Huskies Might Be Daughterty's Best
Nov. 12, 2006
SEATTLE (AP) -- The Washington Huskies know they're going to be good, better than last season's 19-victory team that went to the NCAA tournament and perhaps better than any of coach June Daugherty's previous 10 teams.
Now, it's just a matter of going out and playing up to their potential -- and avoiding injuries, Daugherty said this week.
"We're on our way," she said. "I like this group a lot. We're talented, we're deep with experience and if we can stay healthy, it could be a great season."
Back from last season's team, which had a 19-11 record, including an 11-7 tie for fourth place in the Pac-10, is an experienced group of starters headed by senior guard Cameo Hicks.
The athletic, 5-foot-10 Hicks led the Huskies in scoring (15 points) and rebounds (5.6) as a junior. She's one of 30 preseason candidates for the 2006-2007 John Wooden Award for women and one of four Pac-10 players up for the honor.
Also back are 6-2 junior center Andrea Plouffe, 6-1 senior forward Breanne Watson and junior guards Emily Florence and Dominique Banks, though Banks is still recovering from surgery Sept. 15 prompted by stress fractures on both legs. Banks is expected to miss the first two months of the season.
Banks' starting spot is expected to be filled by 5-9 sophomore guard Stephanie Clark, who shined in Washington's two exhibition victories, scoring 20 points as a starter in a win over University of Regina and 19 points off the bench as the Huskies beat the Australian Institute of Sport. She also had 13 rebounds in the two games.
Clark played in 14 games as a freshman in 2004-2005 and redshirted last season, when the Huskies had senior guards Kristen O'Neill and Nicole Castro, both now graduates.
"It gave her a chance to gain some good maturity and strength, and really learn the system both offensively and defensively," Daugherty said. "It was a great situation for her to be able to work every day and not have the pressure on her."
Daugherty said Clark will be a major player this season.
"There's no doubt Stephanie's a talent," the coach said. "She's very athletic and is very quick. Every day I see her getting more and more confident."
Senior forward Jill Bell, who will be a key player for the Huskies off the bench this season, is a big fan.
"Stephanie is an awesome player," she said. "She's a slasher and a driver who is very athletic and who gets on the boards."
The 6-foot Bell's college career has been plagued by knee problems. She averaged 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds coming off the bench last season after arthroscopic left knee surgery for a torn meniscus cartilage. In exhibition play, she had 16 points and six rebounds against the Australian team.
She said her knees feel better than ever due to lots of rest.
"I took all the spring off and didn't do any individual workouts," Bell said. "I took three or four months off completely from doing anything."
Then there's a pair of talented freshmen: 5-10 guard Sami Whitcomb, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds in Washington's exhibition games; and 6-2 center Laura McLellan, who had seven rebounds and two blocked shots in the Regina game. Whitcomb started against the Australians.
Watson, second on the team in rebounds last season with five per game, would like to be first in rebounding this season.
"I worked a lot this summer on my strength so I can be a little more physical inside," she said. "That's kind of the thing I focus on when I go out on the court."
Daugherty has coached five Washington teams into the NCAA tournament, including her 2000-2001 Pac-10 co-champions, who reached the NCAA tournament West Region finals.
She liked what she saw in this month's exhibition games.
"I liked the fact that we got up and down the floor," Daugherty said. "We also did a great job of forcing turnovers in both games. I think we played very hard and played very aggressive on both ends of the floor."