Dec. 29, 2009
The Washington women's basketball team starts conference play this weekend when they will travel south to face the Oregon schools. At 5-5, the Huskies enter their Pac-10 slate with their best record since the 2006-07 season and will hope to build on momentum from their 71-63 victory over Western Michigan over the weekend.
Coach Tia Jackson was in good spirits on Tuesday at her weekly press conference, obviously excited to get into conference play with a well prepared and increasingly confident team.
The Huskies face a test in dichotomy this weekend, as Oregon and Oregon State play two styles that are poles apart and require different approaches for victory. "[Oregon] is an up-tempo, controlled chaos full court pressure type of team for forty minutes," said Jackson. "They're a team that operates with a five to seven second shot clock."
That style is due to the arrival of first year head coach Paul Westhead. Westhead is one of the preeminent run n' gun coaches in the game, known for his time with the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA and an impressive stint at Loyola Marymount in the late eighties that turned a small school into a contender in the NCAA tournament, reaching the elite eight in 1990.
Westhead has had a huge effect in his first season as coach, leading the team to a 9-3 record ahead of Friday's game. His imprint, as has been the norm during his career, is most evident in the stat sheet for the Ducks. Oregon is first in the conference, and third in the nation in scoring at a clip of 86 points per game. According to Jackson, the Ducks normally put up around 72 shots per game, including 24 three point attempts.
Along with the offensive prowess is full court pressure, which the Huskies are preparing to neutralize. A lot of the responsibility will fall to starting point guard Sarah Morton, who will most likely bring the ball up the court and set the tempo for Washington.
"We need to slow down the offense and run what we know and what we are good at," said Morton. "Poise and limiting our turnovers is going to be key for all of us... [Coach Jackson says] to be confident in yourself in going to the hole. If someone is right on you, then go by them."
After Oregon, the Huskies will head north on I-5 to face Oregon State on Sunday. The Beavers play a much more deliberate style under Coach LaVonda Wagner than the Ducks do under Westhead.
"Lavonda's team is methodical, they are going to break you down," said Jackson. "If they have a hot hand, they are going to go with it and keep running plays for them. They are more of a strategic type team."
In order to prepare for the quick change and in hopes of starting their conference effort off well, the Huskies have been going hard for the last three days, installing concepts for both opponents this weekend.
Whatever style the Huskies play this weekend, they will have the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Week on their side, as Sami Whitcomb was honored for her performances during Washington's road trip to Michigan last week.
Although Whitcomb's teammates weren't aware of the honor before practice on Tuesday, there was no doubt in Morton's mind that her teammate and friend deserved the award. Morton was quick to predict that Whitcomb won't see it as a personal accomplishment. "She'll give all the credit to us," said Morton. "That's what Sami does. She never takes credit herself, it's always someone else that helped her [do it]."
Within five minutes, Whitcomb made Morton's prediction come true.
"It's always an honor," said Whitcomb, who was a bit reserved when asked about an individual achievement. "I wish it was something that was more directed to the team's efforts, but I know they have to pick a person. Or even Mackenzie, she did great that game too. It's nice but we'll move on."
Moving on will hopefully mean a strong performance for the Huskies in the last leg of a road trip that spanned the country and an entire calendar month. Now with the Pac-10 schedule square in their sights, Washington wants to start strong for what will hopefully be the beginning of the journey back to the top of the conference.
For more information and to follow the Huskies progress in Oregon this weekend, go to GoHuskies.com.