Youthful and Hopeful, UW Takes Gonzaga Challenge Once More

Dan Raley

Will Conroy knows the Washington-Gonzaga basketball rivalry as well as anyone.

As a Huskies sophomore in December 2002, he strode into the old Kennel in Spokane with a new coach in tow and nearly willed an upset victory.

Conroy scored 32 points, the third-highest total turned in by any player in the series over the past four decades. It would stand as his career best. He hit 13 of 17 shots. It was just another day on the playground for the gritty little guard from Seattle's Garfield High School.

It still wasn't enough to prevent a 95-89 overtime defeat for Conroy and the Huskies, who answered to Lorenzo Romar now. 

"I can't believe that was 17 years ago," he said.

Conroy joined Romar's staff as a UW assistant coach for the 2015-16 season and was retained when Mike Hopkins replaced the fired Romar. While he lit up Gonzaga from the perimeter, Conroy has lost eight times to the Zags, four each as a player and a coach. 

He has words of advice for the latest generation of UW players who will tip off with Gonzaga in a nationally televised contest at 4 p.m. on Sunday at Alaska Airlines Arena. There must be a sense of a purpose, not just a raw gut reaction. 

"This is just another basketball game for them," Conroy said of the Zags. "We kind of have to have that mentality. We can't play with emotion. Emotion wears you down. You play with emotion and you do things uncharacteristic. We have to play with energy and passion."

The UW leads the overall series 29-18, but has dropped 12 of the 13 most recent games held over the past 22 years. 

The Huskies come in with something different this time--talented big men, including 6-foot-9 Isaiah Stewart, who should be the best pro prospect on the floor.

"They know how big this is," junior forward Naz Carter said of his younger teammates. "I'll tell them to keep their composure. Defensively, we need to come in and play physical and hard, no matter what we do on offense."

The series in these more modern times, played post 1982, leans heavily to Gonzaga. Here's a historical recap of how the Zags took control and maintained it: 

1995, at Washington 62, Gonzaga 58 -- The series resumed after a 13-year lapse with the Huskies beating the Zags at home in the U.S West Cellular Air Time Tournament before 4,236 fans. It was the UW's 12th win in 13 games, same as now for Gonzaga. Current Huskies radio broadcaster Jason Hamilton played in this game.

1997, at Washington 88, Gonzaga 82 -- Freshman Dan Dickau was a key player for the Huskies, hitting a couple of late free throws and coming up with a key assist in the closing moments. He transferred to Gonzaga following his sophomore season and finished up his career as a first-team Associated Press All-American selection for the Zags.

1998, at Gonzaga 82, Washington 71 -- Richie Frahm scored 17 of his game-high 21 points in the second half against the 22nd-ranked Huskies, who heard Kennel chants of "overrated, overrated."

1999, Gonzaga 76, at Washington 66 -- The Zags, fresh off a win over UCLA, overcame Deon Luton's 23 points to pull away from the Huskies before 8,637 fans at Seattle's KeyArena. This marked Mark Few's first year as Gonzaga head coach. 

2000, at Gonzaga 86, Washington 74 -- Dickau sat out for the Zags with a broken finger but Casey Calvary had a career-best 29 points and Gonzaga pulled away with a 17-2 second-half run.

2001, Gonzaga 67, at Washington 47 -- The Zags threw a 2-3 zone at the Huskies, who shot a pathetic 28.1 percent (18 of 64). Dickau made his Seattle return with Gonzaga, got in foul trouble and scored just 8 points.

2002, at Gonzaga 95, Washington 89 (OT) -- With a new coach in Romar, the Huskies pushed their hosts into the extra session behind Conroy and his 32 points. The Zags, however, received 33 points from Blake Stepp, who sank 16 of 20 free throws, including eight consecutive inside the final two minutes of overtime. 

2003, Gonzaga 86, at Washington 62 -- The 17th-ranked Zags held the Huskies without a field goal for 15 minutes. The game marked the Seattle return of Errol Knight, who transferred from the UW to Gonzaga. 

2004, at Gonzaga 99, Washington 87 -- The highly regarded Huskies, after winning the Great Alaska Shootout but losing Brandon Roy to injury, came up short in Spokane as students chanted, "This is our state." Derek Raivo had 21 points for the Zags, Nate Robinson 22 for the UW.

2005, at Washington 99, Gonzaga 95 -- The Zags' Adam Morrison scored 43 points for the nation's sixth-ranked team, but the 18th-ranked Huskies broke a seven-game losing streak despite Roy fouling out with a season-low 10 points. This represents the UW's last victory over Gonzaga in more than two decades. 

2006, at Gonzaga 97, Washington 77 -- With news the UW was pulling the plug on the rivalry series, sharpshooter Raivo scored 25 points for the 18th-ranked Zags to spearhead another victory. The crowd at the Kennel lustily booed the No. 8 Huskies for discontinuing the showcase game. 

2015, Gonzaga 80, Washington 64 -- The cross-state series resumed for the first time in nine years, though it was held outside the country in the Atlantis 4 tournament in Bahamas, and not much changed. Kyle Wiltjer had 24 points to lead the 19th-ranked Zags to a convincing victory. 

2016, at Gonzaga 98, Washington 71 -- The Huskies suffered their worst loss to the Zags since 1943, and a familiar player, ex-UW guard Nigel Williams-Goss, was largely responsible with 23 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. The crowd chanted, "Fire Romar, fire Romar." 

2017, Gonzaga 97, at Washington 70 -- The 12th-ranked Zags played in the Huskies' Alaska Airlines Arena for the first time in 12 years and routed their hosts behind Johnathan Williams' 23 points and 12 rebounds. This was Mike Hopkins' first game against Gonzaga as UW coach. 

2018, at Gonzaga 81, Washington 79 -- Rui Hachimura hit a jumper in the key with a scant 0.6 of a second left in the game to pull out the win for the No. 1-ranked Zags. Hachimura finished with 26 points, same as the UW's Jaylen Nowell. 

2019 -- More Zags monopoly or a Huskies' breakthrough?