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A Grip on Sports: Yes, it’s nice to have college football back but basketball, that’s what we have been waiting for since March

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Some of us like college football. It’s a grand sport with cool Saturdays and all, but it isn’t No. 1 in our hearts. Nope, that ranking is reserved for college basketball. Packed gyms, longtime coaches, March Madness. We love college hoops. It’s college athletics at it’s finest. And it all begins, again, today.

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• Over off Hamilton. Out in Cheney. Down in Pullman and Moscow. The Inland Northwest’s four major college basketball teams can begin practice today. The season – read, games – starts in six weeks.

It is basketball that marks the beginning of the end of 2020 sports in a way. The NCAA Tournament’s cancellation in March made real to sports what everyone dreaded: COVID-19 was going to take a toll.

Sure, the NBA stopped playing first. But it was NCAA saying the tournament was off, a step that was irreversible, that crushed our dreams. The NBA finished its season, albeit a half-year later. The college seniors? They had to say goodbye to a silent arena.

Fast-forward to today. After months of trial-and-error, it seems we’ve found a way to return to practice (and on Nov. 25, games) safely. Either that or the powers that be in the sport have decided to damn the virus torpedoes and power ahead full speed.

So Corey Kispert and the Zags will take to the court. So will Isaac Bonton and the Cougars. Jenn and Leeanne Wirth, Kim Aiken Jr., Damen Thacker and others will try to finish an entire season in 2020-21. Hopefully it will happen.

• Baseball can break your heart. It’s true. And you don’t even have to be paying attention. You can be sitting in one place for hours and hours, watching your favorite team play like the cast of “The Sandlot,” give up, head out to a previous commitment and find out hours later they came this close to pulling off an incredible comeback.

Well, there are other ways to have your heart broken by the game, but that was my experience yesterday.

I was so disinterested for a while, I didn’t even know the final score. So when the Sports Center highlights came on, it was like watching it live. And hurt almost as much.

Darn you sports. Darn you baseball. Darn you Dave Roberts.

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WSU: Around the Pac-12 and college sports, everyone is excited Pac-12 football is coming back early next month, right? Sure we are. But the return of football doesn’t mean the Cougars and the rest of the conference will see the money return as well. … How did the conference’s return come about? Jon Wilner has a timeline of events. … Did you know Washington has only 10 scholarship seniors on its roster? (And eight juniors.) It will be OK if all the freshmen are as good as Sav’ell Smalls. … We’ve said it before, but the Huskies need to pick a quarterback. … Some freshmen are helping for Oregon. So could some cardboard cutouts.

Waiting game wreaks havoc on women’s college basketball nonconference schedules

Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier usually goes over the preseason schedule with her players at about the same time classes begin each year. She outlines practices, team retreats, days off — everything that is part of the annual routine leading up to the first tip.

This year being what it is, the Bulldogs couldn’t schedule that meeting until midway through September, more than two weeks after classes started. That was when the last player got to Spokane, Washington, an Australian freshman’s arrival slowed by the intricacies of international travel amid a pandemic. It was also when the NCAA assured everyone that there would, in fact, be a college basketball season.

Except that when Fortier and her staff set up the meeting, they realized they still had little to communicate. Sure, they knew games could begin Nov. 25. But without a schedule, and with plenty of unanswered questions about how to put one together, they were stuck.

“We basically canceled the meeting and told them they could go play pickup,” Fortier said. “Because what are we supposed to say right now?”

Just more than six weeks before the season is to tip off, we don’t know all that much more. Here’s a look at what coaches are sorting through while trying to get to Nov. 25.

Where are we as full practice begins?

In announcing that the season could start the day before Thanksgiving, the NCAA Division I Council provided a framework for how the season will proceed. But the Sept. 16 announcement was less like a detailed itinerary and more like a road atlas. Imagine the NCAA telling teams the objective was to get from Los Angeles to New York but also leaving it more or less entirely up to them to pick a route from among the almost-innumerable options.

“It’s just like everything else,” Fortier said. “We thought we were going to know, and then we don’t exactly know.”

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Expanded practice hours began the last week of September. Full practice begins Wednesday. At that point, teams are allowed 30 practices in the 42 days leading up to games beginning on Nov. 25 — two weeks later than originally planned. Women’s teams can schedule as few as 13 games and no more than 25 regular-season games, not including conference tournaments.

A week after setting those schedule details, the NCAA also issued health and safety guidelines. Those included the recommendation that those involved test for COVID-19 three times per week.

The next domino is determining conference schedules, and most leagues have yet to release them. Fortier finally learned hers from the West Coast Conference last week. Teams will play 18 league games, the same as last season but with an additional week built in. The SEC, too, kept the same number of games as its teams played last season, in its case 16 games

Star Wars: Squadrons Multiplayer Review: the space combat game I’ve been waiting for

It’s been a rocky few years for multiplayer Star Wars games. In 2015, EA revived the Battlefront franchise only to deliver a beautiful but shallow arcade experience that didn’t require much skill. This was then followed up by an improved and expanded sequel, which only reached its full potential years after it was nearly immobilized by an industry-shaking microtransaction controversy.

Despite this, Battlefront II turned out to be one of my favorite Star Wars games. It received a batch of updates that I believe made up for its rocky start and kept me coming back. These updates were mainly focused on ground combat modes, leaving Starfighter Assault, its space battle mode, to go without an update since launch. While it was a fun mode, it largely relied on its spectacle and speed over engaging gameplay. It was fast, fun, and dumb.

Star Wars: Squadrons, EA’s new combat flight sim, slows down the pace and replaces the mindless one-button abilities with intricate systems that require moment-to-moment decisions and long-term planning. The ability to manipulate these systems, like power distribution and shield allocation, can separate the good pilots from the great.

Image: EA / Motive

Squadrons lowers the player count to 10, split between the New Republic and the Galactic Empire. Both sides allow players to select from four classes: the all-around fighter, the dedicated bomber, a speedy interceptor, or a team-focused support ship. Rebel ships come equipped with shields and generally have great visibility, which comes in handy in VR. Imperial ships, with the exception of the TIE Reaper, trade shields for the ability to immediately transfer power from one system to another, providing a complete laser recharge or full boost refill. They also have worse visibility, due to the classic TIE fighter cockpit design.

Within each faction, the classes all have a distinct feel. Some are more maneuverable, while others give and take more damage. Modifications to your ship’s components can bend one class to mimic the role of another. You could outfit your fighter to be more effective against capital ships, or you could tweak your bomber to be more effective against other starfighters.

These modifications always come with a trade-off, a theme that permeates throughout the rest of Squadrons. Every benefit has a drawback. In order to raise your top speed, you may need to sacrifice your overall health pool. This allows for a lot of personalization in your starfighters and really changes the way you play. Some loadouts may benefit from an aggressive mentality, requiring you to get in close and get out, while other kits allow you to move a bit slower and deal as much damage as you take. The variety of possibilities ensures that no two matches of Squadrons are exactly the same, and you have to be ready to adapt to any given situation. The starfighter with the steepest learning curve seems to be the support ships, which handle like big space