SEATTLE — Two University of Washington women’s basketball players will be returning to familiar territory today.
They’re expecting dissimilar receptions.
Senior Sami Whitcomb, a native of Ventura, Calif., will make her final regular-season trip to Southern California when the Huskies face UCLA today and USC on Saturday. Her annual visits always include friends and family making the one-hour drive from Whitcomb’s hometown.
For Seattle native Regina Rogers, a sophomore center, this trip won’t be as warm and fuzzy. It’s safe to say she’s expecting an off-key reception.
“Definitely, the band will be different,” said Rogers, a former UCLA player who transferred after her freshman year and is making her first trip back to Westwood. “I was their favorite when I was down there, so that will be different. Their band can be rude to people.”
A chilly reception would be nothing new to Rogers, who was at the center of a recruiting controversy while playing at West Seattle’s Chief Sealth High School. She heard chants of “Cheater!” and “What’s your address?” at opposing gyms throughout her senior year.
As for the effect it had on her? “I think I play better,” she said.
Rogers struggled mightily in her first game against her former team. She went scoreless while playing just 10 minutes in a 69-65 loss to UCLA on Jan. 23. After that game, head coach Tia Jackson said she sat the 6-foot-4 sophomore because Rogers couldn’t keep her emotions in check.
“When UCLA came here, I was so excited that I just didn’t play my game,” said Rogers, who cited homesickness as her reason for leaving UCLA after the 2007-08 season.
Rogers said she’ll be more comfortable this time because she has already faced the Bruins. She pointed to the fact that her scoring numbers have increased since UW started playing Pac-10 opponents for the second time, rising from 6.1 points per game to 9.5.
For Whitcomb, this week’s games might be less hostile but could be even more emotional. The senior probably has just six or seven games left in her UW career, so every contest has special meaning.
“You try not to think about that too much because it takes away from the individual games when you do that,” said Whitcomb, the Huskies’ leading scorer. “But it’s definitely something that I want to be aware of because it brings a certain amount of urgency to the game.”
Saturday’s game at USC might be more significant to Whitcomb than tonight’s game. She was recruited by the Trojans and gave serious consideration to going there before USC offered the scholarship to Jacki Gemelos.
Gemelos, a McDonald’s All-American who was being compared to former Connecticut star Diana Taurasi, signed with USC but suffered a series of knee injuries that prevented her from playing a single game — until two weeks ago. Gemelos, a redshirt junior, has averaged 10.7 points per game in three appearances.
“I’m just excited to get to see her play,” Whitcomb said. “I’m excited for her. She’s definitely changed the dynamic of that team.”
Whitcomb added that she was not overly upset by the Trojans’ decision to give the scholarship to Gemelos because she was leaning toward going out of state. But with her decision to attend the UW, Whitcomb rarely got a chance to play in front of family and friends.
“I always have a good time down there because my family and friends get to be there, and they don’t get to see me play too much otherwise,” Whitcomb said. “This should be a fun trip for us.”