By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Neither the Washington Huskies nor the Northern Illinois Huskies’ basketball teams are the big dogs on their respective campuses these days.
As the teams prepare for their meeting at Hec Edmundson Pavilion today, many of their fans will be thinking football.
The UW men’s basketball team will tip off at 4 p.m. — right around the time the football team will be completing its Las Vegas Bowl match against Boise State.
The university will try to ease the pain for fans interested in both games. The Hec Ed gates will open at 3 p.m., and the football game will be shown (without audio) on the video screen until tipoff. If the football game isn’t over when the basketball game starts, fans can watch the resolution of the bowl game on TVs in the concourse.
Still, basketball coach Lorenzo Romar doesn’t know how many will take that option.
“Going against the bowl game, it’s going to be tough,” he said. “… I’d watch the bowl game if I could.”
Meanwhile, NIU students and fans are buzzing about the Jan. 1 date against Florida State in the Orange Bowl — the school’s first appearance in a BCS bowl.
“Right now they’re all excited about the Orange Bowl,” NIU basketball coach Mark Montgomery said. “It’s great for the university; it’s great for all our programs. There’s more name-recognition now because of football. It’s helped us a little bit because they’re rock stars right now. When they’re at the games, everyone’s at the game. … We’re trying to definitely build off of the success of the football team in things to come.”
Romar agrees that a thriving football program can make things easier across the entire athletic department.
“You bring recruits to football games, and (it helps) when the program is successful,” he said. “Our football team is playing on television; it’s something you can talk to recruits about. Our guys, they meet (head football coach Steve) Sarkisian on their visits. Those types of things are great. I’ve always pulled for them to do well.”
Of course, nothing increases interest in basketball like winning basketball games.
This UW hoops team got off to a shaky 4-4 start, which included a home loss to Albany. Now, they’re up to 7-4 on the strength of a three-game winning streak that they hope to extend today against the 2-8 visitors.
However, between the early missteps and the current distractions of the holidays and the bowls, Washington is averaging 7,424 in a home gym that seats 10,000.
“In 2009, we (started) 2-3 and our attendance was just like it is now — just like it is now,” Romar said. “We ended up winning, and they came back. We’ve got to do our part and come out here and be the best that we can be, and people will start coming back.”