By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Two of the most memorable, and yet painfully forgettable, losses in the history of the University of Washington men’s basketball program came against the same team the Huskies face Saturday night.
Lorenzo Romar is among those who have not forgotten.
Six-and-a-half years after seeing his team come within seconds of making the Elite Eight, and 14 years after watching from afar as his alma mater fell at the buzzer of another Sweet 16 game, Romar will see Connecticut again Saturday in Hartford.
It’s the first time he’ll face UConn since losing to that program in the 2006 NCAA tournament, although Romar ad-mits he has watched tape of that game more than a few times over the years.
“I don’t watch it every day — I’ll say that,” he said Wednesday. “But when I watch it, we definitely had our chances.”
Longtime fans of UW basketball probably can’t shake either loss to UConn from their collective memory.
Richard Hamilton lifted the “other” Huskies to a 75-74 win over 11th-seeded UW with a 10-foot jumper at the buzzer in a 1998 Sweet 16 game, suddenly ending what would have been Washington’s first-ever run to the Elite Eight. Eight years later, in the 2006 regional semifinals, UConn’s Rashad Anderson hit a score-tying 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds in regulation before top-seeded UW fell 98-92 in overtime.
Romar, who was coaching at Pepperdine when the 1997-98 Huskies lost to UConn and was at the head of the UW bench in 2005-06, admitted Wednesday that the 2006 Sweet 16 game “probably was the toughest loss” of his career.
“To this day, you realize how close you were to a Final Four,” said Romar, who has coached three UW teams to the Sweet 16 but has never advanced. “It’s just a matter of inches. So, I think about that one.”
After the overtime loss in 2006 — a game that UW led by 11 points in the second half and by six with less than two minutes remaining — Romar sat in the locker room at the Washington, D.C., tournament site and thought about how few opportunities he might have to get a team back to the Elite Eight. While UConn went on to lose to a Cinderella George Mason team in the regional final, Romar and the Huskies from the West waited four more years before getting another Sweet 16 shot. This time they lost to West Virginia.
“There were probably five separate things that, if (any one of them) didn’t happen, in the last two minutes, we would have moved on,” Romar said of the 2006 loss to UConn. “So there was not just one thing, there were several.”
The longtime coach and UW alumnus added that he watched the tape of that game “probably 20 times right after it happened” and has continued to put it in occasionally over the years.
The emotions haven’t changed.
“You go back and watch like, ‘OK, I think I know what happened, but I’m going to watch this again — what exactly happened?’” Romar said. “And I end up getting all mad again, like I’m watching it live for the first time.”
Senior point guard Abdul Gaddy, who grew up in Tacoma, remembers watching that 2006 NCAA tournament game and understands why it might be topical this week.
“All the fans remember it because they thought we should have won that game,” Gaddy said Wednesday. “It felt like we should have won that game.”
UConn now has won all three battles of the Huskies, including a regular-season game in Dec. 1998, but Romar is the only participant left from any of those meetings. Even longtime Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun has moved on, retiring before this season to leave former NBA journeyman and onetime Seattle Sonic, Kevin Ollie, at the reins.
Both Husky teams are looking forward to the conference season rather than back at what happened in the past, and so names like Richard Hamilton and Rashad Anderson won’t be tossed around in any pre-game speeches.
“The circumstances surrounding those games are so different that it’s hard to think about that,” Romar said. “The other two games were Sweet 16 games that went down to the buzzer. This game is a non-conference game that’s the last one for both teams before we start conference play. So, there’s a lot different feel.”
All that matters to UW is continuing a four-game winning streak as it heads into Pacific-12 Conference play with a three-game road swing going to Washington State, Cal and Stanford after the New Year.
“This time of year is why you play your non-conference games, to prepare you for what you might encounter here,” Romar said. “Obviously, a tough game on the road with UConn will be for starters, and it doesn’t get any easier for us in that we continue to play on the road for the next two weeks.”