SEATTLE — University of Washington women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff didn’t truly know what he was getting himself into last season when Pacific-12 Conference play began 12 months ago.
But he did know this: it was going to come down to Stanford, and then everybody else.
That proved to be the case and is likely to be the storyline again when McGuff enters Pac-12 play Friday night with a more balanced, albeit smaller, UW team this time around.
The Huskies (8-3) aren’t likely to keep mighty Stanford up at night this season. However, they’ve also shown enough signs that they might be on the rise and that last year’s seventh-place finish might have been just a stepping stone.
The biggest question, of course, is a small one. UW is one of the smallest teams in the Pac-12, having lost three post players to graduation and a fourth, 6-foot-3 freshman Katie Collier, to a season-ending knee injury. Six-foot-2 center Talia Walton and 6-1 Heather Corral, who recently returned from a hand injury, prefer the 3-point shot, leaving unimposing 6-footer Aminah Williams as the top rebounding option.
Using a run-and-gun offense that often saw four guards on the floor together, the Huskies have been able to get off to their best start (6-2) since 2002-03. But even McGuff is uncertain how that might translate to the Pac-12, where teams like Stanford, Cal and Utah are stacked up front.
McGuff stressed offense heading into the season, then put more emphasis on defense and rebounding because the Huskies struggled in those areas early on. Now, he’s just looking for a more complete performance when conference play begins Friday at home against Arizona State.
“We’ve got to put both ends of the floor together and move forward,” he said last week. “The positive part is we’ve been great on both ends of the floor at different times. But now we have to work on being more consistent at both ends of the floor and playing closer to 40 minutes than what we’ve done.”
Even after losing leading scorer Regina Rogers and three other seniors from last year’s rotation, the Huskies have shown signs of being an improved team this season. That also could be said for most of the Pac-12, though. So, it’s hard to say if UW can realistically expect to break into the top six.
“This year, there are a lot of great teams” in the Pac-12, McGuff said. “We’re getting a lot more big non-conference wins, overall people are winning more. We’re as competitive, especially down the middle of the conference, as we’ve been in a long time. I think we’re trending toward a lot of teams having the opportunity to play in postseason play.”
The Huskies would love to be one of those teams. And despite some obvious limitations, they’re hoping postseason play will bring a greater reward than the WNIT.