Washington is 29-16 all-time against Gonzaga, but the Zags have won 10 of the past 11 meetings.
Hameir Wright is new to the Washington-Gonzaga rivalry and, truth be told, the Huskies freshman forward doesn’t have much animosity toward the No. 12 Bulldogs.
“I’ve always thought of Gonzaga as like the New England Patriots,” said the 18-year-old Albany, N.Y., native who grew up a Syracuse Orange basketball fan. “They’re always finding some type of way to win games. Growing up I would never see this team in the regular season, but come tournament time they’re always a high seed.
“That’s just my experience with Gonzaga. I’m not really from here. My rivalries stem more toward Syracuse and stuff like that. … Syracuse-Duke. That stuff. All the East Coast beef.”
If Wright or any of UW’s four newcomers want a synopsis of the UW-GU rivalry before the teams meet Sunday at 5 p.m. at Alaska Airlines Arena, then they should listen to Husky junior guard David Crisp.
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“It’s a big game,” said Crisp, who is 0-2 against the Zags, including a 98-71 defeat last year. “I just remember the two outcomes weren’t what we wanted them to be.
“I’m definitely remembering those and using them as motivation and just going to push these guys in practice and make sure that everybody is focused and locked in on our game plan. Execute that again and come out with a good outcome.”
There was a time when the Huskies dominated the series that began in 1910 against their in-state rivals from Spokane. Washington is 29-16 all-time against Gonzaga, but the Zags have won 10 of the past 11 meetings.
At the behest of the Huskies, the series was suspended after the 2006 game and resumed in 2015 when Gonzaga claimed an 80-64 win.
GU (7-2) enters Sunday’s matchup with three straight wins against Washington by an average margin of 21 points.
However, the Huskies (7-2) are focused on a different streak. They’ve won five straight, including a shocking 74-65 upset of No. 2 Kansas on Wednesday.
“The past two years is something that I’ve put in the past,” junior guard Matisse Thybulle said. “I’m not comparing or putting too much thought into what happened before because we’re so different. We’re working on a good game plan and as long as we execute, I think things will go pretty well.”
Washington raised its profile and fans’ expectations after a win over Kansas in a game in which the Huskies were a 22-point underdog.
“Our expectations haven’t changed,” Wright countered. “The reason I went here was because I know how passionate the coaching staff is. It was always to win games. That’s what we plan on doing and that’s what we’re going to strive to do every day.”
The introduction of first-year UW coach Mike Hopkins changes the dynamics in a cross-state rivalry. Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Hopkins’ predecessor, Lorenzo Romar, were respectful and civil toward each other, but their public disagreements included a few verbal jabs, mostly from Few, over the years.
On the eve of the most anticipated game at Alaska Airlines Arena in a long time, Hopkins wasn’t interested in renewing old wars through the media with Gonzaga. In fact, the former Syracuse assistant spoke glowingly of Few and compared him favorably to his mentors, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
“One of the great coaches and great people in the business,” Hopkins said. “I’ve known him through USA Basketball and went to one of the first Coaches Versus Cancer things back in the day and have so much respect for him and what he’s built. He’ll probably be one of those coaches when you see Coach K and Coach Boeheim and the 1,000-win club, he’ll probably be the guy that joins that club.”
Hopkins might not despise Gonzaga like many UW fans, but he understands what a win Sunday would do for a program that’s been looking up to the Zags for nearly two decades.
The Huskies were greeted with a hero’s welcome after returning from their trip to Kansas City, Mo., and a big win against the Jayhawks. Imagine the buzz they’ll create within a Washington fan base and Seattle sports community if they’re able to pull off an upset against Gonzaga. (The Zags are 8.5-point favorites.)
“I like to say I’m a truth-teller,” Hopkins said. “So at the end of the day, this is where we’re at. These are the facts. If you don’t like it, then you don’t like it. And if you like it, you like it. But this is where we’re at. And until we do this, this and this, we’re always going to be there.
“Nothing changes when nothing changes. You’ve got to be able to go out there and produce and execute. So that’s been our message.”