By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
The breakout season of University of Washington sophomore Mercedes Wetmore is happening a little later than expected.
But that’s better than not happening at all.
UW’s heir apparent at point guard has had to adjust to a different role, some offensive struggles and a new backcourt mate, but is starting to come around in time to provide the Huskies with the third scoring option they’ve been missing for a good portion of the Pac-12 Conference season.
“She has played well of late,” UW coach Kevin McGuff said, “especially on the offensive end.”
Until recently, it had mostly been a season of offensive struggles for Wetmore, a 5-foot-8 guard from Lake Tapps. Things hit a low in mid-January, when she shot a combined 2-for-22 from the floor and scored 10 total points in a span of three games.
Shortly thereafter, Wetmore began working with assistant coach Adia Barnes, a former WNBA player, on a pregame shooting routine that seems to have helped the sophomore find her stroke. Before each game, Barnes would put Wetmore through shooting drills based on the defense she was about to face.
“We’ve noticed the difference,” Barnes said two days ago, as the Huskies (13-10 overall, 5-8 in the Pac-12) prepared for tonight’s game at Arizona State. “When she’s going confident, she plays a lot better.”
Confidence was never much of an issue for Wetmore, who was one of the most dynamic scorers in the state during her career at Auburn-Riverside High School. But a move from the point to the shooting guard, which was initiated by the season-ending knee injury suffered by teammate Kristi Kingma in August, left Wetmore struggling to find her rhythm and sometimes wondering if she’d lost her groove.
“It was frustrating,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was playing up to my potential when I wasn’t scoring consistently.”
Wetmore credits her recent emergence to her pregame shooting routine and the help she received from Barnes. Wetmore has scored in double figures in four of UW’s past seven games, averaging 9.6 points per contest in that span. In her past three games, Wetmore has gone 4-of-6 from 3-point range, raising her percentage to 34.8 on the season.
With leading scorer Regina Rogers getting constant double- and triple-teams inside, and freshman point guard Jazmine Davis beginning to draw extra defensive attention, the emergence of Wetmore comes at a good time. She almost single-handedly kept the Huskies in the first halves of games against Oregon and Oregon State last week and has continued to be the 3-point threat the Huskies have lacked since Kingma went down.
Part of Wetmore’s early struggles, she admits, had to do with getting used to playing without the ball in her hands. She’s been a point guard for most of her career, and moving to the off-guard position was a bit of a transition.
“I feel like I’ve definitely gotten better moving without the ball,” she said. “You have to learn how to create shots without the ball in your hands. I’m used to having the ball in my hands and creating like that; I still feel like I am somewhat creative when I have the ball in my hands, moreso. But I’m working on it.”
The decision to move Wetmore to the shooting guard position came from the old adage, “necessity is the mother of invention,” McGuff said this week. With Kingma sidelined, and Wetmore being the most established backcourt scorer, he moved her to the off-guard and put the offense in the hands of a true freshman point guard in Davis.
Having two natural point guards in the same backcourt has paid dividends — the Huskies are particularly adept at breaking presses — but also required some adjustments.
Wetmore said she’s more comfortable now, and she’s glad to have emerged as the third scoring option the Huskies so desperately needed.
“It’s getting to the crunch time of the season,” she said, “so people need to step up and make plays and find ways to win.”
This week could be an emotional trip for UW’s Barnes, a former Arizona star who hasn’t been back to her alma mater much since leaving the University of Arizona as the program’s all-time leading scorer. Barnes, who played seven seasons in the WNBA and was once a member of the Seattle Storm, said of Saturday’s return to Tucson: “I’ve never really had the time to go back. I’m excited.” … Senior guard Charmaine Barlow, the Huskies’ best perimeter defender, is questionable for today’s game at ASU because of a high ankle sprain.