At halftime of the Dec. 13 men's basketball game between Seattle University and the University of Washington at KeyArena, the members of the 1953 squad of both schools will be honored. This season is the 60th anniversary of the first meeting ever between Seattle U and Washington, taking place in the NCAA Division I West Regional semifinals in Corvallis, Ore. Below is the story about that historic meeting written over the summer by Dan Raley as part of the GoSeattleU.com series celebrating Seattle U's return to full Division I status. Tickets are available to witness this halftime ceremony as well as the game between the current teams through the ticket link at GoSeattleU.com or Ticketmaster.com.
The outcome was deflating, yet the first Seattle University-Washington basketball game, coming in the 1953 NCAA Tournament, was still an unforgettable event.
Matched were two rival universities, satisfying everyone in Seattle who had clamored for such a moment. Paired were two first-team All-America players, guys who considered themselves good friends and played within a few miles of each other. Up for grabs was postseason glory.
On March 13, 1953, the 14th-ranked Chieftains and No. 2 Huskies met up in Corvallis, Ore., and the latter pulled away for a 92-70 victory, earned a third-round matchup with beatable Santa Clara and ultimately a trip to the Final Four.
SU, newly minted as a Division I program the year before and a national draw because of its famed O'Brien twins, had impressively won three of four games on an Eastern road swing in December. The Chieftains were 27-2 entering the showdown. They felt capable of making anything happen. They never envisioned a lopsided loss.
"It wasn't that we got beat, we just didn't go with the game plan and we played badly," Johnny O'Brien said.
UW's Bob Houbregs and SU's Johnny O'Brien, in the weeks leading up to the game, had made every All-America team compiled, sharing the limelight in Seattle. Houbregs showed why he later was named the Helms Foundation Player of the Year, scoring a school-record and then-NCAA playoff-record 45 points.
"We let Bob go to the basket," said Johnny O'Brien, who finished with 25 points. "We wanted to force them to give it to [forward Doug] McClary. We thought McClary couldn't shoot well enough. Five to six times nobody picked up Bob. After that it was gym rat."
A crowd of 10,254 watched the two teams trade the lead for two minutes before the Huskies took control and didn't let go. SU trailed 24-11 at the end of the first quarter, 47-32 at the half.
"The town was absolutely divided," Houbregs said. "There wasn't anybody who didn't take a position in not rooting for one team or the other. The newspapers got into it. [UW coach] Tippy Dye was accused of avoiding it. We were ready to play. We were looking forward to it, and they were, too."
The end result obscured the fact that SU was playing in its first NCAA Tournament, and had just won its first NCAA game, beating the Idaho State Bengals 88-77 in the opener, and would win another, topping the Wyoming Cowboys 80-64 in a consolation game. The Chieftains finished 28-3, but wanted much more.
"I was disappointed," Johnny O'Brien said. "We didn't execute. We felt if we played our game, we possibly could have won."