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Gonzaga Basketball

TV take: Washington reverses trend, snaps Gonzaga’s lengthy Pac-12 win streak

Vince Grippi The Spokesman-Review

It was shaping up as a disappointing Saturday for those followers of the University of Washington who were hoping for a win. Any win.

They didn’t get it in New York, as star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. finished second in the Heisman Trophy beauty contest. But they earned one inside Alaska Airlines Arena later that evening, in what may have been a bigger upset. The Huskies rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to end seventh-ranked Gonzaga’s 16-game winning streak against Pac-12 opponents, 78-73.

For those of us stuck on this side of a snowy Snoqualmie Pass, we watched on ESPN2, with Roxy Bernstein describing the action and the Davenport’s favorite unofficial spokesperson, Sean Farnham, supplying the analysis.

What they saw

• Those 16 straight Pac-12 wins? Six of them came at the Huskies’ expense.

Which, coming in, it made it hard to call the matchup a rivalry. After all, Washington only had won once this century. But that’s where Farnham and Bernstein went right off the top.

“This is one of those rivalries Sean, that is good for college basketball,” Bernstein said.

“Good for college basketball,” Farnham agreed. “Two teams from the same state, obviously different conferences, and recently, when you play the Zags and you are in the Pac-12, it’s a lot like a Hallmark Christmas movie. You kind of know the outcome before it even begins.

“We’ll see tonight if the Huskies can go ahead and reverse that trend.”

They did, closing the game on an 18-7 run.

“They won this game because of their defense,” Farnham said.

• “They were in go mode for the start of this game tonight and they have not stopped,” Farnham said as Gonzaga (7-2) was in the midst of building that 11-point second-half lead.

A lead that disappeared under, as Farnham described it, the Huskies defensive pressure. Part of that was the Bulldogs’ inability to hit an outside shot after halftime. They missed all nine 3-pointers they took.

Scoring inside was a chore as well. The key there? Washington’s emerging big man Franck Kepnang.

“He’s been such a factor for Washington,” Bernstein said midway through the second half as Kepnang was en route to 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots.

“(Kepnang) has really been the energy-giver for the Huskies,” Farnham added.

But turnovers sapped most of that, with the Huskies (6-3) committing nine in the first half and 19 overall, leading to 15 GU points. They balanced that, however, with 11 offensive rebounds, resulting in 11 second-chance points.

What we saw …

• When the game, which started just after 8 p.m., moved back to where it belonged about 20 minutes later, Bernstein and Farnham went over the same territory they occupied on the open on ESPN News. That included the statement that, as Farnham repeated, “This is a rivalry game, too.”

There was an addition, however. It was Farnham’s summary of Nolan Hickman’s hot start, with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field at that point. He finished with 17 – but only two after halftime.

A couple of minutes later, Koren Johnson made a back-to-the-basket, back-turned, circus shot, which elicited the following questions from Farnham:

“How entertaining, and how fun, has this game been?”

“What are we watching?”

“What is that?”

• There was one other question, unasked but crucial for the home team. What was on the line for Washington? Hold on. Farnham answered it in the first half.

“For the Huskies, who are looking to try to make a statement,” he said, “this is the best opportunity in their remaining (nonconference) schedule to try and capture what they can be.”

• The Huskies were treading water in the first half, until the Zags, seemingly inspired by a tough offensive foul call on Braden Huff, went on a run to build a 48-42 lead.

At least it upset the Zags. And it also keyed an ensuing 7-0 run and a nine-point lead. The run was powered by the Bulldogs’ 2-3 zone – forced by foul trouble on Huff and Graham Ike (two) – and a near-perfect, three-quarter-court pass from Anton Watson to Ben Gregg, a play that, verbally at least, brought Farnham from his seat.

Farnham continually praised Watson, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds.