March 6, 2013
|(5) WASHINGTON VS (12) OREGON
Thurs, March 7 | 8:30 p.m., PT | KeyArena
Buy Tickets | TV: Pac-12 Networks
Online: 1150kknw.com | Radio: 1150 AM
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -- Kevin McGuff and his Huskies have heard it all season. Since before it began, actually.
His injury plagued Huskies lack depth. They lack rebounding and dominance inside.
And so, "they say," these Dawgs aren't built for what they are about to face: the potential for two games in as many evenings, three games in three nights or even - in a perfect, dreamy world - four games in four days in the Pac-12 tournament.
It begins for fifth-seeded Washington (19-10, 11-7 Pac-12) Thursday at approximately 8:30 p.m. at Seattle's KeyArena against 12th-seeded Oregon (4-26, 2-16) on the Pac-12 Networks, 1150 AM radio in Seattle and here on GoHuskies.com with the exclusive game chat from courtside.
"That would be a good challenge for us," McGuff said of the consecutive games -- which can only come, of course, if UW keeps winning.
"Hopefully," he added with a smile, "we get really tired. That would be a good problem to have."
The Huskies aren't going to suddenly gain depth in the next 48 hours. But they can rediscover specific aspects of their game that propelled them to a surprising, 11-3 start to league play, before four consecutive defeats that included blowout losses to fourth-ranked Stanford and No. 6 California last weekend.
They need a return to their passionate and gritty play of the season's first 3½ months. And for all the wondrous potential in leading scorer Jazmine Davis, who with senior sharpshooter Kristi Kingma were named to the All-Pac-12 team on Tuesday, and in All-Pac-12 Freshman team member Talia Walton, the Huskies may only go as far as hugely important role players Mercedes Wetmore and Aminah Williams take them.
Wetmore leads the Pac-12 with an assist-to-turnover ratio that is just shy of 3:1. She is what Kingma describes as "our engine," the facilitator and decision maker whose drives and kick-out passes create the open 3-pointers UW needs to compensate for what it lacks inside.
Just don't tell Williams about a deficit down low. The previous wing player has astounded her coaches and the rest of the league by turning her new assignment as a 6-foot (maybe) displaced post player out of necessity into the fourth-highest rebounding total in UW history (310, three away from third place).
And Tuesday, she learned she earned a place on the Pac-12 All-Defensive team.
"Oh, my God! That's really shocking," the sophomore from Seattle exclaimed.
"Wait, now how are these voted?" (it's by the league's coaches).
Sure, Stanford and Cal are very good, the league's co-regular-season champions and the top two seeds in this conference tournament. But Washington did not play nearly as well as it needs to if it is to get past the Ducks, then rested and fourth-seeded Colorado Friday night for a place in Saturday's semifinals.
"When we are at our best we are a team that plays stingy defense and creates turnovers. We have to create turnovers," McGuff said, knowing Washington is first in the league (plus-5.1) and Oregon is last (minus-6.9) in turnover margin.
"We are at our best when we are aggressive in transition and getting great spacing on offense, getting good looks from 3(-point) range and knocking them down. We need to move the ball well on offense."
That is Wetmore's responsibility.
The fiery, 5-foot-8 junior entered UW three years ago with a scorer's mentality, after a prolific career at Auburn Riverside High School south of Seattle. But she has become the Huskies' indispensible assists leader at 3.9 per game. Generally, the Huskies win when she succeeds in pushing the ball into the lane then kicking passes outside to Davis (19.2 points per game), Kingma (13.7), Walton (13.5) and key reserve shooter Heather Corral.
"Mercedes is immensely important to us," said Kingma, who is weeks or perhaps games away from the end of her Huskies' career. "She can score, she knows that. But for the good of the team she makes Jaz and myself and others look good.
"She's the engine for our offense. When Mercedes is playing well and passing well our whole offense changes."
The ever-pressing Wetmore said she has on her own studied statistical trends among the top scorers in women's college and professional basketball. She has found the percentage of points scored in one-on-one, isolation matchups is surprisingly low. Most of the points are scored by kick-out passes or other assists created off dribble penetration.
The research reinforced to Wetmore the importance of handling the ball into the lane as if to score, then passing to the Huskies' shooters.
"I do pride myself on giving this team a lot of chances to score," she said before Tuesday's practice, which came after the Huskies' two days off for a mental as much as physical break. "I can score if I need to, but it's more about getting everyone else going."
Williams has gotten everyone else going through sheer determination. Despite being shorter than almost everyone she's up against in the lane - including Oregon's 6-foot-3 freshman Jillian Alleyne Thursday -- she is fourth in the conference with an average of 10.7 rebounds per game. The three averaging more are all 6-2 or taller.
Williams is the only sophomore among the league's top 20 rebounders.
"I know I'm undersized," she said. "But I also know whoever wants the ball more is going to get it.
"My quickness and my long arms definitely have helped."
If Wetmore and Williams get back to helping Thursday night, their Huskies feel they have a KeyArena run in them.
One that can take them all the way to the conference title game and then even perhaps the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament?
"We still have a chance," said Kingma, knowing these are among her last games of her injury-detoured Huskies career. "Obviously, we're a long shot to win with how we've played the last two games. But we're going in it to win it.
"I wouldn't want it any other way."