No. 10 Gonzaga, Washington renew rivalry in the Bahamas
SEATTLE (AP) Thousands of miles from their respective home campuses, No. 10 Gonzaga and Washington are getting together again for the first time in nearly a decade.
And a year earlier than was originally planned.
''As I've always said when we played Gonzaga, we're getting ready to play a very good opponent. An opponent that's one of the most successful programs in the country over the years,'' Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. ''They've been battle-tested, so we know we have a tough road ahead of us.''
Gonzaga and Washington meet in the opening game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas on Wednesday, a breakfast time matchup for fans back home who have waited nine years to see the two schools meet on the court.
The last time the Bulldogs and Huskies played was Dec. 9, 2006, a 97-77 Gonzaga victory at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. It was the conclusion of a series that had been played every year since 1997 and dated all the way back to 1910.
There were many reasons for the discontinuation of the popular matchup.
Gonzaga said the rest of its non-conference slate had become too difficult and it couldn't find a spot to fit in the Huskies. Washington didn't feel it needed to play in Gonzaga's home arena every other year.
Conversations about finding a middle ground and renewing a series that had become a must-see event in the mid-2000s - thanks to the likes of Brandon Roy and Adam Morrison - became contentious at times.
Washington state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, even introduced a bill in the legislature at one point in early 2014 that would have required the schools to play once a year.
Finally, in the fall of 2014, the schools announced a four-year agreement to renew the series beginning in the 2016-17 season, with two games on each home court.
''If you've been around the last few years you've heard me say a hundred times, `We will play Gonzaga again,''' Romar said when the renewal was announced. ''And now we will.''
Washington leads the series 29-14, but Gonzaga has won eight of the last nine meetings. That coincided with Gonzaga's rise to a national power that makes runs in the NCAA Tournament each spring.
But the tournament in the Bahamas brought an unexpected opportunity to put the two schools together earlier than planned. There was a noticeable rivalry aspect to the tournament when the field was first announced with Washington, Gonzaga, Texas, Texas A&M, UConn and Syracuse among the participants. Tournament organizers didn't hesitate in renewing some of those historical matchups with the Zags and Huskies, and Longhorns and Aggies meeting in opening-round games.
''The biggest thing is that we are in one of the best tournaments and we want to keep playing at night,'' Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. ''You want to give yourself a chance to keep playing for the championship.''
Washington has started 3-0, returning to the exciting, up-tempo style that made the Huskies successful in the past. The Huskies have scored at least 100 points in each of their last two games, the first time they've scored 100 or more in consecutive games since December 2010.
Gonzaga (2-0) has been equally potent offensively, scoring 91 in a win over Northern Arizona and 101 in beating Mount St. Mary's on Saturday. The Huskies beat Mount St. Mary's two days earlier and scored 100.
''If you're a fan of the state of Washington basketball situation, it's kind of a bonus. Maybe we get to play a little early before we start it, but for me, it kind of feels the same way,'' Romar said. ''We play in a field like this, you don't know who you're going to play. We knew we were going to play a good opponent and it happens to be a good one in Gonzaga, so I'm not upset.''