It won’t be another 34 years before the Seattle University basketball team beats the Washington Huskies. But after the Huskies blew out to a 46-19 lead in the first half Thursday at KeyArena, a win in the near future appeared as improbable as the phrase, “Mariners slugger.”
But hope flickered for a few minutes in the second half. After an 11-2 run closed the Redhawks’ deficit to 51-38 and stirred the modest (6,137) gathering, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar felt compelled to call a timeout, the first moment where UW felt the least bit uncomfortable.
“Some teams get a rhythm with shooting; some get it with a press,” Romar said. “They get it with the press: They start foaming at the mouth, moving up closer. They get more animated . . . quicker. When you see that, you got to put stop to it.”
Before Seattle U. went full werewolf, the bigger, stronger Huskies slapped them with some serious defense and Scott Suggs. They didn’t go away quietly, but the Redhawks went away, 87-74.
“(Against SU) the game is never over,” Romar said, offering bouquets to the overmatched foe and his old pal and assistant, SU coach Cameron Dollar. “They’re always three turnovers away from cutting the lead way down. They were really scrappy. But I thought our guys did a really really good job tonight against their press.”
So ended the brief idea that this year’s Washington team was finally vulnerable in the city game. In fact, the 28th matchup between the schools was a bit like the first in 1953 and many others since — the expectation of a competitive contest was smothered quickly by Huskies’ superiority in all phases.
A celebration of that first meeting made for the evening’s highlight. At halftime of a game nearly over already at 49-27, 12 members of the teams that met strictly by chance, not intent, in the NCAA tourney nearly 60 years earlier took the court for introductions.
The reunion of Huskies All-America center Bob Houbregs and his crosstown rivals, Johnny and Eddie O’Brien, was a fine glance back through time when the town was passionate about — and divided by loyalties in — the collegiate hoops game, which had yet to become an a national entertainment colossus.
But the outcome was, then as now, lopsided, UW winning 92-70 and eventually reaching the Final Four.
Thursday night, however, hoops greatness remained in the past, not the present. Although Suggs certainly made a case for goodness with a career-high 24 points despite leg cramps that periodically slowed him. So did Desmond Simmons with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
And for a change this season, the Huskies (5-4) broke fast.
“Our biggest focus was making sure we were dialed in from the tip,” Romar said. “Guys did a tremendous job coming out in a business-like manner against a tough, physical, scrappy team. As we saw the second half when they made their comeback, it gets pretty wild in here.”
Well, not really. Romar was being generous. Wildness was confined to the overdone public-address din in a building missing about 11,000 engaged fans to make the experience authentic. There was no sincere excitement, because the competitive distance between the local college franchises yawned again, in both meanings of the term.
But Romar was right about one thing — his guys were wired, Romar calling the game the most complete in a sluggish seasonal start. Dollar noticed.
“The first time there was a loose ball, they dove to the ground, and we were standing,” he said. “They scored in transition, and were great (against) the press, but our inability to score early on really set the tone for the game.”
But credit Dollar for one improvement — he didn’t deploy the Hack-A-Husky tactics that marred the game last year and in the series’ inaugural renewal four years ago. Helpless against a superior opponent, Dollar ordered his players to foul at every opportunity, resulting in 120 combined Washington free throw attempts in those two games. Bleah.
Thursday, each team had a reasonable 27 free throws, and Seattle U.’s approach was much more clinical than reckless. It wasn’t enough to make a true rivalry — Washington leads the series 24-4 — but that’s what happens when a Division I program is being built virtually from scratch after a 29-year hiatus.
Someday the frothing will be real, and Romar will not have to toss bouquets. Or, at least if he does, he’ll get them right back in his grill.