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College Basketball Triumphs And Troubles In Washington

It’s been quite a season for two college basketball teams in Washington. The Gonzaga men’s team is ranked No. 1 in the nation. And the University of Washington women are 10th in the country. But it’s quite a different story for the UW men’s team.

It's the topic of this week's chat between knkx sports commentator Art Thiel and 88.5's Kirsten Kendrick.

UW Women Back To Final Four?

Thiel said the UW women look like they're ready to pick up where they left off last year, when they went to the NCAA Final Four for the first time in team history.

"Mike Neighbors, the coach, has assembled a great group of players," Thiel said. "[They're] led by Kelsey Plum, who on Wednesday night here in Seattle won the Female Athlete of the Year at the 82nd annual Seattle Sports Star of the Year program.

"She's still leading the nation in scoring and has a chance to become the NCAA women's all-time leading scorer. That's really remarkable.

"She's averaging almost 25 points a game and has been a real dynamic leader on the team.

"And Chantel Osahor is still dominating the boards. She's setting all kinds of records. It's really a fun team to watch. They are now 22-3 and ranked 10th in the country.

"They did lose a big game at home. A sell-out crowd saw them lose to Stanford. So, there's a real intense rivalry. You're probably going to see them meet somewhere in the Pac-12 tournament or the NCAA playoffs. But they're doing very, very well."

And Then There's The UW Men's Team

By contrast, the UW men's basketball team is 9-14, 2-9 in Pac-12 play, and ranked 11th in the conference right now.

"It's not a good scene [for the men] over at UW," Thiel said.

"Lorenzo Romar has been coach for 15 years and I wrote earlier this week that it's time for a change.

"It's a sad situation because Romar is a good guy who's recruiting players to try to do the right thing by them in a very, what I consider, corrupt industry. But it's not working on the court.

"He's recruiting great players. Several of them have been what they all 'one and done,' which are players who are only in college for their freshman year because the NBA precludes high school players from coming directly to the pros. They just cool their jets for one year in a program.

"Romar's had to recruit these guys. [He] hasn't been able to coach them in any direction to where they're improving and so it is probably time for a change. But there's a real complexity at Washington.

"If they were to fire him after this season, they would owe him a $3.2 million buyout. And for a school operating on a budget deficit, that would be a blow. Sure, they could probably raise some money from boosters but it's still not a good financial thing.

"In addition, he's recruited a five-player class that is ranked second in the country that includes Michael Porter Jr., who is starring at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle and is probably ready for the pros now.

"They want him and his four other recruit-class members to stay together. And the implication is if Romar is gone, they could decommit and go elsewhere. So, the university is in a real dilemma about that program."

Gonzaga Men No. 1 And Undefeated

Across the mountains, Thiel said the Gonzaga men's basketball team is having an amazing season.

"This may be coach Mark Few's best team in his tenure at Gonzaga," he said.

"They are ranked No. 1 in the country. Been there for a couple of weeks now. They are the only undefeated team [25-0].

"And the cruel irony in state sports for this is that their leading scorer, assist guy and No. 2 rebounder is Nigel Williams-Goss.

"That name may sound familiar to Husky fans because he transferred from Washington two years ago because he said, 'Coach Romar isn't preparing this team very well.'

"He sat out a year, per NCAA transfer rules, and now is the star of the No. 1 team in the country. That is a harsh judgment on the Washington program.

"And Gonzaga, earlier in the year, beat the Huskies by 30 points. So, there is a crossroads at Montlake - not for the women's team but for the men."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportpress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.