The annual series between Gonzaga and Washington met an untimely death earlier this month after an entertaining nine-year run.
The Bulldogs won the finale 97-77 to claim their eighth win in the modern incarnation of the series. (The teams met sporadically, usually in Seattle, prior to the inception of the contemporary home-and-home series.)
The reasons behind the rivalry’s ending are a bit complicated, but the problem stems from the relatively recent emergence of both programs as national powers. Throw in the fact that Washington coach Lorenzo Romar and Gonzaga coach Mark Few don’t exactly get along, and suddenly the series no longer made sense.
“Regardless of our relationship — and I don’t mean it in a bad way when I say that their staff and our staff aren’t best friends and we don’t hang out — but it’s what’s best for Washington,” Romar told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Even if all their coaches were in my wedding, we’d still be doing this.”
In a nutshell, Washington had nothing to gain by scheduling a home-and-home with mid-major Gonzaga and thus pulled the plug on one of the best rivalries of the non-conference schedule.
Louisville and Kentucky found a way to keep up their annual series despite the Cardinals’ hiring of Rick Pitino. Marquette and Wisconsin play every year, as do Cincinnati and Xavier, Georgia and Georgia Tech and a host of other schools that share a state or even a city as their non-conference rivals.
“If you don’t like someone,” Washington freshman Adrian Oliver told the Post-Intelligencer, “that’s why you play them.”
Quick, name the best amateur basketball team in the state of Indiana.
Purdue? Keep guessing.
Notre Dame? Ha!
The top team in the Hoosier State is Indianapolis’s Butler University, which has already defeated the state’s traditional hoops powers for the first time since the 1948-49 season and also counts wins against Valparaiso, Ball State and Evansville. The Bulldogs are 12-1, won the preseason NIT and are currently ranked 15th in the nation.
They’re not perfect in-state though. They lost 72-64 at Indiana State last week.
Butler junior A.J. Graves was asked whether the trifecta against Indiana, Notre Dame and Purdue held any special significance.
I don’t think so,” he said. “We just kind of looked at (the win over Purdue) as another game. It’s a big game, and a great tradition here. A bunch of people came to watch. We just wanted to compete and show what we could do and try to get a win.”
Clemson, Connecticut, Oregon and UCLA were the only members of Division I to reach Christmas without suffering a loss.
Yet it took until this week for Clemson to join the other three unbeatens in the top 25.
The Tigers made their season debut (at No. 25) this week, entering the rankings for the first time since Jan. 12, 1999.
The schedule has been a bit cushy so far, but only three of the team’s 12 wins have been by fewer than 10 points.
Dick Vitale could tell you that the schedule is about to get a whole lot tougher as the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule begins next week.