BY Art Thiel 07:32PM 02/01/2011

Was UW intimidated? Yup. So?

Intensity only ratchets up after WSU fans, players bully Huskies

Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar would have benefited if the Huskies put up more of a fight Sunday at Washington State. / Noel Zanchelli, Sportspress Northwest

Before Sunday’s loss at Washington State, the Huskies beat the basketball Cougars four consecutive times.

Before that quartet, Washington State won seven in a row.

Before that, the Huskies won six of the previous seven.

So, since the second game of the 2002 season, that makes the series 10-8 in favor of Washington, with this season’s rematch Feb. 27 at Hec Ed.

As far as competitive balance in a rivalry, that’s about as good as it gets.

Enhancing the intensity Sunday was that the often-indifferent Cougars fans were into the game, big time, and were matched by the players. So much so that they may have been the difference in the Cougs’ 87-80 triumph.

Tuesday at his weekly media chat, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar readily conceded that Beasley Center was the most hostile environment his team experienced this season. But he wasn’t as ready to say his guys were intimidated by the crowd.

Let him tell it:

Romar’s reticence to concede the point is understandable. No coach wants to be on the record saying his team wussed out.

But I’m not the coach, so I’ll go ahead and get to the point.

By the players and the crowd, the Huskies were bullied, and they didn’t swing back.

For a veteran team such as Washington, it was a little surprising. But not shocking.

College basketball student crowds can be the most engaged and influential fans in all of sports. Typically, they are close, drunk, uninhibited, clever and have way too much time and way too much access to dig up dirt on opposing players and coaches.

The WSU crowd was hip to the Seattle police investigation of an unidentified Huskies player regarding an alleged sexual assault. The worst signs were confiscated by the taste police.

Asked whether the midweek appeal from WSU coach Ken Bone to fans for restraint had an impact, Romar was again careful in his assessment.

“I’ve seen far worse (crowd behavior) – I’ll just say that,” he said. “I’ve seen far worse.”

That’s what the coach from the rival school should say, lest he provide fodder for the game next season. But if Romar wasn’t privately agitated by the fans, he’s not human.

Same for his players.

They had lapses of concentration, a rush to their shooting strokes and were swept away by the home-crowd energy in the building.

Classic road yips.

“Normally reliable shooters were not coming close,” Romar said. “Three guys would go in different directions. Sometimes they’re so anxious to play that they go too fast.”

Starting the second half, the Huskies turned the ball over on five consecutive possessions, negating a chance to exploit WSU’s foul troubles. Venoy Overton obtained four fouls in eight minutes, Isaiah Thomas missed his first nine shots, and Matthew Bryan-Amaning missed all but one of his eight field goal attempts.

Intimidated? Yes.

Know what? That’s OK.

Just about every college team – with the possible exception of the Jerry Tarkanian-era UNLV teams, which scared biker gangs – experiences it. Pressure is unyielding and the harassment raw. Almost all foes succumb. The Huskies this year haven’t had a road scene quite like it except for Texas A&M, and that crowd Romar described as more enthusiastic than hostile.

Some of the adrenal adolescents are over the top, but most of raucous atmosphere has become a fact of hoops life. And apart from any school loyalties, the general college basketball fan in the state should embrace the excitement.

With Gonzaga (14-8), the Huskies (15-5) and Cougars (15-6), the state has three Division I schools playing high-caliber ball, although the Zags are having an off-year and could miss the NCAA tournament.

The huge distances between schools in the West precludes lots of rival fans from showing up as they do in the Atlantic Coast, Big East and Big Ten, so no suggestion is made here that we’re seeing a replication of the sport’s intensity among rivals in North Carolina or Indiana. But the general idea is now visible from a distance.

Lately, the game was enhanced by the settlement of Bone in Pullman. Along with Mark Few at Gonzaga and Romar at Washington, it gives the schools coaches who are in the jobs they consider just about perfect for them.

“Ken is not one of those coaches picking up the phone every spring looking for a job,” Romar said of his former assistant who spent years at Seattle Pacific. “We’ve talked about (head coaching jobs elsewhere when he was a UW assistant), and he said, ‘Yeah, but I’m a Northwest guy.’

“You have guys who want to be here a long time.”

Stability in a volatile industry such as big-time college sports is a large asset. The lack of it has been the biggest impediment to UW’s program. Romar’s largely successful nine years have helped elevate Washington hoops.

All a state college hoops fan needs is for Romar and Few to make up and starting scheduling each other. But even when they don’t, it adds to the soap opera, and makes for a highly anticipated day when the teams get back on the same floor.

Huskies fans lament the Sunday loss, but fans of the bigger picture should be savoring the view of hoops from a higher plateau.


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