MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Bob Huggins first encountered Mark Few, Y2K fears were threatening to shut down ATMs and Kenyon Martin was threatening to rip down backboards. It was December 1999—Huggins’ 19th season as a college head coach and Few’s very first.
“We played them in Cleveland,” recalled Huggins. “We were good, but we knew they were good too.”
That Cincinnati team, which subsequently spent 12 weeks at No. 1 before seeing its Final Four dreams crushed by Martin’s broken leg, out-scrapped Gonzaga 75-68 in a holiday tournament dubbed the Rock-and-Roll Shootout, at a venue known then as Gund Arena.
Some 14 years later, Gonzaga is still rocking-and-rolling and Huggins refers to the Bulldogs’ coach as “Fewie,” an adoring nickname for the stoic redhead who built the Jesuit school of 7,700 students into the most recognized mid-major brand in college hoops.
How has Few averaged nearly 27 wins per season and brought 12 conference titles to Spokane? Huggins lists a few factors.
“They’re in a great city,” Huggins said. “They’ve got a major airport, so you get kids in and out of there. And they’re in an area that really wasn’t recruited until recently.”
Thanks to signing homegrown prospects from the Portland/Seattle area and plucking talented Canadians to lead a strong foreign contingent, Gonzaga has won with astonishing consistency, advancing to the NCAA tournament in every year of Few’s tenure and giving rise to an on-campus arena that opened in 2004.
“They’re the winner thing to do in Spokane,” Huggins said. “Fewie’s done a great job.”
Since that first meeting in Cleveland, Huggins has coached against Gonzaga three times, and lost all three. There was the infamous 2003 NCAA tournament game in which Huggins (and the Bearcats’ radio announcer) were ejected with 16 minutes left in a first-round game at Salt Lake City. Then Gonzaga ousted Huggins’ West Virginia team from the 2012 NCAAs by a 77-54 margin in Pittsburgh. Most recently came last season’s opener in Spokane where the Bulldogs crushed WVU 84-50.
Does Huggins think this year’s Mountaineers (6-3) stand a better chance of being competitive against No. 20 Gonzaga (8-1) on Tuesday night?
“Probably,” he said. “We have more guys who can make shots.”