SEATTLE (AP) - Lorenzo Romar didn’t need any prompting to recall his playing career at Washington, when the Huskies biggest rival wasn’t necessarily Washington State but often Seattle University.
“Seattle U was two, because we played them twice, that we looked forward to playing,” said Romar, now the Huskies coach and a player in 1978-79 and 1979-80. “They had players on their roster that, if they were on our team at Washington, they would have beat players out we had on our team. That’s how talented they were in certain years.”
At the end of the most successful conference season at Washington in nearly a quarter century, the 16th-ranked Huskies (22-7, 13-4 Pacific-10) step out of conference play Tuesday night to face Seattle.
It’s the renewal of an in-city rivalry that began with a meeting in the 1953 NCAA tournament and percolated in the 1970s, when the two schools met twice a year for 11 seasons. Seattle dropped out of Division I after 1980.
“To have the opportunity to renew that, a little early, is fine by us,” Romar said. “It does come in an awkward spot in our schedule…
“It’s a change of pace, switching gears kind of game, but we think it’s going to be a good series in the years to come.”
The rivalry was supposed to begin next season under a five-year contract coinciding with Seattle’s return to Division I, but circumstances allowed that to happen a season early.
When Washington’s game against Lehigh in late December was canceled because of snowstorms that kept Lehigh from traveling to the Pacific Northwest, the Huskies and Redhawks began talking about filling the void. The only time it worked was this week when the Huskies had a week off in-between games.
Even though the game fell in the midst of a hectic two-week schedule for the Redhawks (19-7), they were more than willing.
“Conversation about it has already started on the campus with faculty, students and boosters. It starts the rivalry and stimulated ticket sales,” Seattle coach Joe Callero said. “This a great end of the year, and it bodes well for us too.”
Until last weekend the Redhawks were one of the hottest teams around, winning 10 straight before falling at North Dakota on Friday night. They rebounded with an 87-85 win at South Dakota on Saturday, part of a brutal seven-day stretch.
Seattle played in Vermillion, S.D. late Saturday night and returned home Sunday. After playing the Huskies Tuesday night, the Redhawks return to North Dakota for a two-day tournament Saturday and Sunday.
While their win streak wasn’t against the most formidable talent, the Redhawks did pick up impressive wins at California State Bakersfield and in overtime at Eastern Washington. The Redhawks have played a mix of teams from different classifications this season, part of their transition back to Division I, and have beaten Louisiana Tech, California Irvine, Cal Poly and Loyola Marymount, losing narrowly to Oregon State, Portland and Portland State.
“Ultimately this is the level we want to be able to play at with the athletic ability we want to play with,” Callero said. “It’s opportunity. There is not much fear.
“UW is supposed to win by 20. In our mind it’s opportunity.”
Washington’s challenge is to avoid a letdown between Saturday’s exhilarating 83-78 win over Arizona, which wrapped up at least a share of the school’s first Pac-10 regular season title for the first time in 24 years, and this Saturday’s finale against Washington State.
Romar doesn’t plan on changing his regular rotations, although he certainly wouldn’t mind building an early lead and allowing some of Washington’s reserves to play and build confidence before the Pac-10 and NCAA tournaments.
“It has the potential to be a tough game if we don’t come out focused,” Washington forward Jon Brockman said, “but we’re getting close to the end of the season and I think we’re beyond that.”