Dec. 23, 2009
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - As Tia Jackson entered the celebratory locker room Tuesday night at University Arena, her team a matter of minutes removed from a win over Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, the third-year Washington coach kept her postgame speech short and sweet.
"Merry Christmas," Jackson told her group, cheerfully. "Let's go home."
And so ended the Huskies six-day stay in Michigan, a trip where the team closed out the non-conference portion of their schedule with a resilient second-half performance to top the Broncos, 71-63. Doing so, the Huskies are back at .500 (5-5), despite having played a schedule saturated with tough road games and long travel. The total distance eclipsed in December totaled 8,600 miles in the air. Even the trip home from the Great Lakes State called for a 4:00 AM wake-up call on Wednesday morning for a flight back to Seattle, by way of Chicago's O'Hare Airport.
Whew. And now the season enters its most critical stage - Pac-10 Conference play. In preparation for those games, the Huskies have been solidified on offense by Sami Whitcomb, who is in the midst of a career season in her senior campaign. Whitcomb has averaged a team-high 14 points per game, despite having seen a litany of box-and-one and other defenses schemed towards stopping her. Whitcomb also leading the team in rebounds (6.1) and steals. Her success at the free-throw line - where she shoots nearly 90 percent - helps on nights when her shot isn't falling.
Whitcomb has helped produce a pair of late wins this year on her own. The first was a last-second 3-pointer against BYU at Bank of America, followed by a three-point play against UCF in the closing minute on the road two weeks later.
The continued development of the supporting cast, though, will be the most important catalyst going forward. The team enjoyed a career night from Mackenzie Argens on offense, who posted career totals in points (16) and rebounds (eight) in the win over Western Michigan. Kristi Kingma tied a career high with four steals against the Broncos and continues to show improvement in her sprained ankle.
Unfortunately, injuries have been a factor for the team. Sara Mosiman will miss the next 2-3 months after she underwent surgery for shin splints recently. Amanda Johnson, Liz Lay and Lydia Young will not play this season because of various knee injuries.
Jackson has continued to assert in practice that injuries are a vehicle for another player to step up, as has been the case with Charmaine Barlow and freshman Jeneva Anderson, who played increased minutes in both of the Huskies games in Michigan. "It's nice going into the (holiday) break at .500," Jackson said. "As you know, it's been a challenging month for us...Our kids have found that rhythm. They've learned to establish that inside game."
The Huskies will need more of a collective effort to brace for the Pac-10. A trip to the Oregon schools is up next, and the Ducks (9-3) particularly look rejuvenated this season under new coach Paul Westhead, whose team allowed a double-digit lead to fritter away in the final two minutes in a loss to Utah.
Washington, on the other hand, is excited to get this slate of the season started. "We are definitely ready for Pac-10," Argens said. "We are going to work hard during the break and get after it for the first Pac-10 game."