PORTLAND – It had to come up.
Though not in the same NCAA tournament region, the placement of Gonzaga and the University of Washington in the same pod at the Rose Garden made the question of their basketball relationship inevitable.
Asked if he views Gonzaga as a recruiting rival given the schools’ geographic proximity, UW coach Lorenzo Romar dismissed the notion.
“We’ve been here seven years and I would say conservatively two or three times we’ve gone down to the wire with someone where it was Washington and Gonzaga as their last two schools,” he said. “So I would say no – we’re not recruiting rivals with them. Either we don’t recruit the same players or when we do the decision is made before the guys really narrow it down.”
More to the point: Will the regular-season series between the two programs, which ended after a 97-77 Gonzaga victory in December 2006 and which the Huskies declined to continue, ever resume?
“At some point the series will resume,” Romar said.
Romar was pressed as to whether that would be soon.
“Don’t know – but I can leave you with it will be resumed,” he said before teasing reporters: “Just pry that door. Just keep trying …”
A silent jam
Gonzaga senior guard Jeremy Pargo likes to dunk. He just doesn’t seem to enjoy discussing his dunks, like the soaring, one-hander that poster-ized Akron’s Steve McNees late in Thursday’s victory.
“I can’t answer that question,” said Pargo, when asked to describe the play. After further prompting, he took his best shot. “I was taking what he gave me,” he said. “If he backed up, I had a layup. If he pressed up, I had a lob to Josh (Heytvelt).”
The play drew oohs and aahs when it was replayed moments later on the big screen above center court, just as Austin Daye was preparing to shoot two free throws.
“I didn’t pay any attention,” Pargo said. “This place is so darn big, you have to walk to the sideline just to see a replay.”
Western Kentucky’s players don’t seem to mind being called a “midmajor” program.
“I consider us a midmajor team,” guard Orlando Mendez-Valdez said. “We can compete with the big programs, so there’s really no pressure on us. That’s the best thing about it.”
First-year head coach Ken McDonald had a different view.
“I guess you have to use that term (midmajor) because of the (Sun Belt) conference we’re affiliated with, but we’re not midmajor by any stretch,” he said. “For some reason it’s a negative term and I think it’s kind of a slap in the face. Once again, you use it as motivation.
“There’s so many things about our program that we’re very proud about. And that (being labeled a midmajor) isn’t one of them.”
Good and bad
Western Kentucky has a glossy 25-8 record with wins over then-No. 3 Louisville (by 14), Georgia, Southern Illinois and Tulane. But the Hilltoppers also had several clunkers: a 28-point loss to Murray State, a 28-point loss to Evansville and a two-point loss to Florida International, which finished 13-20.
Still, WKU is riding an eight-game winning streak and finished the season with an RPI in the low 40s. The Hilltoppers made 47.4 percent of their 3s and scored 76 points Thursday, the highest marks allowed by Illinois this season.
“They’re really clicking on offense,” GU coach Mark Few said. “The guards are making great decisions. They’re making shots and shooting relaxed, comfortable and confident.”
Gonzaga’s Steven Gray was sporting an ice bag on his right (shooting) wrist, the same one he broke at the beginning of the 2007-08 season. He said his wrist has been sore for a while, but “it’s no big deal.” Gray made two of GU’s five 3-pointers against Akron. … Josh Heytvelt and Matt Bouldin each had more than 20 text messages on their phones after the first-round win. Bouldin had “six or seven voice mails.” And Heytvelt? “Not many phone calls,” he said. “I’m not a big talker. I think everybody knows that.”