Gonzaga readies to renew its rivalary with University of Washington

The battle between the Bulldogs and the Huskies has been one-sided of late

click to enlarge Gonzaga readies to renew its rivalary with University of Washington
Erick Doxey photo
Gonzaga point guard and Seattle native Nolan Hickman might be one of few current players who understands the Zags' heated rivalry with UW.

The Evergreen State’s biggest hoops rivalry is back.

Gonzaga will host the Washington Huskies at The Kennel on Friday, in one of the premier  in-state rivalry games in all of college basketball. It's big brother Seattle against little brother Spokane. It’s power conference Washington against mid-major Gonzaga. From afar, it might look like David versus Goliath. But in reality, it’s been the exact opposite.

Gonzaga has won six straight against the Huskies, and 13 of the past 14. That dates back to 1998 — before Mark Few was even GU's head coach.

If you’re trying to square the circle of a so-called rivalry that saw just 14 games over the past 23 years, you’re not alone. Washington was, frankly, unwilling to play their rivals to the east. As Zags fans viewed it, UW was unwilling to continue to lose to a team from Spokane. Washington canceled the series after the 2007 season, and the teams wouldn’t face off again in a scheduled matchup until a decade later.

During that off-period there were a few chances for the two programs to reconcile their differences and come together once again on the court. However, Washington’s demands for how the series would play — every game at KeyArena (now Climate Pledge Arena) in Seattle, for example — were shot down by the Zags.

“The chances of that happening are about the same as Bigfoot having my baby,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few told Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis back in 2009.

Since the series restarted in the 2017 season, the Bulldogs have beaten the Huskies all four times. The Zags are now 13-1 versus Washington since the 1999 season, when the Zags broke through to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament and started the run of success that continues to this day.

Gonzaga is clearly, far and away, the best team in the state at this point. Washington, despite its name, enrollment, and metropolitan flair, simply does not represent the state the way Gonzaga does out on the hardwood.

When asked if the current players knew the visceral nature of the Zags-Huskies rivalry after the team's win over Kent State on Monday, Mark Few rhetorically replied, “Who do we have? Nolan [Hickman]? We’ll have to explain to [the team] it’s a high-emotional game.”

Gonzaga’s current players were between preschool and second or third grade when this series was canceled. They simply don’t remember it like so many fans do. Gonzaga’s been light years ahead of Washington since then, so the current players might need a refresher. Most were also young when the rivalry restarted back in 2016-17, at which point the script had flipped and it was no longer Gonzaga the underdog, but vice-versa.

Fortunately for the Zags, their on-court leader has some perspective, in part from having played the Huskies in this rivalry already.

“Obviously, man, the energy is going to be crazy. You know that they’re pumped,” says senior forward Drew Timme, who is 1-0 in his career against Washington. Timme and Gonzaga won at Washington his freshman year, before the pandemic got in the way in each of the past two seasons.

“I know [Washington’s] got a pretty much brand new team," Timme continued. "Haven’t really got to watch them because we’ve been so focused and hectic this week, but we’re going to have to buckle down and double down and really fight and bring that grit because they’re going to want to obviously compete for a top team in the state, so it’s going to be a good game for sure.”


Gonzaga vs. Washington • Fri, Dec. 9 at 6 pm • KHQ/ROOT Sports

Gonzaga vs. Northern Illinois • Mon, Dec. 12 at 6 pm • KHQ/ROOT Sports

Photograph 51 @ Spokane Civic Theatre

Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 5
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