Dec. 9, 2009
By Michael Jeremiah
SEATTLE - The University of Washington women's basketball team heads into the third game of their month-long road trip ready for an opponent a little closer to home. After splitting a set a weekend games against South Florida and Central Florida, the Huskies and their senior leader Sami Whitcomb return to the region to face off against Seattle University at the Connelly Center on Wednesday.
The game will offer Whitcomb the opportunity to build on a strong shooting performance against the University of Central Florida, which came after a stretch where her shot was either not falling or opponents made other options for the Huskies more attractive with the way they defended the Huskies. Luckily, Whitcomb was ready for that situation.
Whitcomb knew that working on her all-around game over the summer was crucial to the team's success this year. One of the components that she worked on was rounding out her offensive arsenal by improving her shot and court vision to balance her impressive dribble drive skills. Through seven games, she has shown that the hard work this summer is paying off.
For a player like Whitcomb, shooting performances like her day against Sacramento State earlier this season are rare. Normally a force from midrange jumpers to beyond the arc for the Huskies, Whitcomb had an off night from the floor.
But after an offseason conversation with Coach Jackson regarding former Husky and Sonic great Detlef Schrempf, Whitcomb regrouped to find a way to contribute to the Husky effort. Whitcomb worked her way to the line 12 times against Sacramento State and finished with 21 points.
"[Schrempf] was a great shooter," said Whitcomb. "But he was the type of scorer and player that didn't identify himself as just a shooter necessarily and he didn't get his shots off of just a lay-up or just a three. He used shot fakes. He got to the line to get easy buckets if it wasn't going down."
When the shots aren't falling now, Whitcomb adapts her style of play to not only get the easy points at the bucket or the line, but to find opportunity for her teammates. Coach Jackson has been essential to teaching Whitcomb how to affect the game in ways other than her shot.
"She has learned not to force the issue. She's using her posts a lot more, which really frees her up quite a bit," said Jackson at her weekly press conference a day before the Huskies' faceoff with Seattle U.
"She's a kid that knows that if she's not scoring right away, there are other ways for her to get points on the board besides her taking the shot herself."
That skill will be important because teams are starting to key on Whitcomb, which was obvious this weekend during the Huskies' trip to Florida. In Washington's first game against South Florida, the Bulls' looked to take Whitcomb out of the game by defending her with a box-and-one scheme.
Instead of forcing contested shots, Whitcomb deferred to her teammates to use the extra space on the court to operate racking up three second-half assists and crashing the boards as a guard. The Huskies were in the game until a late run by the Bulls, even with their leading scorer only tallying two points. Whitcomb's effect against South Florida may not have shown in her own line, but it was evident in the final score as the Huskies hung tough before falling 61-50.
Her gritty style of play was evident again in a winning effort against UCF. Finishing with a strong 14 points and 10 rebounds, Whitcomb was still under her scoring average but made the plays necessary to help her team achieve victory.
"[Coach Jackson] just tried to express to me the importance of being able to score or being able to contribute offensively even if you're not having a great shooting night," said Whitcomb, who was more focused on feeding the post at times against the Knights.
Coach Jackson noticed that Whitcomb was more focused on working it inside, and decided to move Whitcomb to the block. One of the Huskies' go-to players in the clutch, Whitcomb converted the decisive old-fashioned three point play in the final minute to lead Washington to a 61-58 win.
After a blistering start in which she was Washington's leading scorer in four of seven games, Whitcomb is showing that she can contribute to the team outside of scoring production.
But there's no question that Whitcomb remains one of Washington's main scoring threats as the Huskies head into their game against Seattle University on Wednesday. And with the clock winding down, the question of whether she wants the ball in her hands is easy to answer.
"Absolutely," said Whitcomb.