thursday. Then on Friday, top-ranked Oregon was stunned by a 72-68 loss at Arizona State. While the Ducks were losing to the Sun Devils, Pivec was busy making the game-winning shot as the Beavers topped No. 18 Arizona 63-61.
The Beavers were one win away from No. 1, and we were on the cusp of county history — and I was ecstatic to have the chance to write about it. I made plans to contact Kispert and Pivec to get their thoughts on the phenomenon. I began thinking about how I would structure the story, as well as when the best day to run it would be. (Thursday, of course, before either team played another game and had a chance to lose.)
But I was premature in my presumptions.
I was too busy dealing with the Seattle Seahawks playoff game Sunday to keep track of Oregon State’s game against Arizona State. So when I filed my first Seahawks story, Brown informed me the Beavers had lost. Those same pesky Sun Devils who upset Oregon decided to do the same thing to Oregon State, knocking off the Beavers 55-47.
Shoot! We were one win away from having Snohomish County men’s and women’s players rising to the top of the college basketball mountain simultaneously. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.
I can’t see it happening now. Oregon State dropped to No. 8 this week, and even if the Beavers win their way through the gauntlet of Pac-12 teams ahead of them — No. 3 Stanford, No. 6 Oregon, No. 7 UCLA — either No. 1 South Carolina or No. 4 Connecticut will receive a big boost when they play each other on Feb. 10, and it’s difficult to see another loss on the rest of No. 2 Baylor’s schedule.
Oh well, it was a good fantasy while it lasted. I guess the Gonzaga men and Oregon State women are just going to have to win national championships so we can have our moment of Snohomish County sports history.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.