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UW women go pink to raise awareness for cancer research

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By Scott M. Johnson
Herald Writer
SEATTLE — She burns with so much tenacity that head coach Tia Jackson called her “one of the toughest kids I’ve ever met,” and she may well be the most popular player on the University of Washington women’s basketball team.
But there’s one thing senior Sarah Morton has to admit this week, as she prepares for the final homestand at UW and the season debut of the Huskies’ pink uniforms.
“When I was younger, I wasn’t too fond of pink,” she said Tuesday, her fingernails painted black. “But I’ve grown to like it.”
Why the change of heart? It may well be due to the fact that pink has come to represent a strength that not even Morton can fully comprehend.
Pink is the color of survival, a symbol of those who have fought breast cancer over the years. And tonight, Morton and the Huskies will honor those and others who have been stricken with the disease while raising awareness for breast cancer research.
It’s a cause that cuts deep for Jackson, among others.
The UW coach is dedicating this season to Barbara McCool, her former coach at Mardela Springs (Md.) High School who lost a battle with lymphoma in October. Jackson’s aunt passed away a few weeks later. And Jackson calls former North Carolina State coach Kay Yow, who lost a 22-year battle with breast cancer in Jan. 2009, a “friend and a mentor.”
“It’s always tough to deal with,” Jackson said. “So when you can have a cause that’s so significant and be able to give back doing what you love and what you’re passionate about, it makes this weekend even more special.”
Jackson had to fight back tears earlier this week while talking about McCool, a longtime high school coach whom Jackson said she loathed as a naive 14-year-old but learned to respect her.
“I knew that she cared a great deal about me, but when you’re out there 20 suicides, you really can’t understand what good there is,” Jackson said, adding that McCool had a motherly effect on her. “You don’t really see the benefit when you’re going through it. But when you start to overcome challenges like that, you start to believe in everything impossible to be possible. And that’s everything she was.”
McCool would undoubtedly be proud of the way the Huskies are playing as of late. Using a scrappy, defensive-minded philosophy that doesn’t always make for the most picturesque games, UW has rebounded from a 2-6 start in Pacific-10 Conference play to start playing some of its best basketball of the season in recent weeks.
The Huskies (10-12 overall, 5-8 in the Pac-10) have won three of their last five games and are coming off a weekend that saw them upset California and stay with fourth-ranked Stanford for almost the full 40 minutes before losing 62-52 in Palo Alto.
“We can compete with anyone; we just can,” Jackson said, “especially when you play the type of defense that we do. We can force teams to be extremely uncomfortable.
Entering the final homestand of the regular season, UW is within striking distance of its goal of finishing in the top four of the Pac-10 standings. The Huskies are a game-and-a-half behind fourth-place Arizona State, which will be at Hec Edmundson Pavilion tonight, and face a sixth-place Arizona team that is a half-game in front of UW.
“On any given night, any team can win _ as we showed against Stanford,” said Morton, the Huskies’ lone senior. “Any team can play any other team really close, and that’s what I love about the Pac-10. These games are really big for us, especially, this week.”
The Huskies, who rank fourth in the conference in points allowed per game (57.1) and second in opponents’ field-goal percentage (36.2), will use a familiar formula to try and knock ASU off its game tonight. Four years into the Jackson era, the UW players seem to be fully grasping what the coach is trying to preach.
“As we move forward, we want to build on that Husky brand — that true grit, that toughness, that physical play,” Jackson said.
It’s a brand of basketball that can even be played in pink. And it sounds like the kind of basketball that would make Barbara McCool proud.
Jackson hopes so. There will always be a little of McCool in her coaching style.
“My first love is to make sure I can love these players and get them to be everything they desire,” Jackson said. “The first time I meet them, I ask them what their dreams are. If you dream to be a housewife to a doctor and everything in between, it’s my job to get that out of you. And Barbara McCool is the one who helped instill that in me.”
Tonight’s game will be a reunion of sorts, with ASU bringing junior Kali Bennett to Hec Ed. Bennett was part of Morton’s recruiting class at UW but was one of four players from that class to transfer due in part to Jackson’s coaching style. “We want to go at her,” former teammate Mackenzie Argens said. “We want to show her we’re a good team, we’re physical.” Said Jackson of Bennett’s return: “I just want the kids happy. If that’s in Timbuktu, or if it’s in Seattle or Tempe or wherever, I just want them happy.” ... Since suffering a concussion in a Dec. 23 loss to Georgia Tech, junior Mollie Williams has struggled to get back up to speed. She missed three games and has averaged just 3.1 points per game since returning to action. Jackson said Williams is still “hesitant” because of the injury, but she has continued to put the 6-foot-2 post in the starting lineup.
Story tags » Huskies Basketball

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