UW, Gonzaga and the home fires
12-07-16

Among the various points of contention when Washington and Gonzaga began a dance aimed at resuming their basketball rivalry was this: Where to resume it?

The Huskies, naturally, wanted it at their place. They argued that the last game (not counting the neutral-site matchup last year in the Bahamas) before the series ended was at Gonzaga (in December of 2006), so it only made sense to restart it at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

Gonzaga said no dice. You ended the series, they countered, so we hold the cards on where it picks up.

The Zags won out, of course, getting the game in Spokane, and that could be important when east and west meet again Wednesday night.

There is precedent that it matters. In 2004, shortly after Gonzaga opened the McCarthey Athletic Center, the 14th-ranked Huskies were coming off a tournament victory at the Great Alaska Shootout, and when they added another trip, to Spokane, an Adam Morrison-Ronny Turiaf-Derek Raivio team thwarted the Huskies in an extremely high-level game.

A year later, the Zags, after a memorable, third-place trip to the Maui Invitational, played at Hec Ed in early December and lost 99-95 to a Brandon Roy Husky team. (If you saw those two games, you’d have a hard time not arguing the series should have continued.)

Home court was worth a lot in those instances. Whether it matters again Wednesday night might be viewed as debatable, what with Gonzaga now ranked No. 6 by the coaches, and the Huskies scrapping to remain relevant.

But think of it this way: Washington played last Wednesday night, and will have had a week to plot against the Zags. Gonzaga (8-0) spent the latter half of last week dealing with No. 16 Arizona -- albeit injured and depleted Arizona -- so the Huskies have a decided edge in prep time. Washington hosting the game, especially with the Zags having just traveled, would have cut further into that edge.

This could be tantamount to a crusade game for the Huskies (4-3), who have underperformed to date. They could turn the ship around in a mere two hours by getting a win that perhaps nobody else will this season at the MAC.

Two obvious narratives: How Gonzaga deals with the Huskies’ uber-freshman, Markelle Fultz; and how Washington acquits itself against the balance of the Zags.

Fultz will probably see several different Zag defenders, including Jordan Mathews and Silas Melson, and it’s routine for Gonzaga to throw up some zone in such situations, though Fultz (.481) and the Huskies (.424) shoot the three well.

On the other side, there’s this ridiculous stat, which must be unequaled anywhere in Division 1 basketball: Through Gonzaga’s first six games -- three against NCAA-tournament-worthy opposition -- the Zags had seven different players either lead them in scoring or tie for it.

Both teams have functioned well on offense. Washington shoots .492 and Gonzaga .484, the Zags ranking a healthy 12th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive ratings. Washington’s biggest concern must be its defensive chops -- or lack thereof; No. 160 by KenPom -- against the offensively adroit Zags. Five GU players average in double figures and a sixth, Mathews, is at 9.1.

Gonzaga has an efficient team assist-turnover ratio of 1.33-to-1, while the Huskies are a shade on the negative side in that category.

And a final item on Washington’s to-do list: In three games against NCAA-tournament-level teams -- Yale and TCU (twice), the Huskies sent the opposition to the foul line 95 times. Gonzaga hurt Washington a year ago inside in the Bahamas matchup, and can (and will) send waves of bigs at the Huskies, who can’t afford to be dominated down deep.

As the series resumes, they’re already conceding a bunch of decibels to the Zags.


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