Feb. 18, 2010
SEATTLE - The stat sheet served as a reminder. But the Washington women's basketball team was already well aware of its midseason rebounding malaise.
On the flight home from Tucson weeks ago following a sweep at the Arizona schools, the Huskies began formulating a plan to fix their issues on the glass, where they ended the weekend at a minus-30 in the rebounding category. The emotions were a swirl ranging from anger to embarrassment.
This was especially evident with the seniors, who conceded the problems on the boards cost the team at least one win.
"All of felt, the other seniors and the vocal leaders of this team, we all stepped up and said, `This is not us.'" Whitcomb said.
The easy assumption with rebounding is to assume the problem lies with effort. But the reality, especially with Division I basketball athletes, is that effort is just a fraction of what is required. The Huskies (9-14, 4-9) paid attention to film and picked up on tendencies. Whitcomb studied how Quincy Pondexter of the men's team, who averages 8.1 rebounds a game at the wing position, attacked the glass, using swim moves to shed opponents.
From Monday onward, leading up to the Bay Area games at Bank of America Arena, the Huskies made rebounding their No. 1 focus. Coaches are apt to forgive athletes for missing shots, but not being physical on the boards is inexcusable within the Huskies program.
So the team made some adjustments, using their male practice players as crash-test dummies. Their efforts paid off, and the Huskies are hoping it carries into Thursday's game at UCLA in Los Angeles.
"We focused on not only putting a body on them, but really being physical," said Laura McLellan. "We knew we were going against good rebounding teams in Cal and Stanford, so we really needed to push them out of the paint."
Coming into the game, Stanford had nearly a plus-14 edge on the boards, best in the league. Their frontline of Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen - each well over 6-foot - averages almost 30 rebounds a game. Even if the Huskies amped up their intensity, there was an obvious matchup problem.
To combat the height disadvantage, the Huskies turned to film, where they noticed Stanford's tendencies and figured out a way to exploit them.
Whitcomb said although the Cardinal were a challenge size-wise, they didn't crash hard on the boards, preferring to leave on guard back to protect the basket. So the Huskies drop another person (guard Sarah Morton) to help box out Ogwumike, the Pac-10's second-leading rebounder. Ogwumike, who played in foul trouble, finished with just three boards.
One player Whitcomb looked up to as a freshman in 2006-07 was then-senior Emily Florence, a 5-5 guard who nevertheless led the Huskies in rebounding as a senior.
Whitcomb models her game on the glass after Florence's, especially the fearless way both will attack O-boards among bigger players. This year, Whitcomb leads the team in boards (6.0) and has four double-digit rebounding games so far. This was a primary concern for the Ventura, Calif., native over the summer.
"It's just about attempting to get the ball; making the effort to get in position and going after it," Whitcomb said. "It's an insult when we get out-rebounded like that (by the Arizona schools). It's not like they were taller than us. Everyone here took it personally. It was a gut check."