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Originally published March 11, 2014 at 10:04 PM | Page modified March 12, 2014 at 3:33 PM

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Talks on to revive Zags vs. Huskies basketball rivalry

Sources have told the Times that talks between the two basketball staffs have picked up recently, to the point that now it’s less a matter of friction between the two programs than finding when to fit the series back into both schedules.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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LAS VEGAS — Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, made news by sponsoring a bill in the Washington state Legislature that would rekindle the Gonzaga-Washington basketball rivalry.

But it may not require political action to get it going again.

Sources have told the Times that talks between the two basketball staffs have picked up recently, to the point that now it’s less a matter of friction between the two programs than finding when to fit the series back into both schedules.

“Where do we fit it in, when does it fit in?” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth asked rhetorically while here at the West Coast Conference Tournament.

Roth said the talks have taken place at the basketball-staff level, not administratively, and he stressed that occasional conversations between the two have occurred for years. The teams haven’t met since the 2006-07 season.

“In my opinion, there’s no one on either campus saying, ‘No, we’re not going to play,’ ‘’ Roth said. “I don’t think that’s been the case for a little while, actually.”

Roth didn’t acknowledge a greater urgency to the conversation recently, but sources say the dialogue is serious enough that Gonzaga is trying to assess how adding the Huskies would fit into future schedules already in place.

Next year, Gonzaga is scheduled to play Memphis, Arizona and UCLA, in addition to an ongoing series with Washington State.

“Some of those aren’t public yet, but yes, we have some big games,” said Roth. “Where do we fit in one more game? We have four less games to play than the last time we were playing them.”

When the series was interrupted seven years ago, the WCC was an eight-team league featuring 14 conference games, giving Gonzaga greater flexibility for nonleague games. Now the WCC is at 10 teams, and like the Pac-12, Gonzaga has 18 league games.

Meanwhile, its scheduling out of league is considered trickier than that of Washington, because the Huskies, playing in a stronger conference, know that Pac-12 teams will consistently offer more resistance than the WCC to enhance their power rating.

The UW leads the series, 30-13, but Gonzaga had won eight of the previous nine when the Huskies opted to curtail it, saying they wanted to pursue a more “national“ schedule. Hard feelings initially surfaced when GU was one of several schools that turned in the Huskies to the NCAA for violations related to former UW assistant Cameron Dollar, now head coach at Seattle U., in the recruitment of Clarkston big man Josh Heytvelt.

Passions of both fan bases ran deep after the stoppage, and in 2009, Washington advanced a proposal to have a three-year series with all the games at KeyArena in Seattle.

The Zags turned that down, saying they wanted a home-and-home arrangement, and coach Mark Few told one national web outlet, “The chances of that (the KeyArena series) happening are about the same as Bigfoot having my baby.”

Baumgartner’s Senate Bill 6583 would require the teams to meet at least one each season.

“It’s a great rivalry,” Baumgartner said. “It was something the entire state enjoyed. It was good for our communities, good for the schools and good for the economy.”

With only two days left in the session, it’s not likely Baumgartner’s bill will go anywhere. The point is to “send a message that we’d like to get this game started again,” he said.

It’s not the first time Baumgartner, up for re-election this year, has tried to send a message.

Last week, he proposed an amendment to the state Senate’s transportation budget, suggesting Seattle should pay for any overruns related to the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project. He wanted to make it clear “the people of the rest of the state aren’t going absorb the cost overruns of Bertha.

Baumgartner last month introduced a bill to mock the state Supreme Court he believed overstepped its constitutional boundaries.

After justices issued a court order pushing lawmakers to increase education spending by the 2017-2018 school year, Baumgartner produced Senate Bill 6568, ordering the court to double the cases it considers annually before the same deadline. The measure borrowed exact language from the ruling.

Times reporter Ashley Stewart contributed to this report. Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

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