BY Art Thiel 06:49PM 02/21/2011

Huskies, Redhawks: A close one (please?)

After the 123-76 debacle in the renewal game a year ago, a little dignity would go far

Washington senior Justin Holiday said last year's Seattle U game was the "most awkward-feeling" game he has experienced / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

After the brain-tingling match at Arizona Saturday – the best Pac-10 Conference game this season – and before Washington’s payback attempt against Washington State Saturday, there is the . . . ahem.

That would be the now-annual game against Seattle University, this one at KeyArena at 7 p.m. Tuesday. This is the civic rivalry that long-time hoops fans wanted to see renewed, but after last year’s renewal, no one much wanted to see again.

The temptation is to ask the Huskies to play defense with their hands down on SU’s first five possessions, just to help avoid the 18-0 start to the game a year ago that led to a 61-20 halftime lead and the 123-76 sadness.

Related SPNW video: A chat with Seattle U coach Cameron Dollar

But that would insult Redhawks coach Cameron Dollar, who might retaliate with a strategy even worse than the deliberate foul-fest he deployed to slow down Washington, and which left SU with only four players eligible to finish the game.

“They didn’t slow the game down – they stopped it,” said Huskies forward Justin Holiday Monday. “That was the longest, most awkward-feeling game I ever played in.”

The game had 78 fouls, 45 on SU, who had six players disqualified. Washington made 46 of 61 free throws, both school records.

It was so bad that the referee summoned both coaches to a sideline conference in the second half to warn them he wasn’t going to ignore fouls just to get the game over. Otherwise, he said, the chippiness was going to lead to fights and injuries.

All in all, the evening was a grim way to revive that which had been dormant 32 years.

Unfortunately the rematch features a Huskies team better than a year ago and a Redhawks team (10-16) worse without their NBA wanna-be, Charles Garcia.

There just isn’t much to be done about the disparity. SU is three years into a five-year plan to build a basketball program worthy of a conference affiliation and NCAA tournament eligibility. Everyone was eyes-wide about the difficulty.

Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said Monday that when Dollar told him he was leaving his assistant’s job at UW to take on the toughest job in college basketball, starting a D-1 program from scratch, there were no sage words he could offer.

“He researched it — he knew more about it than I did,” Romar said. “He was telling me how it could be done.”

Romar has never expressed any public doubt about Dollar, whom he has known since his playing days at UCLA, where they were later assistants under Jim Harrick. He didn’t bite when asked if anything had come between the longtime friends since they are now rivals.

“Can’t come up with anything,” said Romar, slyly smiling.

Fact is, the SU job is tough enough if nobody says anything.

With Washington, Washington State and Gonzaga having success, regional recruiting is sparse. Almost any top-tier player nationally is going to be a marginal student, like Garcia, and prone to leaving for the pros after a year. Without a conference, the Redhawks will play more road games than home games.

And in a world where even instant gratification these days is too slow, the patience of an administration and boosters who wanted the glamor and glory of D-1 will surely be tested by the inevitable slog.

Which is why it would be cool for everyone if the game ended with a margin of defeat of 12 to 15 points.

In this steep climb into the intense pressure of big-time college hoops, there are such things as moral victories. The Redhawks players deserve one.

They are cannon fodder for what will be. By 2020 or so, after SU wins the Western Athletic Conference postseason tournament to gain admission to the 128-team NCAA tourney field, no one will remember players such as Aaron Broussard and Sterling Carter. Sports fans will barely remember Dollar, who probably won’t be around.

Things move so fast now that Holiday, a senior, Tuesday will experience his first game in KeyArena, player or fan.

“Wasn’t around for the Sonics,” he said, “I’m from southern California.”

Jeez. Has it been that long since the Sonics were swiped?

So as much as some fans and players want to create quickly here a version of the Tobacco Road atmosphere for college hoops that changes civic calendars, there is no way to wrinkle time. Beat-downs, embarrassments and awkwardness must not only be endured but remembered.

Because on that evening when the great-grandson of Elgin Baylor dunks a putback over over Nate Robinson Jr. to break the the Redhawks’ losing streak against Washington, the partiers who set the car fires on Capitol Hill need to save a shout-out for Broussard, Carter and Dollar, the ones who took the hits.