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Originally published Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 8:37 PM

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Huskies have history with, much to prove against No. 10 UConn

In Lorenzo Romar’s way of thinking, Washington’s game Sunday against No. 10 Connecticut at Alaska Airlines Arena is no bigger than last week’s contest versus Idaho State.


Seattle Times staff reporter

Sunday

Connecticut @ UW, 12:30 p.m., ESPNU

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In Lorenzo Romar’s way of thinking, Washington’s game Sunday against No. 10 Connecticut at Alaska Airlines Arena is no bigger than last week’s contest versus Idaho State.

It’s not as if the UW coach doesn’t understand marketing or hasn’t noticed the dwindling crowds at home games this season.

It’s just that he’s watched the Huskies lose to upstart UC Irvine and struggle to squeak out wins against midmajor teams they were supposed to dominate.

So when you ask him the importance of facing UConn, he’ll respond as if he’s talking directly to his players and cautions about the dangers of getting too excited for any opponent.

But then again, this is Connecticut, which is responsible for two of the most heartbreaking defeats in UW history.

This is the team that beat Washington 98-92 in overtime in the 2006 NCAA tournament Sweet 16 after UConn’s Rashad Anderson hit a three-pointer with 1.8 seconds in regulation.

And this is the team that knocked Washington out of the 1998 NCAA Sweet 16 with a buzzer-beater from Richard Hamilton.

Considering their lopsided history – UW is 0-4 – and the fact Washington rarely plays host to a nonconference top-10 team, Sunday’s game takes on added significance.

During Romar’s 12-year tenure, Washington has played just five home games against a ranked nonconference opponent. UConn (9-1) is the highest-ranked nonconference team to play at Alaska Airlines Arena since No. 6 Gonzaga visited Montlake on Dec. 4, 2005.

“Every game is big, but if you’re talking about the hype, the sensationalism of a big-time game for people from the outside to come watch, then yeah,” Romar conceded. “You got a top-10 (team) in the country and then you look at the history we have with UConn and the games that we’ve played. There are a lot of people who are aware of who they are for a number of reasons.

“So I’m sure the average fan is probably more excited to come watch this game than some others.”

Attendance is down 19.3 percent for Washington home games. The Huskies averaged 7,937 fans last season and through six games they’re averaging 6,406.

For years fans have voiced their displeasure about UW’s soft nonconference home schedule. This season the lineup includes: Seattle University, UC Irvine, Eastern Washington, Montana, Long Beach State, Idaho State, Connecticut, Mississippi Valley and Hartford.

Romar insists he’s tried to beef up the nonconference home schedule and next season Washington brings No. 24 San Diego State to Alaska Airlines Arena.

“We called virtually every high-major program in the country,” he said. “We’ve tried to get the North Carolinas, the Kentuckys. We’ve tried to get them to come here, but they have been reluctant to do a home-and-home (series) with us.

“It’s not like we’re avoiding them. We’re asking: ‘C’mon, let’s do it.’ ”

Romar believes top-tier teams are reluctant to play at Washington due to travel concerns. He also cited a shift in nonconference scheduling philosophy in which teams prefer to play at neutral sites.

When asked about renewing a series with perennially ranked Gonzaga, Romar said: “I’ve always said that we will eventually do it.”

When exactly?

“I don’t know, but we will do it,” he said.

Washington and Connecticut began a two-game series last year when UW lost 61-53 at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie admitted traveling 2,980 miles across the country to Seattle is taxing, which is why UConn arrived Thursday to get acclimated to the time change.

“Adversity shapes who you are,” Ollie said. “What if we make the NCAA tourney and they send us out west? This is an opportunity for our guys to get better and hopefully get a good win against a good team.”

Still, Washington (6-4) has much more to gain than Connecticut.

“A ranked team coming into your place, you want to get the upset win and show that you’re capable of hanging with the best teams in the country,” senior guard C.J. Wilcox said.

Romar added: “We know that if we play well and do well in this game, it can definitely help us in postseason.”

Note

• Junior forward Desmond Simmons, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last month, could make his season debut Sunday.

Home specials
Sunday’s game against No. 10 Connecticut will be the sixth time Washington will play a ranked nonconference team at home. UW is 3-2 in those contests. Here are the results:
DateTeamResult
Dec. 22, 2009No. 19 Texas A&MW, 73-64
Dec. 8, 2007No. 12 PittsburghL, 75-74
Dec. 4, 2005No. 6 GonzagaW, 99-95
Dec. 19, 2004No. 22 NC StateW, 68-64
Dec. 3, 2003No. 17 GonzagaL, 86-62

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @percyallen.



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