Tomorrow, the Huskies will host the University of Arizona Wildcats for a 6pm game inside Hec Edmundson Pavilion. It will be, I assume, a packed house. The Dawg Pack, having been reorganized by new student leaders after the Utah game, should be more fired up than it has been at any point this season. Why all the energy in an arena that has been half-empty and half-asleep for almost every home game this season? Cause it’s Arizona.
Who can forget the trio of UW Vs. UA games during the 2011 season? The first a 85-68 home win for Washington, their biggest win of the season at that point. Next, in front of a frenzied white-out crowd at the McKale Center, the Huskies fell to Arizona 86-87 when star forward Derrick Williams blocked Washington’s shot out of the gym just before time expired. Finally, the rubber match, the Pac-10 Championship Game. Tied up with time running out in overtime, Isaiah Thomas wins it with a contested buzzer-beating jumper. Not only did the shot win the conference for the Huskies while giving them the edge in the three-game series against Arizona, it cemented Thomas’ status as a Husky legend. And, perhaps most memorable of all, it was Cold Blooded. The Gus Johnson call immortalized the shot, and elevated the moment.
I’m a young guy, and I haven’t gotten to enjoy the prime years of a lot of Washington’s rivalries. The Apple Cup? Well, I just expect Washington to win and I’m upset when they don’t because WSU is typically pretty bad. Oregon? Their football team has dominated Washington’s for as long as I have been old enough to remember. But back in 2011, I was watching two highly talented, highly skilled basketball teams play perfect rivalry games. The players respected each other. Sean Miller and Lorenzo Romar clearly respected each other as well. There were two clear-cut stars: Derrick Williams for Arizona, the hard-dunking, shot-rejecting power forward, and Isaiah Thomas, the under-sized point guard and unquestioned team leader.
I was extremely excited days before both of the regular season match-ups, and I literally jumped for joy when it became clear that the two teams would meet to decide the winner of the final Pac-10 Championship. When Thomas hit the game-winner, I was watching the game alone on the couch, as my family was out of town. I went nuts. Jumped around, screamed, acted like I had just won the lottery. It is still, to this day, my favorite Husky sports moment.
And so maybe the Washington/Arizona basketball rivalry is blown out of proportion in my head. Maybe the fanbase as a whole doesn’t think it’s that huge of a deal, and maybe Arizona doesn’t care at all. Their program has much more history than Washington’s does, and they are having a lot of success this year while the Huskies desperately need a win.
But to me, it’s the perfect rivalry. It isn’t a rivalry where the intensity is determined by the amount of pure hatred shared between the two fanbases. I don’t hate Arizona. I’m sure some Husky fans do, but I do not. I respect them. When they aren’t playing Washington, I may not openly root for them, but I don’t mind them winning. It means that when they play the Huskies next, it’ll be that much more of a big deal.
It’s the perfect rivalry because it is two talented teams that really want to beat one another, to the point that every single time they play it is a great game. Can you remember the last time you were bored by Washington Vs. Arizona? I can tell you it hasn’t been for several years. And while I can’t be certain, I’m fairly confident that it won’t happen tomorrow night. Even with the Huskies struggling to stay in some games, it will find a way to be entertaining. And until that stops happening, it will continue to be my favorite Washington rivalry in any sport.