The Gonzaga Bulldogs and University of Washington Huskies renew their intrastate rivalry on Wednesday night when they meet for the fortieth time in a series that stretches back to 1910. Since Gonzaga moved to D-1 status in the late-50's, Washington has defeated the Zags 7 times and the GU has won on 6 occasions, including the last 5 match-ups. The last time that UW was nationally ranked was the week of December 7th, 1998, when the Huskies held the #22 spot in the AP poll. The Huskies lost to GU on December 8th, and they haven't come close to a return to the polls since.
This tilt will be Gonzaga's second foray into the renovated Hec-Ed/Bank of America Arena on the Washington campus. The last game these teams played in Seattle was a Blake Stepp-sparked 67-47 Gonzaga victory on December 11, 2001, after which Husky forward Doug Wrenn uttered the memorable line: "We were in diapers and those guys spanked us."
Key additions and one huge addition-by-subtraction (the individual quoted in the preceding paragraph) have Husky fans and Seattle sports media in a state of pensive anticipation that this will be the season where the UW rows out of the doldrums and escapes the bottom third of the Pac-10, a position they've occupied for the past four seasons.
Washington has a handful of athletic players at the guard position. Will Conroy is a junior who played the best game of his career last year when he scored 32 in the loss to the Zags at the Kennel. Tre Simmons is a 6'6" JC transfer who has displayed a knack for scoring in the Huskies' early season games. 6'0" Curtis Allen is the only senior on the team; Allen is jet quick, but has tended during his career to be more of a long-range shooter than a passer. Allen is a deadly—nearly 90%--free throw shooter. Sophomore guards Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy cause much of the buzz at Montlake this year. Robinson joined the Huskies last year after football season and quickly showed himself to be an athlete not limited by his small (5'8") stature. Like Allen, Robinson looks to shoot first, pass later. Brandon Roy completes the Husky backcourt quintet. Roy missed the first 14 games last season because of academic issues. After joining the Husky roster in January, he averaged 6.1 points per game. Roy has upped his scoring considerably this season; in three games, he's averaged over 17.3 ppg on 43% shooting from the field.
The big question facing coach Lorenzo Romar is whether he can get enough play out of his big men to enable the Huskies to match up in the paint against quality teams. The best big man on the UW roster is Anthony Washington, a 6'9" 245# sophomore center from Seattle who briefly last summer considered transferring to Gonzaga. AW was hobbled last season by a foot injury and is recovering from surgery. He has shown improvement so far this season, highlighted by scoring 14 points in 19 minutes in a UW victory over Portland State on November 21st. The other big man in the Husky lineup is 6'10" power forward Mike Jensen. Jensen has been somewhat a disappointment to the Husky staff this year, averaging just under 6 points in the Huskies' first 3 pre-conference games. Built like a banger, Jensen paradoxically plays more like a small forward than a force in the point. Sophomore Bobby Jones capably fills the Huskies' small forward position. Jones is the most versatile and court savvy player on the UW roster. A little undersized at 6'6" and 200#, Jones hustles in the paint and is probably Washington's best perimeter defender. Hakeem Rollins, a 6'7" transfer from Mesa JC in Arizona rounds out the Dub's frontcourt. The Huskies will look to Rollins for post defense against the Zag big men.
The Huskies will be playing their fourth consecutive game on their home court this season, having notched victories so far over Portland State, UC Riverside and EWU.
This will be the biggest game the Huskies will play out of conference this season. Expect 10,000 fans--many of them Zags--to fill the arena. Frustrated at the migration of talent to Spokane (for some reason, UW alums chafe at their squad being referred to as the "Farm Team" by Zag fans), five consecutive losses to GU, and the publicity that attended events that led to being placed on NCAA probation, the Huskies want to sink their teeth into the Zags.
The game in the paint should be controlled by the Zags. Ronny Turiaf brings too much for Anthony Washington to handle. Cory Violette and Mike Jensen are both powerfully built forwards, but Violette is much more experienced and less prone than Jensen to being taken out of his game by his opponent. Fox has played in the Big-10 and the NCAA's; Jones is a sophomore and Rollins a JC transfer. No one on the UW team is capable of playing like Ronny Turiaf did during the OT in the Georgia game. Advantage: GU.
The backcourt and wing match-ups are believed by the Huskies to fall in their favor. The Husky perimeter players are undeniably athletic and are great in isolation. The Zags have experience on their side and the backcourt issue will come down to whether UW can coax Gonzaga into playing the up-and-down-the-court off-to-the-races-game. Neither team has a conventional point guard, though Stepp's 8 assists per game (number 6 in the nation in that category) rank nearly 4.5 assists per game better than the closest Husky (Brandon Roy, 3.7 apg). Recent press accounts infer that Will Conroy has become a little disgruntled over reduced playing time. Athleticism vs. experience. Call it a jump ball in the backcourt.
The brain trusts. Mark Few against Lorenzo Romar. Few: four straight NCAA appearances, two Sweet 16's, an ESPN Instant Classic Game against Arizona. Lorenzo Romar: one NCAA victory at St. Louis; wins last year over Stanford and Oregon. Zags coaches and players are well acquainted with Lorenzo from his Pepperdine days. Expect Mark Few and staff to receive not only game film but a first-scouting report and analysis of the Huskies from Ray Giacoletti. Consider how Few managed the timeouts during the stretch against Georgia and how the Zags scored after nearly every stop of the clock. Advantage: Gonzaga.