No matter what happens tonight, when the University of Washington women’s basketball team plays a familiar opponent at an unfamiliar time of the year, the Huskies have accomplished another goal for the future of the program.
Two wins in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament have put UW in the unfamiliar position of being tourney-tested — something that could work to the Huskies’ advantage in coming years.
“I hope that, with our younger players, it gives them a little bit of a feeling for what it means to play in March,” said UW coach Kevin McGuff, whose 19-13 Huskies are in Corvallis, Ore., for tonight’s WNIT game against Oregon State, “the sense of urgency that you have to have, the fact that there’s no more practice, no more game, no more anything if you don’t win. I enjoy that.”
But McGuff also has sounded like a broken record at times this postseason in saying that the WNIT is all about his senior class. Regina Rogers, Mollie Williams, Mackenzie Argens and Charmaine Barlow have accepted their roles as gatekeepers to the future, but they’re not ready to put their UW careers in the past.
“We all just want to keep playing,” Rogers said after the Huskies beat Utah on Sunday afternoon to advance to tonight’s third-round game. “These guys are like my sisters. I really don’t want it to end with them. I know it has to, but as long as we can keep playing, I hope we still can.”
The UW seniors are enjoying the program’s first postseason run since 2000-01 (the last time the Huskies won multiple games in a national tournament) and it’s starting to feel like a huge step for the future of Husky women’s basketball.
“It will definitely give them a feel,” Barlow said of the UW underclassmen. “If they do pretty good and go to (a postseason tournament next year), they know what it’s like. Nobody’s going to give you anything.
“Playing the postseason, as a freshman like Jaz (Jazmine Davis), Mercedes (Wetmore) as a sophomore, it gives them a feel for how games are after our conference.”
Before the Huskies can think about any of that, they’re still trying to take another step in the WNIT while playing a familiar opponent. In a Pacific-12 Conference season-like scheduling quirk, the UW women will be in Oregon to face Oregon State while the men play host to the Oregon Ducks at Hec Edmundson Pavilion tonight. Both games are part of similar tournaments — with the women hoping to move on to the round of eight, and the men eyeing a semifinal berth in the NIT.
McGuff’s Huskies played two close games with OSU during the regular season but ended up falling short in both games. The close scores in those losses, both of them coming by margins of five points, left UW feeling confident going into tonight’s third meeting.
“Both games were hard-fought,” McGuff said. “To their credit, they made a few more plays down the stretch of both games, and that was the difference. I think this will be a close game, and we’ll see if we can be that team that steps up to make the winning plays at the end this time.”
The Huskies were scheduled to depart for Corvallis after a Monday practice, and it’s a rather unique week in terms of preparation because UW is currently on spring break. Rogers, Barlow and Williams have all graduated, so their only focus now is on basketball.
And when it comes to basketball, it’s a pretty good time to be a Husky.
“Being here four years, we never had an ongoing winning streak. It just feels really good,” said Barlow, whose team has won four of five games with the one loss coming against nationally ranked Stanford. “I give a lot of credit to coach McGuff and his staff for putting in a new system that we all could adjust to. I think that helped us this season.”
And the tournament run might help the returning Huskies in the seasons to come.
“It’s kind of hard to describe to people what (the postseason) is like,” McGuff said. “I’m hopeful that as we grow the program, that’ll be something, this experience, that really helps our younger players understand that.”