After 20-Win Season, Huskies Flush With Optimism
April 12, 2012
SEATTLE - As the final horn sounded at Alaska Airlines Arena last month, Kevin McGuff dutifully shook hands with the opposing San Diego coach and walked into a vacant concourse with his assistants. When he later met his players, he thanked them for their collective effort all season, particularly a group of teary seniors who had carried the team down the stretch.
The Huskies season was over, but in McGuff's mind the process has only begun.
"It was an outstanding season," McGuff said. "It was a real credit to our players, especially our seniors. They invested a lot this year. It was a great group to coach. I'll always remember these seniors for embracing me, my staff and what we're trying to accomplish. Hopefully we'll look back on this season as the start of something special."
Washington finished the year 20-14, making what many deemed an improbable run to the Women's National Invitational Tournament quarterfinals. This came after McGuff watched his leading scorer tear her anterior cruciate ligament during a summer exhibition game in Europe, meaning Kristi Kingma and her 15.5 ppg average would be sidelined all season. With Pac-12 prognosticators picking the Huskies to finish in the basement of the conference, McGuff's first season on Montlake appeared headed for trying times.
As McGuff reflected back on the season during the postgame press conference, his key point was how much the team's upperclassmen bought into the style of play he imported from Xavier. It wasn't an easy sell. McGuff's up-tempo offense was like a foreign language to the Huskies, who were accustomed to a slow-down pace, designed to limit the total number of possessions in the game. Defensively, the Huskies transitioned away from an aggressive trapping, ball-denial system utilized by the former regime.
Some teams might have hedged on those changes. Not the Huskies. Yet in order for the program to keep trending in this direction, McGuff and his staff know they will have a busy offseason on their hands.
"We need to continue to build the program, continue to generate interest in the program and that we continue to win," McGuff said. "Looking back, this group established a legacy of winning and we need to continue to work with our current group and work to get better."
As the program turns the page on the career of four seniors (Regina Rogers, Mackenzie Argens, Mollie Williams and Charmaine Barlow), the future for the program is flush with optimism. McGuff mentored and developed the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in Jazmine Davis, an under-recruited point guard out of the Bay Area. It was the first time since Karen Deden in 1988 a Husky has won the award. Davis combined her three-point prowess with a devastating crossover, allowing her to create shots against taller defenders.
Under the new staff's tutelage, Davis became a potent scorer, averaging 15.7 ppg and shattering rookie records for total points, games started, free throws and three-point field goals. But as well as Davis played this season, her ceiling has still not been reached. McGuff and his staff will work with the San Jose, Calif., native during individuals to cut down on her turnovers and improve her defensive rebounding.
Signs of Davis's scoring prowess were evident during the team's exhibition tour of Scandinavia. In the Huskies second game in Solna, Sweden, Davis totaled 16 points to carry her team to a win over a semi-professional squad, playing with a confidence that would define her game all season.
Aminah Williams is another freshman who figures to see an increased role next season. The 6-0 wing player out of Seattle has all the physical tools to succeed in the Pac-12, most notably her off-the-charts athleticism and wingspan. Once her game smoothed out, her minutes saw an exponential leap. In the team's Pac-12 Tournament opener, Williams started and recorded a career-high 15 rebounds.
Williams should see minutes at the small forward position, where she'll fill in for the graduated for Barlow. The Husky coaching staff knows Williams might not be able to erase opposing scorers like Barlow did, but the Kennedy High School product intrigues with her ability to score in transition, off stick backs and from beyond the arc.
One player the Huskies are looking forward to returning is Talia Walton, who redshirted following a slow recovery from preseason knee surgery. Broad shouldered and well muscled, the 6-2 Walton is a physical presence who can also knock down outside shots. During practices, Walton was a scout team all-star, delighting coaches with her ability to score almost at will.
Two more players who the Huskies hope will factor in the mix next season is Beatrice Carta and Deborah Meeks, both of whom missed the entirety of the 2011-12 season with ACL injuries. Carta oozes leadership, having captained the Italian U-18 team to a win at the European Championships. The left-handed Carta is an ideal fit to backup Davis at the one, and the coaches love her vision and court savvy.
Let's not forget the return of Kingma next season, whose surgically repaired knee should be fully healed. Kingma had all season to absorb McGuff's offense, and her presence will make the Huskies especially dangerous on the perimeter.
One area where McGuff will continue to be aggressive is with recruiting. Over the course of his career, first as an assistant at Notre Dame and later a head coach at Xavier, McGuff has built a reputation as a successful recruiter, and those efforts have already paid off for Washington. His first class was ranked in the top-25 by noted scout service ESPN HoopGurlz, bolstered by the addition of McDonald's All-American Katie Collier. The 6-3 post from Covington, Wash., is the first McDonald's honoree the Huskies have ever signed.
Joining Collier is Heather Corral, a 6-1 guard who picked up a raft of awards after leading Prairie High School (Vancouver, Wash.) to a Class 3A state championship. For her efforts, Corral was named the Associated Press state Player of the Year and the Tacoma News-Tribune Player of the Year. Although she averaged just 13 points a game, Corral's skills as a playmaker and all-around performer set her apart. Another intriguing prospect is Renton's Airashay Rogers, a prodigious scorer out of Hazen High.
As of now, the frontcourt depth chart for next season is thin. There's no Regina Rogers to score at-will in the low block, no Mackenzie Argens to provide post defense, and no a super-sub like Mollie Williams to pick up a key steal or defensive rebound. All three flourished under McGuff, who has a long track record of develop elite post talent, highlighted by Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips at Xavier, who were picked in the Top-10 of the 2011 WNBA Draft.
Looking back on the season in the postgame press conference, Rogers displayed a bittersweet attitude. It hurt to see her college career come to a close, but she loved the chemistry on the team, and the way her team coalesced around each other on the court. Rogers was the linchpin to the Huskies success this season, carrying the team down the stretch with her scoring (16.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 rpg).
"To have 20 wins in a season is a big deal for us, it's a goal we've had for a while," Rogers said. "To accomplish that felt like we've overcome a lot of things."