By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
If heroes came with odds, the University of Washington women’s basketball team would have gotten some long ones in regards to the duo that led the Huskies to their biggest win to date.
Senior point guard Sarah Morton entered last week’s game at Utah just hoping her sprained left ankle would hold up, and she ended up scoring a career-high 20 points.
Teammate Marjorie Heard, a freshman, hadn’t attempted a 3-point shot all season, and yet she hit the game-winner from behind the arc with 2.8 seconds remaining.
And somehow, UW (3-2) escaped Salt Lake City with a 58-55 win over the host Utes, who are just five years removed from making the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t think we had a big win like that early in the year last year,” leading scorer Kristi Kingma said this week. “It’s something we can definitely benefit from, just the fact that we know we can win on the road in a hostile environment.”
Just as quickly as the basketball gods giveth, they can taketh away. And so tonight’s game against winless Cal State Northridge (0-9) could send the Huskies careening back toward mediocrity.
If anything is known about this year’s UW women, it’s that it is hard to know what to expect. Injuries, an influx of freshman contributors and ever-changing roles have left this year’s Huskies looking for help wherever they can find it.
“A number of different people have stepped up at different times, whether it be posts or guards,” Morton said. “At that moment, it’s whoever’s taking advantage of the opportunity.”
The last time UW took the court, Morton was the one stepping into the hero’s outfit. While Utah spent most of the night trying to contain Kingma, the 5-foot-10 senior from Monroe took it upon herself to be more aggressive and ended up scoring 12 of her 20 points from the free-throw line. The ankle injury that had kept her out of UW’s first four games was quickly forgotten.
“I was just focused on: when you’re out there, make the most of it,” she said this week. “I was just trying to help my team in any way possible.”
Kingma was among the teammates who weren’t overly surprised by Morton’s 2010-11 debut.
“For the most part, we kind of expected Morty to do that,” the junior from Mill Creek said. “She had been injured for a while, but for the most part that’s not abnormal for her to take over a game like that.”
When that game was on the line, and Kingma was double-teamed on the outside, it was up to another unexpected option to hit the biggest shot of the night. Heard, who played at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish, was left open and got the ball in the corner. Her first collegiate 3-point shot bounced twice before falling through.
“I’ve always been the player that’s setting up to rebound those kind of shots,” Heard said this week. “To put the shot up and have it actually go in was pretty exciting.”
Injuries to Morton and post players Regina Rogers (hamstring) and Mollie Williams (ankle) have forced Heard and fellow freshmen Mercedes Wetmore and Kassia Fortier to play more than expected. While it might not necessarily be a recipe for success, the experience UW’s reserves have gotten might work in the Huskies’ favor down the line.
“If we don’t have the injuries early in the year, then we don’t get the experience for the young ones on the floor,” coach Tia Jackson said. “That’s why a Marjie Heard can get out there and play as confidently as she has. She’s probably our most consistent player — she has the exact same numbers every game.”
The Huskies have also gotten some surprising performances from the experienced players as well — no more obvious than Morton’s 20-point effort at Utah.
“I was expecting an effective game (from Morton), but I didn’t think she would go for 20,” Jackson said of her starting point guard.
The Utah win could propel UW (3-2) onto bigger and better things, especially with winnable games over the next three.
“I think it’s a confidence-builder,” Jackson said. “It kind of marks where we are, minus the healthy bodies.
“… It was a pivotal game for us, but as I tell the kids: it’s short-term memory. It’s one game, and we’ve got the (Northridge) Matadors coming up. They’re a scrappy, scrappy team. Don’t let that 0-9 record fool you.”
Jackson said earlier this week that Rogers would not make the trip, but she’s holding out hope that the 6-foot-4 junior will be available for Sunday’s game against UC Riverside. “She’s getting better,” Jackson said, “so that’s a good thing.” … Tonight’s contest marks the end of a five-game, three-week stretch of away games for UW. The Huskies return to Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Sunday for a game against UC Riverside.