Four weeks ago, Washington State defeated then-18th-ranked Washington, 87-80.
As the seconds ticked down, fans in the student section at Beasley Coliseum chanted “o-ver-ra-ted.”
And when the final buzzer sounded, they swarmed the court.
The Huskies watched and fumed.
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They didn’t like it then. And their annoyance hadn’t notably cooled as the days ticked down to the rematch at 7 tonight at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“It’s lingering in (my mind), and hopefully it’s lingering in a few other players on our team,” UW junior Isaiah Thomas said Friday. “After the game I just watched how they did that. They felt it was the right thing to do, I guess. I remember it, so it’s something on my shoulder. Hopefully, we get it correct this time.”
Several Huskies said they saw the issue as overkill.
There’s a time for swarming the court, they said: after beating the No. 1 team in the country, maybe; or when clinching a championship. In any case, it calls for more than simply winning a regular-season game in January.
Coach Lorenzo Romar voiced no complaints about the behavior of Coug fans that day. But if his players took offense, his primary interest seems to be that they focus their anger in the right way.
“If it motivates you to where you’re going to be dialed in and you’re going to play at a higher level because you’re dialed in, then great,” he said. “ But if it’s going to cause you to get distracted and get away from how you’re supposed to be playing, then I can’t stand it. You need to leave that stuff alone.”
What got Romar’s attention in the first meeting – far more than anything the fans did – was what his own team did and didn’t do.
The Huskies committed a season-high 24 turnovers against the WSU zone, and sank 11 of 31 3-point attempts.
They also allowed WSU scoring leader Klay Thompson score 25 points after they had held him to a total of 29 in four previous meetings.
“I think I’ve got to be more focused on the things he likes to do,” said senior Justin Holiday, who had primary defensive responsibility on Thompson. “Make sure I pay attention to the plays that are being ran and stuff like that – really just focusing on really trying to stop him. I think I can, if I focus on the right things.”
After that emotional first meeting, both teams staggered.
The Huskies went on to lose at Oregon State and Oregon – a three-game plunge that knocked them out of the Pacific-10 Conference lead and the national rankings.
However, the Cougars were unable to use that game as a springboard. They have gone 2-4 since, slipping into a sixth-place tie in the Pac-10 and likely falling out of NCAA tournament consideration.
“I can just say this is a more balanced league than people give it credit for,” Romar said when asked about WSU’s inconsistent results. “And when someone loses games, I don’t look at it like, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ I just think there are a lot of teams that can beat anyone.”
Washington has won four of five since its three-game skid, and Romar thinks the Huskies’ door to the NCAA tournament remains open.
“I think we’ve done a good enough job if we can continue to win where we should be in the tournament,” he said. “I don’t feel like we’re on the outside looking in this year. I felt like we were on the outside looking in at this time last year. If we play our way out of it, we don’t make it. But I don’t think we have to play our way into it at this point.”