Zags-Huskies (with vocals by Sonny and Cher)
12-11-17

In some other universe . . . in some other existence . . . in some other lifetime . . . maybe we’ll see the day Washington is competitive against Gonzaga in a college-basketball game. Or maybe that’ll be left to our grandkids.

The Zags, you know by now, tattooed the Huskies, 97-70, Sunday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, which -- although the game flowed differently -- is a lot like last year’s score (98-71) in Spokane. Which isn’t all that different from the series-resuming game two years ago in the Bahamas (80-64), which wasn’t a whole lot unchanged from the one in 2006 (97-77) that preceded a near-decade-long interruption of the rivalry.

A sub-headline in my old paper, the Seattle Times, said it was Gonzaga's 10th win in 11 tries against Washington. Actually, it's 11 in 12. But it's easy to lose track.

Thank you sir, and may I have another?

(Could we have an audio accompaniment here of “I Got You, Babe,” the Sonny and Cher song Bill Murray kept waking up to in “Groundhog Day”?)

If we didn’t already know this is a bad matchup for Washington, there was this added layer: Washington plays zone, since its new head coach, Mike Hopkins, earned his spurs at Syracuse. Gonzaga is a deft shooting and passing team; more than athleticism, it recruits skill. So the UW zone -- which last night, morphed into sort of an “umbrella” configuration with four defenders at about the three-point line -- was essentially made to order for GU.

So it scored 97 points, and going backwards to a memorable 2004 game in what was then the new Kennel, GU has put up 97, 98, 80, 97, 95 and 99 points.

But here’s the number that can only be termed staggering:

This was the eighth straight game in the series, dating back to 2002-03, in which Gonzaga shot 50 percent or better. I don’t know how you can put a finer point of perspective on that trend other than to say that last week when Gonzaga lost to Villanova, it broke a 64-game streak of GU not allowing an opponent to shoot 50 percent. That’s about two years’ worth.

Shooting 50 percent means, in effect, you can’t have a key player go, say, 2 of 12.

Here’s the breakdown: (Cue Cher: “I got flowers in the spring . . . I got you, to wear my ring . . . “)

2017: 50.8 percent (Gonzaga wins, 97-70)
2016: 53.8 percent (Gonzaga, 98-71).
2015: 50 percent (Gonzaga, 80-64).
2006: 50.7 percent (Gonzaga, 97-77).
2005: 52.1 percent (Washington, 99-95).
2004: 58.9 percent (Gonzaga, 99-87).
2003: 61.1 percent (Gonzaga, 86-62).
2002: 55.6 percent (Gonzaga in OT, 95-89).

(“So put yo’ little hand in mine, there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb . . . “)

I digress.

Meanwhile, I wonder what this does to the Washington-Gonzaga series. The Zags’ coach, Mark Few, made it plain to me in “Glory Hounds” that just as Gonzaga offed Washington State from its schedule, he prefers to do the same thing to Washington, saying, “It’s all about top-25 and top-50 wins.”

I expressed reservations, believing then that Washington could usually be counted on for an RPI computer ranking of 50-100, which isn’t damaging to GU’s profile. But since then, the UW went 2-16 in the Pac-12, and the current team is surely no more than a work in progress, the Kansas win notwithstanding.

So Few has gone out and proved his point.

You can argue that rivalries are rivalries and in good times and bad, they ought to be played, and that’s worth a fair hearing. The reality is that when the schools signed a four-year deal to resume the series starting last season (that excludes the Bahamas game), it included the stipulation for an opt-out if there was a change in head coaches. As much as it seems there’s warmth between Few and Hopkins, keep an eye on that.

Other notions a day after a visit to Hec Ed:

-- The 27-point margin of defeat, unless I’m whiffing on another game, is the largest in UW history to a non-league opponent at home. Next in line was an 87-61 loss to No. 1-ranked Duke on Jan. 3, 1989, during the Andy Russo era.

-- This was a reunion of the Zags and official Verne Harris, who did the 2017 NCAA title game against Carolina. Harris is a highly respected ref who had a terrible night on the championship stage.

-- Washington’s last lead in the series came on Dejounte Murray’s opening bucket in the Bahamas in 2015, giving the Huskies a 2-0 lead with 19:17 left in the first half. That was 119 minutes ago.

-- I thought the fortunes of GU’s Johnathan Williams III and Washington’s Noah Dickerson would be pivotal in the game -- if they matched up or not -- but I didn’t expect Williams to have such a decisive edge, especially after his poor outing against Villanova. Dickerson has improved his game significantly, but Williams’ 23-point, 12-rebound game was huge, especially as Dickerson had an uncharacteristically low four rebounds and Gonzaga dominated the boards, 40-27.


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