College Sports

Matt Calkins: Washington and Gonzaga meeting each year could become one of college hoops’ hottest rivalries

When Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins threw a no-look pass to Zach Collins for an easy dunk, you had to wonder if Washington administrators wondered why they ever agreed to this revival.

The Collins jam gave the Zags a 27-6 lead just eight minutes into their game with the Huskies three Decembers ago, underscoring the Grand Canyon-sized chasm separating the two programs.

For eight seasons, this game was non-existent. The two schools didn't meet from 2007-2014, as Gonzaga transformed into a national powerhouse and Washington faded into relative obscurity. But now the annual matchup had been rekindled, and for the second consecutive year, the Zags were outpacing the Dawgs like Porsches vs. Pintos.

Gonzaga went on to win that 2016 game by 27 points, which was 11 more than its 2015 win over Washington and the same as its 2017 victory. So why would the UW brass want to subject its school to one of more excruciating in-state "rivalries" in the country?

Simple – because it's about to become one of the most exciting.

Monday morning, the two programs announced a four-year extension to their yearly matchup, meaning they'll meet annually through at least the 2023-24 season. One might be inclined to view this is as a gift for Gonzaga, given how the Zags have beaten the Huskies in their past five meetings and in 12 of their past 13.

But since Mike Hopkins took over as head coach at UW two years ago, fans have witnessed a renaissance on the hardwood that seems to grow more tantalizing every month.

The Huskies aren't going to be food for Gonzaga to play with anymore. Considering recent player development and the talent coming in – they're just as likely to be predators as they are prey.

We already saw them put a scare into the Zags in Spokane last year. Despite the Huskies winning the Pac-12 regular-season title and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, I'd argue the best game Washington played last season was its two-point loss to Gonzaga.

In what might be the most intimidating arena on the West Coast, the Huskies tied the score after trailing by 10 at halftime, forcing the top-ranked Zags to beat them on a last-second jumper.

After that, the Huskies won 13 of their next 14 en route to reaching the Dance for the first time since 2011. They perfected a defense that helped Matisse Thybulle lead the nation in steals while setting the Pac-12 record for swipes. An NCAA Tournament victory followed, then an offseason for the ages as Hopkins landed two of the top 10 recruits in the country in Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels.

So what does this all mean in regards to Gonzaga? It means the state of Washington could be the annual host of one of the most compelling college hoops matchups in the country.

Here's the thing about basketball rivalries: They're rarely limited to one game per year. Duke hates North Carolina, Michigan loathes Michigan State and Indiana despises Purdue – but they all play each other twice in the regular season and often meet again in the conference tournament.

But this wouldn't be the case with Washington and Gonzaga. This would be a one-time, state-bragging-rights-on-the- line collision that – barring an NCAA Tournament meeting – would offer no chance at redemption.

Louisville and Kentucky have that. Xavier and Cincinnati have that. Marquette and Wisconsin have that – and they've all developed into some of finest rivalries in the game.

Hard to imagine too many Husky fans were thinking about Gonzaga when Hopkins arrived in 2017. They were just hoping he could build something that would eventually vault Washington basketball toward the top of the conference and tease an NCAA Tournament bid every year.

But this bullet train is blowing by the timeline most expected for UW hoops. It has two projected NBA lottery picks, proven upperclassmen and gale-wind momentum pushing it forward.

The Zags have spent the past few seasons trying to prove that they're the best team in the nation. Going forward, though, they're going to have their hands full trying to prove they're the best in the state.

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