SEATTLE — The University of Washington women’s basketball team has spent the first five weeks of the 2010-11 season patching and plugging holes.
Injuries have piled up like cars in a Seattle snowstorm, leaving only three scholarship players with a clean bill of health through the entire non-conference season.
It was enough to make head coach Tia Jackson joke about donning her own UW uniform for the short-handed Huskies in their last outing.
“When we’re healthy, you’d better look out, people,” she said after a 59-40 win over Western Michigan on Monday night. “Better look out, I’m telling you. We’re just a much more solid team.”
The good news is that help could be on the way. But until then, the Huskies (5-3) will have to weather one more storm before top reserves Regina Rogers and Mercedes Wetmore are slated to return to action.
And, boy, could UW use them tonight.
The Huskies face their first power-conference opponent when Georgia Tech (8-4) of the Atlantic Coast Conference comes to town.
The Yellow Jackets have won their past five games, four of which have come by margins of 15 points or more. Georgia Tech’s losses came at the hands of No. 1 Connecticut, No. 5 Tennessee, No. 20 Georgetown and unranked Old Dominion. The starting lineup includes three guards, 6-foot-1 Tacoma native Alex Montgomery and a 6-5 center. Three other players 6-4 or taller come off the Georgia Tech bench.
As UW junior and leading scorer Kristi Kingma said Monday night: “Georgia Tech’s not going to be an easy task.”
While the Huskies have won four of their past five games, they’ve had to do it with patchwork rotations. Point guard Sarah Morton, post Mollie Williams and wing Charmaine Barlow are among the starters still battling injuries, while the losses of key reserves Rogers (hamstring) and Wetmore (undisclosed medical condition) have shortened UW’s bench. Walk-on freshman Kassia Fortier has been forced into extensive action, while little-used bench players Amanda Johnson and Ashley Moore played a lot Monday night as the Huskies dealt with injuries and foul trouble.
Jackson said Rogers and Wetmore should be back for the Pac-10 opener against UCLA next week, but that won’t help the Huskies tonight.
“We’ve come through so much already,” Kingma said. “It’s been a short season, but it’s been long. We’ve battled through post injuries, we battled through guard injuries. One of our captains was out. We’ve just been resilient.”
What the Huskies haven’t had to do is face a big-time opponent. While UW did beat Utah of the Western Athletic Conference in a road game last month, the Huskies will face their first foe from the six so-called “power” conferences.
The ACC’s Yellow Jackets fit that bill.
“We have freshmen out here who don’t know what it’s like to play in a big game, like a Pac-10 game,” Kingma said. “Georgia Tech will be a good tuneup for Pac-10.”
During the non-conference season, the Pac-10 has proven to be among the most surprising leagues in the country. Nine Pac-10 teams have records above .500, while UW and Washington State are the only conference teams with fewer than six wins.
Even when healthy, the Huskies could have their work cut out for them.
“As soon as our team is able to come together, and no injuries, we may surprise people,” Kingma said. “Looking at our team right now, we have seven, maybe eight, healthy players, and most Pac-10 teams have 10 or 12. That wears on you.
“As long as we keep progressing as a unit and get players healthy, I think we’ll be able to surprise people.”