Gonzaga may be the nation’s No. 1 team by Monday, and has a good shot at the national championship. Meanwhile, the Huskies play the Cougars Sunday for . . . a couple of hours.
So, Huskies and Cougars basketball fans — on the week of the clash between the state’s tiny titans, are you feeling magnanimous or provincial regarding the colossus among us? Never before has Gonzaga been so high and the big state schools so simultaneously so low.
After No. 1 Indiana was defeated Tuesday night by Minnesota, the No. 2 Zags (14-0, 27-2) need to win at BYU (9-5, 20-9) Thursday and at home against Portland (4-11, 11-19) Saturday and will probably be put atop the next Associated Press poll.
We all know Gonzaga has been good for a good long while, but No. 1? Jeez. How big are the Zags?
A rumor sweeping Spokane is that Pope Benedict, with time on his hands in early March, is looking to score some courtside action at the West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas, known in the enclaves as Vatican West. After that, you can bet he knows people who know people who can get him floor ducats at the Georgia Dome for the Final Four. He also could be a guest in the suite of NCAA president Mark Emmert, where the two can commiserate about managing unmanageable enterprises.
Before we further digress, back to the week at hand. The Huskies have a long eight days between the surprising win Saturday at Arizona State and the annual rematch with the Cougars at 12:30 p.m Sunday at Hec Ed. Imagine if that empty week were filled with a nonconference grill-mashing between the Dawgs and Bulldogs. ESPN would create its own channel for the game.
Alas . . .
Probably a good thing for the fragile Huskies. Washington (7-8, 15-13) knows the only way into the NCAA tournament is to claim the Pac-12 Conference tourney automatic bid by winning four games in four days, a task for them only slightly easier than being the first person to put jeans on Smokey the Bear.
At 2-13 and 11-17, the Cougars would be satisfied with self-dressing. So the match-up is somewhat less than radiant. Given the shadow cast by Gonzaga over state hoops, it may as well be played in the dark.
As to the question of the proper feeling to have toward Gonzaga’s success, there’s no doubt in the mind of Abdul Gaddy, the Tacoma kid via Bellarmine High School. He thinks a little reflected glory from another school in the state is all right.
“It’s great any time a team from the state gets a No. 1 seed,” he said. “I’m happy for them. Gonzaga has always been a successful school. The job (coach) Mark Few has done there is ridiculous. It would be great to see them get a one seed.
“It would be great to play them — if it were possible. I relish that matchup.”
There’s the rub — the two premier programs in the state no longer play. Gaddy was in middle school the last time the teams played in 2006, Gonzaga winning 97-77. So he can’t look at the Spokane school as a hated rival. It is not possible in sports to have a hated rival if said rival is not in one’s face to be hated.
After losing for the eighth time in the series’ past 10 games, the Huskies called a halt. It wasn’t about losing, Washington said — it was about the complexities of non-conference scheduling. Or something like that.
Somehow, the Cougars managed to figure out the complexities. They play Gonzaga annually. It nearly paid off on Dec. 5, when the Zags had one of their toughest games of the year before prevailing 71-69 in Pullman.
The Huskies tried to save face in 2009 by offering up a “neutral site” game in KeyArena, which Gonzaga promptly swatted away. They already play an annual Seattle game, and don’t need extra money from a sold-out Key.
In fact, they don’t need the Huskies at all. Gonzaga seems to be doing just fine without a game against what would be a natural rival.
For his part, Romar eschewed any dismay over Gonzaga’s pending success. Asked whether a top-seeded Gonzaga team, and maybe a national champion, would have an impact on Washington’s program, he said, “I would say no.”
“We were a No. 1 in 2005,” Romar said of the NCAA tourney selection. “I know how great that felt for us. I don’t know how it impacted anyone else.”
He tried to draw an analogy between the long-dominant UCLA program and the sudden appearance of Nevada-Las Vegas, the former “Tumbleweed Tech” under notorious coach Jerry Tarkanian that won the 1990 national championship out of the Big West Conference.
“We don’t have the tradition that UCLA has, but when UNLV won, I don’t know how much that impacted UCLA,” he said. “(Gonzaga’s success) is a good thing for the Northwest and West Coast. Gonzaga has done well the last few years. So has San Diego State and St. Mary’s. Teams on the West Coast have really stepped it up.
“I think its awesome. I’ve always believed if we (Huskies) take care of our business, everyone could have a good time.”
Well, yes, that would be the point, wouldn’t it? Gonzaga’s business has been well-tended.