By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — It’s getting to the point where they might as well start calling this thing the U-Dub Invitational.
The National Invitational Tournament continues to be a successful postseason foray for University of Washington basketball, which has hosted — and won — four games at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in the past six days.
The UW women were the latest Huskies to move on, turning in a surprisingly convincing, and somewhat avenging, win over Utah. The 52-39 victory in the second round of the Women’s NIT means these Huskies will continue playing … just not at Hec Ed.
In fact, the two tournaments will intersect, so to speak, in that the UW women will play their next game — at Oregon State in the third round on Tuesday night — at the same time as the men’s game against Oregon that’s being played at Hec Ed that night.
With Sunday’s win, the Huskies (19-13) have already matched their highest season win total since 2005-06, and now they will take a shot at the program’s first 20-win season since June Daugherty’s 2002-03 team, which went 22-8, took second in the Pacific-10 Conference and went to the NCAA tournament.
“Nineteen is great,” UW coach Kevin McGuff said after Sunday’s win. “Twenty would be even better. That certainly would be something we’re going to try to accomplish on Tuesday.”
Said senior Regina Rogers of the Huskies’ success this season: “It’s a dream. All of us have wanted that for awhile.”
In avenging a Jan. 7 loss to the Utes, who had followed a 3-pointer in the final seconds with a dominating overtime performance to beat UW 49-36 in the only regular-season meeting, the Huskies didn’t need a single 3-pointer, a big game from Rogers, nor another offensive explosion from freshman Jazmine Davis.
UW’s two top scorers combined to make just 6 of 21 shots and scored 22 total points. But the Huskies’ defense, and senior reserve Mollie Williams, saved the day for UW.
“As we get further in the year, we get more confidence that we can defend and rebound — and that gives us a chance to win,” said McGuff, whose team also benefited on a season-low eight turnovers. “And that was certainly the case today. We weren’t as good on offense — a lot of that has to do with Utah, obviously — but it’s nice to see that we can still win a game when we’re not as good on offense as we normally are.”
Through the first 12 minutes of the second half, Rogers and Davis had a combined 16 points on 5-of-19 shooting, and yet UW had a comfortable 13-point lead. Williams, a role player who averages less than five points per game, scored eight first-half points on the way to her third career double-double (12 points and 12 rebounds). She cooled off over the final 111⁄2 minutes of the game, going scoreless and missing her final seven shots while UW maintained a double-digit lead.
“I was just happy that Mollie was able to come out and score for us when we needed it,” said Rogers, whose 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting matched her second-lowest point total since Jan. 21.
After turning in just four double-digit scoring performances all regular season, Williams has hit double figures in three consecutive postseason games — against Stanford, Cal Poly and Utah.
“As the year’s gone on, she’s become more comfortable with what we do,” McGuff said. “I’ve seen a real sense of urgency out of her, especially down the stretch. She’s been giving us great minutes.”
Williams said she’s motivated by the fact that her next loss will be her last game at UW.
“As a senior, you always want to be able to extend your season and be able to give all you can to your teammates for your last year,” she said.
The main star of Sunday’s game, however, was a UW defense that has now stymied the Utes in two meetings this season. Utah (16-16) made just 14 of 57 shots.
The Huskies used a 13-2 spurt early in the game to pull away from a 7-7 tie, and they never looked back. UW led 28-17 at the half, led by Williams’s eight points and a defense that held the Utes to 5-of-24 shooting.
The Huskies had their own scoring problems, making just 16 of 57 shots and missing all eight of their 3-point attempts.
The injury-plagued Utes got 16 points from Michelle Plouffe and 15 from post Taryn Wicijowski, but the rest of Utah’s players shot a combined 4-of-28 from the field. Only three players — Plouffe, Wicijowski and guard Iwalani Rodrigues — scored for the Utes, who went 1-for-22 from 3-point range.
In two games against UW this season, Utah shot 25.2 percent from the field (28 of 111).
Now UW will get another rematch against a Pac-12 Conference opponent that stole a game away at Hec Ed during the regular season. Oregon State rallied for a 78-73 win on Feb. 11, completing a sweep over the Huskies.
“Revenge, man, basically,” senior Charmaine Barlow said when asked about UW’s next opponent. “They had us twice in the season, but we’re ready to play.
“We’re way, way, way better than we were when we played them the first time (a 60-55 loss in Corvallis on Dec. 29) and way better than when we played them the second time (last month at Hec Ed). … We’re more focused.”
This marks the first time since 2000-01 that the UW women have won multiple games in a postseason national tournament. UW has beaten Cal Poly and Utah in the WNIT, marking the most wins since Daugherty led the Huskies into the Elite Eight of the 2001 NCAA tournament. … Sophomore Kellie McCann-Smith shot two free throws Sunday, which wouldn’t be notable except for the fact that she hadn’t been to the line since Dec. 31. The transfer from Nebraska played in 19 consecutive games — she logged at least 10 minutes in 17 of them — without shooting a free throw.