By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — For the second year in a row, Hec Edmundson Pavilion will play host to a basketball doubleheader this afternoon.
And for the second year in a row, it’s the University of Washington women who will quietly try to steal the show.
While the UW men (5-4) close out today’s action with a pad-the-win-total game against Jackson State, the Husky women could steal the show during their game against UC Santa Barbara. Not only is the opponent better — the Gauchos (3-5) have been an NCAA tournament team seven times since the 2000-01 season — but it’s also shaping up to be a banner year for UW women’s basketball.
The Husky women (6-1) are off to their best start since 2002-03, seemingly finding new ways to win each time out despite an undermanned roster of just seven healthy scholarship players. The last time out, go-to scorers Kristi Kingma and Jazmine Davis struggled almost the entire night, but UW made a remarkable comeback with its supporting cast to shock San Diego State with a nail-biting win.
Coach Kevin McGuff already has had quite an effect in just his second year in the program, and he’s excited about the possibility of some new fans watching the team this afternoon.
“I think it’s a good opportunity,” said McGuff, who is without his top two recruits due to injury and a top reserve because of a personal issue. “Obviously, the men have a strong fan base. It’s a chance for, hopefully, some of them to see us play. To get some more people interested in the program is a great opportunity.”
The UW men have a similar problem in terms of depth, although the bodies are slowly beginning to get healthy. Getting senior Scott Suggs back has given a boost to the offense — he’s averaged 21.5 points per game in two games back from a foot injury — and the Huskies played their most complete game of the season in Thursday night’s win over Seattle University.
In that win, sophomore Hikeem Stewart showed some rare offense off the bench, only to suffer a hyper-extended knee late in the second half. His status for today’s game is up in the air, while freshman point guard Andrew Andrews (ankle) is also ailing, meaning UW might have to turn to a walk-on guard to help spell starter Abdul Gaddy at some point. Gaddy played all 40 minutes Thursday night.
Due in part to a constant flow of injuries, the UW men have had their share of struggles early this season. The Huskies are 3-3 at home, which is rare for a program that had never previously lost more than two non-conference home games in the Lorenzo Romar era.
Today’s game shouldn’t be too taxing on the Huskies. Jackson State (0-6) has yet to win a game this season, with a Thursday night blowout at Washington State being the latest defeat.
The UW men struggled in the last Hec Ed doubleheader, losing to South Dakota State in a shocking reminder that the Huskies are not invincible at their home site. The Husky women followed that game by beating Houston to improve to 7-2 in McGuff’s first season at the helm.
After a deep run in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament last season, the UW women appear on their way to making yet another step in the right direction. Fans with some time on their hands can come three hours early for today’s 4 p.m. men’s game and see the progress for themselves.