One ball, two stars. Edmundson Pavilion might not be big enough tonight. The 18th-ranked Washington Huskies (7-1) play No. 12 North Carolina State (8-0) in a sold-out, nationally televised game at 5 p.m.
One ball, two stars. Edmundson Pavilion might not be big enough tonight.
The 18th-ranked Washington Huskies (7-1) play No. 12 North Carolina State (8-0) in a sold-out, nationally televised game at 5 p.m. It’s believed to be the first time in school history that a ranked Huskies team has hosted a ranked nonconference opponent.
It also might be one of the rare times that both teams march out All-American candidates Huskies 5-foot-9 guard Nate Robinson, averaging 22.5 points, and Wolfpack 6-7 guard Julius Hodge, at 19.0 points per game. Both want the ball and both want to show all the things they can do with it.
“The character and personality makes a big difference. Those are two showmen out to get points,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Some may look at it as showing up, but they are so into their games, so competitive, they can’t contain themselves. I think it makes for a high-intensity game.”
It was that way last season, when the Huskies played at N.C. State during the middle of the Pac-10 schedule. They had a spirited game in Raleigh. The Huskies, who led 47-39 with 16 minutes left, lost 77-72. The Huskies missed a pair of shots that could have tied it in the final 30 seconds.
“That was kind of a coming-out party nationally to see what the University of Washington was. This one has NCAA tournament ramifications,” Romar said. “A win here would give us enough quality wins so if we’re able to do well in conference play it would be hard to keep us out of the tournament.”
That game was also a coming-out for Robinson, who had a dazzling one-handed dunk that wowed the partisan crowd and titillated the national-television audience.
What was unimpressive in the game was Hodge. He played only 25 minutes because of early foul trouble and scored just 11 points. That’s quite a decline from what he had anticipated. Just the day before when he ran into a group of Huskies at a fast-food restaurant, Hodge boasted he’d pour in 40 points against them.
“He comes in mouth first,” UW guard Will Conroy said of Hodge. “He probably circled this one. When we saw him at McDonald’s he was saying he was going to drop 40 on us. He didn’t have that but he had the outcome he wanted.”
Hodge, asked about the incident, pleaded ignorance.
“I said I’d light it up for 40? I think that’s a little controversy right there, similar to Vanessa Bryant and Karl Malone,” Hodge said. “I don’t remember running into them. If they want to say that to get fired up, that’s fine.”
It was, indeed, said. Too many witnesses corroborated it. Romar even heard about it.
“Some players make certain remarks,” Romar said. “Guys get all fired up and want to attack him. But guys understand how he is. He’s just a competitor. He enjoys playing. He makes comments from time to time.
“At the same time, they don’t forget either.”
The Huskies haven’t forgotten how that loss felt. They were on a roll at the time, having won eight of their previous nine games to get into good standing for a postseason berth. They had to face the most difficult of challenges. In the middle of an intense conference schedule, they had to fly 3,000 miles to play in a hostile arena with strange officials and weary legs.
They didn’t have quite enough at the end.
“It did a lot for us. They were a really good team. It was the top conference in the country, on the road, and we went in there and were competitive,” Romar said. “All logic pointed for us to lose by 15 to 20 points. It gave our guys a lot of confidence.”
Despite the loss, the game helped form an argument for the Huskies’ entry into the postseason. They followed up by winning six games in a row to reach the finals of the Pac-10 tournament.
“We knew we should have won it. It’s just that we did not have the experience down the line,” Robinson said. “Now we’re mature. It’s a different story. We let it slip out of our fingers. We were so hungry after the game. We couldn’t wait till next year. Now it’s here.”
Robinson welcomes the test of going against Hodge.
“He’s a good player,” Robinson said. “I’ve been watching since I was young, in high school. He’s a skinny guy. He doesn’t look like he’s good, but he is. He brings so much. We have so many people looking forward to this game the players, the whole university, alumni. Like he said, he can’t wait to play against Nate the Great.
“But everyone on the team can be dangerous. That No. 3 (Ilian Evtimov) hit some big threes. We had Julius Hodge out for a long time (with foul trouble) and they still ended up winning. He’s the main guy, but we have to stop the team. If we stop the team, we stop him, too.”
One more undercurrent runs through the hype for this game. It’s the issue of the much-maligned Pac-10 against the much-touted Atlantic Coast Conference. As Robinson said, “They get eight, nine teams in the Top 25. I don’t understand that. They get so much respect. Everyone in the Pac-10 is rooting for us.”
Conroy said, “It’s crazy how they say the Pac-10 is down because we’re on top. When we were at the bottom, they were saying, ‘The Pac-10 should have six or seven teams go to the tournament. It’s a real good conference.’ Now that we’re at the top of the Pac-10, they’re saying it’s a rebuilding year.
“This is another chance for us to show the Pac-10 is not down.”
Bob Sherwin: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org