By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The University of Washington women’s basketball team did a lot of things wrong in a 24-point loss to California one week ago.
One of them was so egregious that coach Kevin McGuff spent a good part of the following 36 hours addressing it.
For the first time in McGuff’s tenure, he sensed surrender in his players. He didn’t think the Huskies had that in them, and yet a good part of the second half saw, in McGuff’s mind, a UW team that had given up.
“I thought we competed for half of the second half — probably the first 10 to 12 minutes,” he said this week, as the Huskies prepared for tonight’s home game against Arizona. “I was really disappointed with our effort down the stretch.
“One of the things I thought we did consistently (in previous games) was play hard — even if we didn’t play well, we’ve played hard and we’ve competed. We did that for most of the Cal game, but we didn’t finish the game that way.”
After following a surprisingly hot start with five losses in their first seven games in Pacific-12 Conference play, the Huskies (10-7 overall, 2-5 in the Pac-12) still have some serious motivation as they reach the midway point. Quite simply, they don’t want to quit on their coach.
“We want to prove to him that we’re still the same team — and prove to everyone else that we’re still the same team,” senior Regina Rogers said. “We’re young still, and we want to show people in upcoming years that we’re still here to compete.”
After going 8-2 in non-conference play and getting the McGuff era off to one heck of a start, UW has fallen back on familiar patterns in Pac-12 play. The Huskies have guaranteed a sub-.500 mark at the halfway point of the conference season for the fifth consecutive year — even with a pair of wins over Arizona and Arizona State this week, UW would only be 4-5 in Pac-12 action.
“That’s always how the Pac-12 has been,” senior Mollie Williams said. “Every year, teams are coming at you. There’s always a war to get Stanford at the top. Every year, in the Pac-12, all the teams are good. We’re not necessarily where we want to be, but there’s always an upside to our game.”
Results-wise, McGuff probably could have seen this coming. Even while the Huskies were rolling toward eight wins in their first 10 games, he admitted frustration over the team’s defensive play and seemed unconvinced that his team would be able to keep it up in Pac-12 play. A season-ending injury to Kristi Kingma left UW without many scoring options, and the Huskies are still adjusting to his system and coaching style.
With Kingma sidelined, the Huskies have relied on Rogers and freshman point guard Jazmine Davis to do most of the scoring. So getting Rogers back from a hamstring injury last week was a key moment for the Huskies’ chances over the second half of conference play.
After missing the Washington State game with a hamstring injury, Rogers returned to action for last week’s two games in the Bay Area but was still rusty and out of condition. She expects to be closer to 100 percent when the Huskies host Arizona tonight and ASU on Saturday.
“It feels better,” she said Tuesday. “I played last week, so of course it feels better. This week is all about preparation and still being limited but still being able to play.”
Rogers admits that the team let up in the final minutes of the Cal game, adding that some choice words from McGuff afterward were deserved.
“I feel like we’re still in a good place because we can learn from it and get better,” she said two days ago. “It’s still early in the season. We still have a lot of games left. It’s a learning experience. It’s something that we didn’t want to go through, but I’m glad that we went through it earlier than later.”
McGuff doesn’t expect to see that kind of effort out of his Huskies again. And he certainly doesn’t think they’ve given up on this season.
“They’re still heavily invested in us trying to get better as a team and trying to win as many games as we can,” he said. “… I think they’re good kids, and they want to do well, and I think that’s a big part of it. I’m asking them to show up every day and work hard and continue to compete, and to this point they’ve done that.”