SEATTLE — The secret to success for the 2011-12 University of Washington women’s basketball team was really no secret. Getting the ball to the biggest player on the floor, 6-foot-4 wide-body Regina Rogers, was the first, second and third option in UW’s attack, and the Huskies had plenty of size surrounding her up front.
Oh, how long ago those days seem now.
While head coach Kevin McGuff enters his second season with the return of featured scorer Kristi Kingma on the wing, he also has a vertically-challenged team that might have to get creative to make up for the loss of Rogers and three other veterans up front.
“We’re obviously smaller than last year,” McGuff said before Monday’s practice, “which just means we’ll play a little bit differently.”
One frontcourt option was supposed to be incoming freshman Katie Collier, a 6-3 McDonald’s All-American who was projected as a likely starter before a summer knee injury ended her season before it began. That leaves UW with just three available players taller than 6-feet.
Talia Walton, a 6-2 redshirt freshman from Tacoma, played in one game last season but was granted a medical redshirt because knee problems sidelined her for almost the entire year. UW’s tallest player, 6-3 Mathilde Gilling, was a late addition to the 2012 recruiting class after coaches discovered her on a European tour last summer; she has yet to play a college game. Six-foot-1 freshman Heather Corral, who played point guard in high school, is also new to college basketball.
“I knew we were going to be smaller,” McGuff said. “Then Katie gets hurt, and now we’re a lot smaller. It just means we’re going to have to change the style of play a little bit, so that’s what we’re doing.”
That change will involve a lot more running. The Huskies hope to outrun the competition and wear out bigger teams in the process.
Led by Kingma, sophomore point guard Jazmine Davis and combo guard Mercedes Wetmore, UW has plenty of scoring options below the 6-foot benchmark. Kingma should spend even more time on the wing this season, while 6-footers Aminah Williams and Jeneva Anderson might have to improve their rebounding to find minutes on a team short on height but deep in perimeter options.
McGuff acknowledged that this year’s team could play long stretches with four 5-foot-somethings on the floor, and even the post players are going to spend a lot of time on the perimeter.
“We’ll do some things on offense that will make us hard to guard,” he said.
Davis, who averaged 15.7 points per game on the way to earning Pacific-12 Conference freshman-of-the-year honors last season, said she’s excited about the new style of play.
“With the loss of our bigs, it’s forced us to really get in shape — like, a lot (better) shape than we’ve ever been in,” Davis said. “We’re doing a lot of running; we’re just running now. That’s an advantage to us because a lot of teams can’t run up and down like that.”
Even the bigs are excited to run. Walton, who still wears a brace on her right knee but said she is “100 percent” healthy, looks forward to the change in tempo.
“We have limited height, but our speed is there,” she said. “That’s an advantage, and our coaches are really pushing that this year. We’re going to definitely be a run-and-gun team, and I think inside that helps us a lot.”
While Rogers had a one-dimensional game that involved using her size and strength to overpower opponents, Walton can play the power game inside but can also step out and hit long jumpers.
“I think Talia can be real special,” Davis said. “She’s very versatile. She can be big on the inside or take you out to the 3-point line. You don’t know too many bigs who can shoot the 3 in your face or beat you off the dribble, but her speed and quickness for her size are really going to help us.”
McGuff expects Walton to step right in and be a key cog in UW’s new-look offense.
“She has a lot of talent,” he said. “She’s been working really hard; she had a great offseason. I think she could really have a terrific year. She’s got the type of versatility as a post player that I really, really like. She has a really bright future, and I think you’ll see that right from the start.”
From the outside, Walton appears to be carrying a heavy load on her shoulders when it comes to replacing Rogers and some of UW’s other frontcourt players. But she doesn’t see it that way.
“Regina is irreplaceable, first of all,” she said Monday. “But I do think as far as being a leader and a threat on both ends, I really want that to be my role. I really want to step up and take full responsibility for that, and I have no doubt in my mind that I can do that.”
The Huskies could have several of scoring options heading into the 2012-13 season, even if they don’t have their Mack truck in the middle. While UW may lack size, McGuff believes this team could average in the 70s or 80s in points this season — a marked improvement over the 63.8 points per game the Huskies posted in 2011-12.
“We’ll be faster,” he said. “Overall, we’ll be a better shooting team, a team that can score in transition and spread the floor. We’ll look a little bit different than we did last year.”