This is the second in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams for the upcoming season.
The Huskies may be poised to see their resilience pay off this season.
Hammered by injuries two years ago, and then seeing their coach hired away by Ohio State, Washington bounced back in 2013-2014 to go 20-14 and sixth in the Pac-12. They made it to the quarterfinals of the WNIT before bowing out.
The Huskies’ top four scorers return this year: Kelsey Plum, who electrified the conference with her play and her consistency, averaging 20.9 points per game as a freshman last season; fellow guard Jazmine Davis (18.8 points per game), a senior; junior forward Talia Walton (11.1 points per game); and senior forward Aminah Williams (7.4 points per game).
Coach Mike Neighbors, who was an assistant coach for two years at Washington before taking the head position, said making up for the versatility and reliability of the graduated Mercedes Wetmore will be hard.
“You don’t replace a player who graduates as the all-time leader in games played,” Neighbors said. “You hope younger kids learned from her example and can collectively fill the role.”
But the door is wide open for the six returning bench players and four freshmen to step up. Neighbors said the bar is set.
“We return everyone else and add some really nice pieces, so our expectations will be very high,” he said. “I think the Pac-12 is as deep as I have seen it since being a college coach. We hope we can become a team that is in the NCAA talk come March.”
Junior guard Heather Corral (5.7 points per game), sophomore forward Katie Collier (3.8 points per game) and sophomore forward Chantel Osahor 2.7 points, 4.4 rebounds per game) are notable returnees. Joining them are four freshmen: Kelli Kingma – the sister of two-time All-Pac-12 team member and Washington three-point single-game record holder Kristi Kingma; Khalia Lark from nationally-ranked Mater Dei High School; Hannah Johnson from Bishop Alemany in Los Angeles; and local product Mackenzie Wieburg.
Just as exciting for the Huskies right now is the fact that they’re starting the season healthy, with a full roster.
“At this time have no ‘season-type’ situations,” Neighbors said.
They also have a core who has played together for a long time, and assistant coaches Kevin Morrison and Adia Barnes who, like Neighbors, have been there four years. Neighbors said the Huskies’ main focus is taking care of the details that it takes to win more games.
“We must improve on consistency, which I think will come from the added depth,” he said. “We had enough ‘good wins’ last season to be an NCAA tourney team. We must eliminate the let downs to be the team we want to be.”
Neighbors knows exactly what he wants to see on the court.
“Rebounding and shot selection will determine key for us to be that team,” he said.
Washington faces Oklahoma, Florida State, San Diego State and Texas A&M in preconference play. They kick off their Pac-12 slate Jan. 3 on the road, against Arizona State.