Pac-12 preview: the University of Washington

This is the ninth of a 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

It’s been a whirlwind six months for the Huskies, who got a top-notch new head coach and then saw their star player lose the season due to injury. But despite the turbulence, they seem fortified ready to go this season – in part due to some late roster additions.

Former coach Tia Jackson was fired in March after four seasons and a 45-75 record. By the first week of April, Washington was announcing Kevin McGuff as the program’s new head coach. He is making more than three times Jackson’s salary, but his resume is substantiative.

McGuff spent the last nine years as Xavier’s coach, and his team was Atlantic 10 champions the last three years – the latter two in which they were undefeated in conference play. Xavier’s record during McGuff’s final two seasons was 58-7. Last season also marked their fifth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Prior to his tenure at Xavier, McGuff was assistant for six years to Hall of Fame Coach Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame.

Why did McGuff leave to come to Washington? He told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he had always wanted to try his personal style and system in a difference part of the country, in a different conference, and at a school with greater resources. Washington apparently fit his criteria. McGuff also told the news source that he emphasizes process and style, and that fans will know what they’re looking at when they watch the Huskies play.

McGuff brought assistant coach Mike Neighbors with him from Xavier, and hired Kevin Morrison, who had been an assistant at Cal for the past four seasons. Adia Barnes is the third assistant coach. She is a former WNBA forward who has worked as a commentator for the Seattle Storm and has coached basketball to children.

In August, Washington’s luck went south, as leading scorer Kristi Kingma (15.6 ppg) tore her right ACL during a European tour that the Huskies were in, and was lost for this season. McGuff wasn’t content to eat the loss, and two weeks ago he announced the late signing of two new players – both of whom were immediately eligible to play.

Deborah Meeks, a 5-foot-8 guard/forward from Michigan, was a high-scorer in high school and is known for her physical game and up-tempo style of play. Beatrice Carta is a 5-foot-7 guard from Italy, who has a lot of international playing experience. Both are freshmen.

Three starters return: senior forward Mollie Williams (4 ppg), redshirt senior forward/center Mackenzie Argens (7.1 ppg), and senior guard/forward Charmaine Barlow (3.9 ppg).

Regina Rogers, a 6-foot-3 redshirt senior forward/center (10 ppg) also returns, as does 6-foot-1 sophomore forward Marjorie Heard (7.3 ppg) and sophomore guard Mercedes Wetmore (3.5 ppg).

Washington also has some potentially powerful newcomers this season, and two of them are Seattle-area residents, which will probably increase the home crowd.

Seattle’s Aminah Williams is a 6-foot wing who was ranked 23rd in her position. Talia Walton, of Tacoma, is a 6-foot-2 forward ranked 32nd in her position. The last freshman is 5-foot-8, 29th-ranked guard Jazmine Davis, from San Jose, Calif.

Sitting out this year is Kellie McCann-Smith, who transfered from Nebraska a few days after the Huskies hired McGuff. She played 22 games for the Cornhuskers before sitting out the final nine with a back injury. She averaged 3 ppg for the season.

It appears that Washington has hit the gold mine with the McGuff hire. The Huskies did go 5-0 in Europe despite losing Kingma. If McGuff stays true to his track record at Notre Dame and Xavier, he will breathe life into a long-dormant program. If Washington is even half good this season, by 2012-2013, they should be beastly.

Washington’s pre-season opponents include Seattle University, Cal State Northridge, San Diego State and Houston. They open conference play Dec. 29 in Corvallis, as they take on Oregon State.