By Monica Lee
GoHuskies.com Contributing Writer
SEATTLE -- The grind of the conference season is even tougher for the hurting Huskies right now.
Washington started the season strong with a 7-4 record heading into conference play. But the Huskies (8-7, 1-3 Pac-12) have struggled with injuries since Pac-12 competition began.
“We’ve been putting in the effort, they’ve been close games,” junior Aminah Williams said entering UW's home game Friday at 7 p.m. against Utah (7-8, 0-4) (1150 AM radio in Seattle and here on GoHuskies.com with a live chat and live statistics).
“It’s just been the last little bit of the games that’s gotten to us. We never have a full practice because someone’s out injured. We expect them to do something in a game that they don’t even do in practice because they can’t practice.”
Sophomore guard Heather Corral is sitting out due to a knee injury and redshirt sophomore forward Talia Walton, redshirt freshman center Katie Collier, and true freshman forward Chantel Osahor have been playing limited minutes in games and practice.
Their absence has slowed the progress of a Husky team that has been finding success in recent seasons.
“It’s hard,” first year head coach Mike Neighbors said. “It’s a real challenge to pit this person for 12 minutes and this person for 15 and this person for 12. And it’s not the same 12 and it’s not the same 15, so you never have the whole team together.
“That’s been a real challenge and I’m hoping we made some changes this week that will help us.”
Without the ability to practice with a consistent team, the Huskies fell into a three game losing streak. They split their first two conference games against Arizona (4-11, 0-4) and No. 19 Arizona State (14-2, 3-1), beating the Wildcats 55-52, but coming up short against the ranked Sun Devils 78-60.
The following week, UW played Washington State back-to-back, at the Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, Wash. and at Alaska Airlines Arena Jan. 7 and Jan. 11 respectively. Two slim losses were the Huskies' first to WSU (9-7, 4-0) in 38 games of the rivalry, dating to Feb. 25, 1995.
Despite the rough start to conference play, Neighbors and the Huskies aren’t discouraged.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re struggling right now,” guard Jazmine Davis said. “I think we’re just going through a hump. It’s our turn. A lot of teams around the country have that part where they lose games that they’re not supposed to or those close kind of games and I think it’s just our turn right now.
“What matters is how we respond.”
Their response to adversity has been to persevere through it, because it’s definitely not their effort that'beens the problem.
“Coach has made it clear that it’s not anything with our work ethic that’s going wrong. It’s just that we need to keep working hard and keep fighting in the games. It’ll be our time soon,” Williams said.
Davis adds, “I think to myself, it’s not our effort, it’s not because we miss a bunch of shots. I think it’s something that we just got to go into the film room and look deeper into and then put into practice.”
Instead of lamenting their injuries, they’re focusing on applying themselves to areas they have the power to change.
“(What needs) the most improvement would probably be the little things,” Williams said. “Taking care of the ball, making free throws - higher percentage on free throws (UW is eighth in the league in foul shooting at 67.2 percent). We could easily win games if we just did that. So working on the things that we can control.”
A big emphasis has been on improving the defense. Washington is allowing 72.2 points per game, 10th in the Pac-12.
“I would say just a little more pride in our defense because our offense is fine,” Davis said of what needs the most improvement. “We get up a lot of shots. I think I speak for everybody when we say we score easily, but it’s more on the defensive end that can just make that equal the offensive end.”
Specifically, rebounding is tough with Walton, Collier, and Osahor all playing limited minutes. UW is averaging 42 rebounds per game, and its rebounding margin average of minus-0.1 per game is ninth in the conference.
“It’s kind of hard with just Aminah down there - our undersized post - and Talia down there," Davis said, "so I think if all of us contributed and our guards got in down there a little bit more, we could pull things out.”
This weekend against Utah and Sunday at home against Colorado (11-4, 1-3) -- which knocked UW out of last spring's Pac-12 tournament -- Neighbors will see if the Huskies can break this losing streak and play up to their potential, despite the unfortunate circumstances.
“You hold yourself to a standard rather than a score,” Neighbors said. “That way, when you’re on a losing streak, you don’t spend a whole lot of time focusing on it, just like you don’t when you’re on a winning streak.
“You focus on how you’re playing and you try to set yourself to a standard, practice to that standard, and play to that standard.”