The Fab Four

The Sonics, Huskies, Zags, and Cougars: on the road to potential greatness.

Thursday, Feb. 10, was thought by the region's rabid basketball lovers to be an event not equaled since the Beatles reunion, which, now that I think of it, never actually happened. Anyway, the state's Fab Four basketball teams "came together" on the road, on the tube, and just about at the same time. Those without juxtaposed TV sets were consigned to a night of nearly athletic channel-changing activity, and the region's ER doctors the next day reported an epidemic of carpal tunnel afflictions.

First, the young—but capable, having beaten mighty Arizona in Tucson last month—Wazzu Cougars lost 58-51 to Oregon State in Corvallis. Then came the main part of the hardwood concert: Washington at Oregon and, almost simultaneously, the SuperSonics at Sacramento and Gonzaga at Pepperdine. Each was close, with the Evergreen State emissaries prevailing. The coincidental quartet of televised games, apparently unprecedented, served as something of a centerpiece for a b-ball season in which the two Seattle contingents are showing some remarkable similarities.

Indeed, the Sonics-Kings and Huskies-Ducks encounters had so many plot points in common that, about midway through, my hoops-hazy basketball buddy speculated: "So these are basically the same games, right?" The Sonics went up by a few; the Huskies were down by a couple. Toward games' ends, the home teams put together seemingly insurmountable leads, only to see the Seattle clubs climb back.

After both local fives triumphed, many reiterated how much the Huskies and Sonics have in common this year. They're well coached, they usually play tenacious defense, and each team has bench players as talented as the starters.

But the Sonics later would show that they're a superb pro club, while the Huskies suddenly seem a stretch to join the elite college teams at tourney time next month. After getting virtually no rest, the Sonics merely went to Phoenix the next night and beat one of the best teams in the league. The Supes did it without Danny "Chair-man of the Boards" Fortson, who was sitting out a pair of games for failing to break Bobby Knight's long-standing distance record for chair tossing. Two nights later, the Sonics blew a big lead to Dallas at home a few hours after the UW guys had shown that they might not have what it takes to make the Sweet 16, much less the Final Four, at the NCAA tournament next month.

Losing 90-73 to an Oregon State team they'd humiliated by 40 at home in January, the Huskies repeated a recent tendency to be foul-prone, with frigid shooting and special ineptness at trying to find easy points under the bucket. Lately (though not against Oregon State), the Huskies have been more accurate from 25 feet than five. They can't hit pull-up jumpers, and their passing is off. Nonstarting Brandon Roy, probably the best Husky player, had an exceptional, 25-point effort in Corvallis but observed afterward that his teammates have been "flat." Roy was nine for 13 from the floor; his pancakes, er, teammates were 19 for 55. Roy warned of the consequences should the Huskies show up tortillalike against WSU in Pullman on Saturday, Feb. 19.

On the other hand, this is a 20-4 UW club that started last season 0-5 in the league and since has won 34 of 41 games. Coach Lorenzo Romar has known pretty much since his guys lost in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament that the Huskies would be back this March. The only question has been whether UW will earn a two (not likely), three (possibly), or four (probably) bracket seed. Picking winners in Pac-10 basketball games this season has tapped many a gambler. The Huskies could win their remaining five league games and dominate the Pac-10 tournament. Or they could lose on the road to Wazzu and Stanford, and maybe even drop a pair at home to the Arizona schools.

The Sonics, meanwhile, are locks for a top seed in the postseason and are a great bet to survive deep into the playoffs. They've beaten all the league's quality teams and have zero competition within the Northworst Division, leading second-place Minnesota by half a continent going into the weekend's All-Star Game. Guard Ray Allen was the obvious local pick for the annual exhibition. Some from other NBA cities have said they resent the fact that forward Rashard Lewis will join Allen amid the All-Star elite. Then there are those of us who are ecstatic that Lewis' ability and maturity have been rewarded after the improbable climb of a 1998 high-school kid taken in the second round of the NBA draft.

Going into the hard part of the season, then, the state basketball ranking continues to be Sonics, Huskies, Gonzaga, and Wazzu. It could be different a month from now, though. The Zags could move to No. 2, and Washington State could drop a notch, displaced by Seattle Prep, which has more NBA prospects than the Cougs.

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