By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The first year of the Kevin McGuff era lasted a lot longer than expected, but not long enough for the University of Washington women’s basketball team.
That was evident in the faces of the UW seniors on Sunday afternoon.
“By our eyes, you can tell,” red-eyed senior Mackenzie Argens said as she sat in the postgame media room following Sunday’s 58-47 loss to San Diego in the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
It certainly wasn’t the ending that the Huskies (20-14) wanted after the longest season in program history. But they rarely are.
“This is my 10th year as a head coach, and I’ve not yet had an opportunity to end with a win,” said McGuff, whose past five seasons ended with NCAA tournament losses while he was coaching at Xavier. “It’s always a disappointment, no matter how it goes down.”
What made this one a little easier to swallow for UW fans was the light at the end of the tunnel that is finally evident through the fog of the program’s recent struggles. The Huskies won 20 games for the first time in nine years and look like they’re headed in the right direction.
“We know that, with what we started with as seniors, our teammates are in tremendous hands,” said senior Mollie Williams, one of four seniors who player their final game Sunday.
Fellow senior Regina Rogers, who had to work for every one of her 20 points Sunday while being the only UW player to hit double figures, said this season helps make up for the recent sub-.500 seasons the Huskies have had to endure.
“This year shows we’ve learned a lot from losing,” the 6-foot-4 hometown product said. “Those losses helped us because we know what it’s like to lose, and we didn’t want to feel that way again.”
After three consecutive wins in the WNIT, and five victories in their last six games, the Huskies were back on the losing end Sunday. Rogers carried the load statistically while turning in her 13th double-double of the season with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but her teammates made just 8 of 40 shots and went 1 of 13 from 3-point range.
Star freshman Jazmine Davis, who hit double figures in points in 25 of UW’s 28 regular-season games, was held to single digits for the third game in a row while matching a season-low with seven on 2-of-14 shooting. Fellow backcourt starter Mercedes Wetmore went 1-of-9 from the field.
But Sunday’s game wasn’t so much about what the Huskies didn’t do so much as it was about what the visiting Toreros did do. USD (26-8) came out on fire, led by the dead-eye shooting of star Dominique Conners and her four consecutive field goals on the way to an 11-6 lead. But while Conners would cool off — she missed her next 20 attempts, finishing with 14 points on 5-of-21 shooting — teammate Morgan Woodrow (a game-high 21 points, including five 3-pointers) carried the offense while the Toreros’ defense flustered UW all afternoon. Even Rogers struggled at times and had three of her shots cleanly blocked by USD freshman Sophia Ederaine.
The Huskies fell behind 30-21 at the half, then took advantage of some cold shooting to pull even seven minutes into the second half. USD missed 14 of its first 15 shots to start the second half, leading to an 11-2 UW run that tied the score at 32.
But the Huskies ran out of gas after that, and Woodrow made them pay with a series of back-breaking 3-pointers.
“Woodrow made some huge 3’s — absolute back-breakers,” McGuff said.
McGuff admitted that his team was spent by the middle of Sunday’s second half — not necessarily because of the long season but due to USD’s hot start.
“We expended so much energy to get the game back to even (early in the second half) that we didn’t have enough left after that,” he said.
The three UW seniors who were brought into the post-game media room certainly looked spent emotionally, but they would undoubtedly play another 40 minutes today if that meant putting on the Husky uniform again.
“It started to hit me the last 30 seconds,” said Rogers, who came off the floor to an ovation of respect with 30.1 seconds left on the clock and the Huskies trailing by 10 points. “I’m not an emotional person … but at the end of the game, it was really emotional. I was looking at my teammates and coaches and thinking about how much I’m going to miss playing with them. It kind of got to me.”
And yet no one is crying for the UW women’s basketball program. With two returning starters, the return of former Jackson High School star Kristi Kingma from a knee injury, and the addition of three of the state’s top high school seniors (Katie Collier, Heather Corral and Airashay Rogers as well as 2011 graduate Talia Walton, who missed most of the season with a knee injury), the Huskies believe they can build on this year’s deep run in the WNIT.
“This was a good way to start,” McGuff said, “and hopefully we have more wins in us.”