Skeptics of the University of Washington Husky basketball team believe that Seattle University' is well-positioned Thursday to pull off an upset for the first time in the five years since the Red Hawks revived their Division I program. Well, get out of the way and let Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar to the front of that line.
"Understand that this higher-profile perception [of UW] is out the window," he said. "Doesn't matter to us. They're 3-3 and we're 4-4. I don't know who's better right now. We better go play."
With that ever-placid exterior, it's hard to tell whether Romar ever gets scared spitless. But we can speculate that KeyArena on Thursday might be one of those moments, partly because his guys stumped him Saturday, offering another confused, limp outing that provided mediocre Nevada a 76-73 road win at Hec Ed. A subsequent loss to Seattle U. would bring upon his house some Old Testament pestilence.
"I wouldn't have told you we would have come out and played lackluster basketball [against Nevada]," he said. "You couldn't have convinced me."
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The Huskies have one proven, healthy player in C.J. Wilcox. Everyone else is in a muddle, and they all know it. Which may be their saving grace when it comes to taking Seattle U. seriously. As Abdul Gaddy, a principal muddler, put it:
"They're trying to upset Washington. We don't really see it as an upset, because we don't have a good record."
True enough, but the record will show that if SU pulls it off Thursday night, the confessionals will have long lines Friday filled with good Jesuits asking forgiveness for the parties they will have committed the night before.
The temptation? It will have been 34 years since any of them had seen such a thing. Back when Romar was an Afro-bedecked JC transfer at Washington, the Huskies lost to Seattle U. 82-78 on Nov. 28, 1978. Large is the coin I would pay for a video of all the priests dancing to "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees on the floor of Hec Ed.
Unfortunately for SU fans and for all of college hoops, SU didn't stay alive too much longer. Citing in 1980 the obvious, corruption and expense, Seattle U. president Fr. William Sullivan killed the big-time program. He was right, of course, and the problems have only gotten worse, but the Jesuit tolerance apparently has grown greater -- as have enrollment and revenues at Gonzaga, the Spokane school with the enormous hoops success, after which the Red Hawks aspire.
The program's 29-year hiatus has much to do with the distance from the most recent triumph by SU over Washington. So does the SU rebuild nearly from scratch, which has added four more defeats, making for a 23-4 all-time UW lead in the series and stretching the term "rivalry" beyond its limits.
But the gap between the Red Hawks and Huskies closed quite a bit last year. Washington, with two future NBA first-round draft choices, won 91-83 Jan. 10, but the game was tied at 76 with 4:53 left, after which Wilcox hit a pair of threes to stave off the embarrassment.
As is his style in this series and most games, Seattle U. coach Cameron Dollar threw the house and all its furnishings at Washington, leading to 59 Huskies free throws — two short of the record set against the Red Hawks in the series renewal two years earlier.
“It was more of a mind-set than a strategy,” Dollar, the former Washington assistant, said after the game. “That’s how we play. We’re not going to come into this game and change. Nothing against them, but we thought this was doable four years ago.”
It may be doable Thursday. In another anticipated cringe-fest of fouls, Dollar is expected to order full ordinance against the Huskies' shorthanded backcourt, which is still missing backup guard Andrew Andrews (sprained ankle). He was out too against against Nevada, and when Gaddy picked up his third foul in the 10th minute, the Huskies were virtually doomed.
With Scott Suggs limping because of plantar fasciitis, Wilcox had to go 39 minutes. It is the kind of vulnerability that Dollar loves to exploit.
Despite the problems so far and knowing that Dollar fancies the cudgel-style of play, Romar remains a hard guy to scare.
"I've said before in down times, you look at practice," he said. "We had today a spirited practice. We practiced like a team that believed in themselves.. . I really feel like something's going to happen to make it click with this team. We keep talking about the right things, keep getting better defensively and offensively, and sustaining the proper effort for a longer time. Hopefully, it will click Thursday."
Even though Romar said he knows the Seattle U. upset of Washington will have to happen sometime, his law of averages says 34 years is a little too quick.