Until 4:30 p.m. Saturday, there's little they can really do about it but try to shrug it off. Momentarily forgetting how many games the...
Until 4:30 p.m. Saturday, there’s little they can really do about it but try to shrug it off.
Momentarily forgetting how many games the Huskies have lost to the Washington State Cougars, UW guard Ryan Appleby this week chuckled and said, “It’s so many, I don’t even know how many to keep track.”
A few minutes earlier, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar issued a similar reaction.
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“It’s seven?” Romar asked in reaction to a question about the streak.
Told it’s actually six, Romar smiled and said not to read anything into his confusion. “I’m not anticipating anything,” he said.
No one could have been anticipating this streak when it began, either.
On Jan. 7, 2006, the Huskies were ranked No. 10 in the country, fresh off a Sweet 16 run and about to embark on another. The Cougars were a somewhat surprising 8-3 but were 0-52 all-time on the road against teams ranked in the top 10. When the Huskies took an early 13-point lead at Hec Ed, the beginnings of history were the last thing that figured to unfold.
But the Cougars rallied, Josh Akognon hit a tiebreaking shot with 17.8 seconds left, and the Huskies haven’t beaten Washington State since.
Washington State won later that year in Pullman, three times last season (including a quarterfinal meeting in the Pac-10 tournament) and earlier this year in Seattle.
If the Cougars beat the Huskies on Saturday in Pullman, it will be seven in a row, the longest streak ever for WSU against UW (the Cougars also won six in a row in 1941-42. UW’s longest streak is 17 from 1923 to 1930).
Given all else surrounding the game — mainly, that it’s the last at home for a group of seniors who revived the Cougars program — the streak seems almost secondary this week in Pullman.
“It’s gonna be real important, not to say it’d be seven if we were able to do that, but for the seniors,” said Cougars guard Derrick Low, one of four playing his last game in Pullman on Saturday.
Cougars coach Tony Bennett, befitting the conventional wisdom on such matters among those in his profession, seemed as wary addressing a question about the streak as he does queries about his coaching future.
“Why we’ve had success the last six times, which doesn’t guarantee anything for the seventh, is that we’ve been solid on both ends and we’ve played complete games,” he said.
Washington has led at halftime in four of the six, including the first game in the streak, and WSU’s 56-52 win over the Huskies on Jan. 5.
Each of those, as well as WSU’s win in Seattle last year and at the Pac-10 tournament, were decided in the final few minutes.
“They’ve just been better, it seems like, the last three minutes of games than we have,” Appleby said.
The Cougars have also won pretty handily the past two years in Pullman, generally frustrating the Huskies with their deliberate style of play, a contrast to the more up-and-down ways of Washington. That’s a gap, however, that isn’t as great as it once was — UW is scoring just five points more a game in conference play this season than WSU.
The most obvious reason for the streak, along with the differing styles and the Cougars simply pulling out a few close ones, is that WSU has raised its program to almost unprecedented heights at a time when the Huskies have struggled to maintain in the post-Brandon Roy era.
Still, since the last time WSU lost to the Huskies it has been beaten at least once by every other Pac-10 team (yes, including Oregon State). And the Huskies have beaten every other team in the Pac-10 in just the past 14 months.
Consider this oddity: Since UW last beat WSU it has defeated UCLA four times, a team that the none of the current Cougars have ever beaten.
“It’s pretty frustrating to think I’ve beaten every team in the Pac-10 besides them so far,” said UW forward Quincy Pondexter. “So it’s one of the games I want to get as a Husky.”
Feeling the most pain are Washington-bred players like Appleby and Jon Brockman.
“You grow up learning and hearing all about the rivalry, and then to lose to them six times in a row is definitely not what you envisioned,” Brockman said. “But I think that just means this game [Saturday] means a little more to us than just a normal Pac-10 game.”
Other than state pride and the won-lost record, however, it’s hard to tell how much such streaks mean. Romar says the Huskies and Cougars have rarely competed for the same players in recruiting, able to think of only two, both of whom signed with other schools, including Ty Abbott of Arizona State.
“We don’t go head-to-head a lot,” Romar said. “But I think kids look at the big picture more than they look at one game. If that were the case, Marcus Williams [of Roosevelt] wouldn’t have gone to Arizona because during that time we had beaten Arizona five of six.”
Not that they want to keep testing their luck.
“Since it’s Wazzu, it’s more the fans being angry about the losses than us,” Pondexter said. “But it’s all right. We are going to get one sooner or later.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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