Gonzaga Week officially began at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday night.
Once No. 22 Washington rolled over Eastern Washington for a 90-80 victory to finish a stretch of five blowout victories, the Huskies turned their attention to the long-awaited showdown Sunday against the ninth-ranked Bulldogs.
“It’s here now,” said sophomore guard Quade Green. “This game is over and they’re our next game. So of course, we got to focus on them right now.”
One could argue, the Huskies have been focused on their cross-state nemesis ever since the Zags’ buzzer-beating victory last year stretched their winning streak to four in a row over UW.
Gonzaga has won 12 of the past 13 meetings dating back to 1998, but that’s ancient history to a UW team comprised of three starters who have never played the Bulldogs.
“I know they beat us last year,” said Green, the Kentucky transfer who sat out last season. “That’s all I need to know. I just know we lost to them last year and it’s a rivalry game, so we got to win.”
Following its only setback of the season – a 75-62 defeat against Tennessee in Toronto on Nov. 16 – UW seemingly regained its footing and jumped-started a dormant offense that could barely score 60 points.
“When we lost, we all came back on the bus and Coach (Mike Hopkins) got on us about losing (because) we were joking around,” Green said. “We didn’t want to lose anymore after that.”
The Huskies averaged just 61.7 points in their first three games and has since averaged 79.6 points in the five outings during a two-week stretch of tuneups.
Against Eastern, UW (7-1) scored a season-high 90 points and had six players score in double figures for the first time since this season. (The last time that happened was Jan. 1 during an 84-76 victory over Cal State Fullerton.)
“I thought offensively, we got great contributions from the bench and I was really excited about that,” Hopkins said. “Still have to do a better job on the defensive end for the most part, but I was really happy for them tonight.
“They did a really good job. Guys found each other. We had 14 assists. Those are all positives.”
Green led the way with a season-high 20 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the floor, including two three-pointers. He converted 8 of 9 free throws and finished with eight assists and one turnover.
“The thing that I get excited about is the eight assists and one turnover,” Hopkins said. “He’s controlling the game and delivering the ball on time and on target. Finding guys. I was really happy with the way that he shared it.”
Freshman forward Jaden McDaniels poured in 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting before fouling out with 7:34 left while Isaiah Stewart tallied 12 points and six rebounds before collecting his fifth foul with 4:51 remaining.
“You got to be a little bit smart in terms of how the refs are calling the game,” Hopkins said. “We got to do a better job of teaching Isaiah how to play with foul trouble.
“He’s such an aggressive kid and one of the best players in the country so teams are designed to do what? Stop him. And they’re all around him and hitting him early. Sometimes when you’re the biggest guy you don’t (get the call).
Nahziah Carter tallied 13 points while Jamal Bey and Sam Timmins each had 11.
Timmins, a senior forward, drew one of the loudest ovations from the crowd of 7,419 at Alaska Airlines Arena, after nailing a three-pointer at the top of the key. It was his first three-pointer since his freshman year.
“I like shooting them. It was fun and basketball is supposed to be fun first and foremost,” Timmins said. “I was open so I shot it. And my team has the confidence in me to shoot that.”
For the second consecutive game, Hopkins tinkered with the lineup and benched Green for the first 4½ minutes and began the game with a tall lineup that included forward Hameir Wright and moved Bey into the point-guard role.
Hopkins wanted to dissuade Eastern from shooting three-pointers, but Washington fell behind 10-1 and needed a 10-0 run to take its first lead with 14:32 left in the first. Stewart flushed a dunk to cap a 20-3 spurt and give UW a commanding 21-13 lead at the 11:12 mark.
The Huskies looked as if they would put this game away early, but the Eagles responded with a 9-2 run to reclaim the lead and go ahead 24-23.
And momentum swung once again toward Washington, which closed out the half with a 14-2 run that included a pair of highlight dunks.
The Huskies led 47-35 at the break and were never seriously challenged in the second half.
Eastern didn’t get any closer than nine points and trailed by as many as 20 in the final minutes. Kim Aiken Jr. led the Eagles (4-3) with 26 points while Tyler Kidd and Jacob Davison each had 12.
Washington is outscoring opponents by 17 points during its five game-winning streak.
However, things are about to get serious now and the Huskies have four days to prepare for their rematch against Gonzaga.
“Anytime you get to play in a great game like this, it’s something you remember for the rest of your life,” Hopkins said. “I remember all the rivalry games I played in as a player. They’re just great moments, great environments, great players.
“I’m just lucky to be able to be a part of it. The last two years have been a lot of fun. Great competition. We’ll see how we play.”
— The Pac-12, which is adding two games to the men’s basketball conference schedule next season, announced the dates and opponents for the extra games. On Dec. 3, Washington plays at Utah and will be home against Oregon on Dec. 6 in their only regular-season meetings. The Huskies play home and away games against the other nine teams in the conference.