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UW should've avoided this reality check
Seattle Times staff columnist
SPOKANE — If Washington could've foreseen this outcome, maybe it would've stopped playing Gonzaga after last season.
For sure, this game did nothing for the Huskies' national rep.
The Huskies have decided to discontinue their series with the Bulldogs because they want to play a more ambitious schedule. Saturday night, the scorned little ol' basketball powerhouse proved to be challenging enough.
Gonzaga never trailed and never fretted, exposing UW's youthful deficiencies and turning a top-20 clash into a 97-77 romp.
If the Zags could've foreseen this outcome, maybe they would've played the big-dog card first.
The hope was this game would serve as a reminder of the rivalry's newfound importance. Washington is a newly minted elite program. Gonzaga has been at that level for about a decade. It's only proper they meet annually and play instant classics such as the 99-95 Husky victory last year.
This was no classic, however. This was a throwaway. Gonzaga disposed of Washington faster than Pamela Anderson ditched Kid Rock.
"It means we've got to wake up," Washington forward Jon Brockman said. "That's a reality check right there. We got beat by 20 points!"
UW had no answer for a sign displayed proudly in the student section of McCarthey Athletic Center: "UW: 1W, 7L No Wonder You Want Out."
Make that 1-8 now in the last nine meetings.
Statistics show the Huskies could use a break from the Zags.
It wasn't too surprising the game went so poorly for UW. The Huskies entered the contest ranked No. 13, but they were the most untested top-15 team in college basketball. They had posted seven home victories against overmatched competition. With three freshmen starters, they weren't ready to go on the road and face a team that hadn't lost at home in four years.
Gonzaga already had beaten Texas and North Carolina, the nation's most talented team, this season. The Huskies couldn't overwhelm the Bulldogs with athleticism, though they tried. A game like this requires execution, and UW is still too green to play with such precision.
"You put the whole loss on me," UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. "My guys went out there and fought. We just weren't ready for this game."
Most concerning was the defensive effort, especially in the first half. The Huskies allowed the Zags to shoot 55 percent in the opening 20 minutes, 50.7 percent for the game. Derek Raivio (25 points) dropped open three-pointers. Josh Heytvelt (14 points, seven rebounds) controlled the paint early and won his battle with Spencer Hawes, even though Hawes wound up with 20 points. And Matt Bouldin (21 points, five assists) looked like the best freshman on the court, outplaying some of his more celebrated foes.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few tweaked his starting lineup and began the game with four guards, which limited Washington's pressure defense. The Zags looked quicker all game, even though they aren't. They played with more confidence. UW let a rough offensive start, which it should've predicted, distract it from defense.
And while Brockman finished with a double-double, the Huskies' other sophomore veteran on this team struggled. Point guard Justin Dentmon missed 12 of 14 field-goal attempts and committed four turnovers.
A little December humility never hurts in college hoops, and so the Huskies can wean one positive from this disaster. In what now seems like foreshadowing, Romar spent last week guarding against reading too much into this game. He admitted it was a big test, but he also said, win or lose, it wouldn't define the season.
He's right. By March, the Huskies and the Zags will be different teams, likely better teams. But it's clear that one has a much longer distance to travel.
"I hate to lose and to have to learn from losing," Romar said. "But I don't think there's any question this game will get our attention. We'll learn from it."
They already have. Afterward, the players talked about playing too fast and getting caught up in the charged atmosphere. They were more than disappointed; they understood why they were disappointed. This loss could accelerate their growth.
We'll find out in 10 days when they get their next challenge against Louisiana State, a Final Four team last season.
In the meantime, feel free to lament a rivalry that officially has been buried alive. They will get back together, one day. Not because absence makes the heart grow fonder. Because absence makes the heart grow colder.
Assuming both teams remain relevant, they can't avoid each other forever. Then we'll have a rivalry again, renewed and rambunctious.
Let's just hope it makes for a better game next time.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company