By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — This time last year, the University of Washington women’s basketball team was so besieged by injuries that the Huskies could barely find players to fill the minutes.
This year, UW might have the opposite problem.
The Huskies, who entered the season with nearly as many hobbled players as healthy ones, are finally starting to get closer to full strength. Yet the team is having so much success that there might not be enough minutes to go around.
“It’s nice,” first-year head coach Kevin McGuff said. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I do think depth will continue to be a strength of ours.”
Sophomore Ashley Moore finally has recovered from a sprained knee and is available to come off the UW bench. Freshman Talia Walton, a 6-foot-2 post from Federal Way who can play both inside and outside, has a chance of making her debut against Portland tonight but is more likely to be on the court when the Huskies host Houston in nine days. Two other freshmen — late signees Beatrice Carta and Deborah Meeks — could return from injuries next month, although McGuff said redshirting both of them will be a consideration because of the time they’ve already missed.
Throw in senior post Mollie Williams, who missed most of November with a concussion but has recently become part of the regular rotation, and the Huskies are on the verge of being as deep as they’ve been in years.
“Anytime you can get extra bodies, that’s wonderful — especially the bodies that we are getting back,” junior wing Jeneva Anderson said. “It’s wonderful. The season is really long, a lot of ups and downs. We play a lot of games against high-quality teams. So the more bodies we have, the better.”
McGuff’s challenge now is finding the minutes to satisfy everyone. The Huskies (5-2) already have 10 players as part of the regular rotation, and they’ve won five of their past six games.
Despite playing most of the season with six players in street clothes — returning leading scorer Kristi Kingma, the most notable, is out for the season with a knee injury — UW has not only stayed afloat but is moving through the non-conference season at a Dave Villwock-like pace.
“At first when the players were gone, we were like, ‘Oh no.’ We were kind of nervous and worried,” freshman point guard Jazmine Davis said. “But we pulled together even without those players. Now that they’re coming back, we’re really excited to have them. We’re all open arms.”
The most intriguing return of the early season could come as soon as tonight, when Walton has a chance of playing a few minutes in her UW debut. McGuff is excited about her potential and said he’ll find a way to get her on the floor even though the Huskies already have plenty of experienced bigs in Regina Rogers, Mackenzie Argens, Marjorie Heard and the 6-2 Williams.
“It’s interesting because that’s a spot where we have a lot of people,” McGuff said. “(Walton) has a lot of talent.
“I don’t know. I guess we have to see how she does. I do want to give her a chance to get into that mix with everybody else because she’s got a lot of talent and a bright future. That’s a spot where we’ve got a lot of people, so we’ll see.”
Walton’s ability to stretch a defense is what sets her apart from her fellow frontcourt players.
“She’s really versatile,” said Davis, a fellow freshman and one of Walton’s closest friends on the team. “She can be a three-guard, and then she can be a four. We have more solid fours, but Talia, she can bring you out to the arc and she can shoot 3’s. And then she can post you up, too.”
How McGuff will add players to a mix that’s already provided plenty of flavor is a puzzle that will sort itself out in the coming weeks.
“During the course of a year, I think that can really help a team,” he said. “It’s still to be seen if we can stay healthy and if all those things can go right, but I think that could be a good thing for us heading toward (the) Pac-12 (season).”