It may not be Duke/North Carolina, or even Pitt/Syracuse, but on Wednesday morning two bitter in-state rivals will renew hostilities in a setting that was unrealistic back when the rivalry went into a dormant phase nearly a decade ago.
The rivalry that’s built up a chatter recently is one that takes place in the upper northwest section of the United States–the Washington-Gonzaga rivalry. In most years, these two teams are the two best in the state of Washington. This year should be no exception. Unfortunately, it comes to no surprise that people east of the Rockies are probably unaware that these two teams are such bitter rivals.
The two teams will resume the in-state rivalry in the Bahamas as apart as the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament that is held every year in Nassau. A surprise setting for the game despite only being separated by 282 miles. No one knows for sure why the two stopped playing. One will project because one coach wanted to play home and homes and the other wanted to play at a neutral site game. More importantly, what makes this a special rivalry is the programs. Washington, a 44,ooo student public school with a rich tradition of football. In contrast, Gonzaga is a 7,000 student catholic school with no football at all.
Even with all of these differences, there is quite a lot of similarities between the two schools. Before Gonzaga Head Mark Few became the head coach in 1999. Gonzaga basketball wasn’t what it was today. In comparison, before Lorenzo Romar was inaugurated Washington Head Coach, the Huskies were an afterthought. Both coaches have elevated their respective programs to new heights with the time that they have had. Gonzaga has an unprecedented 15 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, while Washington has been to three Sweet 16’s in the past 13 years however they haven’t reached one in the past five years.
There is not much respect between the two head coaches. Gonzaga has been a thorn in Washington’s side for the last decade and a half, as Romar possesses a 1-4 record as the Washington coach against Gonzaga. This makes the rivalry somewhat unique as in most rivalries the big brother dominates the little brother, however this has not been the case in recent years.
Gonzaga has been a WCC powerhouse for the decades and the only thing that has prevented them from changing conferences is the fact that no conference will take them because of the absence of a football team on campus. In other words, Gonzaga has grown to be such a force on the basketball court that they are playing in competition that is too weak for them in the WCC.
Mark Few advanced to his first Elite Eight last year and was able to do something Romar has not yet been able to accomplish. For Romar, its his turn to answer his critics. His young, but talented team has shown some promise in the early season as they are in a stretch of playing their first four games in three different countries. So far its been good for the young Dawgs. A date with the star-studded Gonzaga Bulldogs could give the Huskies the first bit of adversity of the young year.