Bold Dawgs

  • KIRBY ARNOLD / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, November 21, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Huskies set sights on Pac-10 title and NCAA Tournament


Herald Writer

SEATTLE — After an 8-22 season, nobody with the University of Washington women’s basketball program is talking about baby-step improvement in 2000-2001.

They’re talking NCAA Tournament. They’re talking surprise team in the Pacific-10 Conference.

"Some people are going to hate me for saying this, but I think we have a shot at winning the Pac-10," said junior forward Kellie O’Neill. "And I definitely feel we’ll go to the (NCAA) Tournament and do well."

As long as O’Neill and her teammates can back up those words, UW coach June Daugherty won’t argue with such boldness. She likes the chances of a team that returns all but one player (point guard Julia Gray transferred) from a season that went sour partly because of injuries.

They’ve split two games so far, and already have lost one key player. Sophomore guard Loree Payne, who averaged 17.4 points last season, suffered a stress fracture in her left foot and is expected to be out until January.

How hungry is this team?

"Look at our five seniors," Daugherty said. "They really want to get this team back to the NCAAs and go deep into it. That’s real important to them, and they’re showing it day in and day out. Both on the court and off the court. They’re very vocal about what each other needs to do and they’re good leaders by their own example.

"There’s no doubt that we want to get back to the NCAAs. That’s where our vision is."

There was no better ammunition for motivation than last season’s struggles, said junior forward Heather Reichmann.

"Except for the freshmen who just got here, we all know what it was like. Ugh," said Reichmann, who starred at King’s High School. "I think we’ve surprised ourselves how well we can play when we play as a team. I don’t think anybody expects us to be extra special. I think they expect us to be better than last year, obviously, but I don’t think they expect us to be as good as I think we can be."

Daugherty says the Huskies must improve defensively and dominate the rebound statistics. In two exhibition games, they outrebounded their opponents about two-to-one.

"If we continue to do that, there’s no doubt we’ll be in the (NCAA) Tournament," Daugherty said.

On Friday, the Huskies will experience up close exactly what it takes to reach the top. They will open their remodeled Bank of America Arena against defending national champion Connecticut.

Last weekend, the Huskies impressively split their opening two games against a couple of rugged Big 10 opponents. Indiana beat UW on a controversial official’s call in overtime on Friday, and the Dawgs recovered on Sunday to topple Michigan by 13 points.

It’s the same Michigan team that returns three starters and eight letter winners from a squad that finished 22-8 and was ranked 25th in the final Associated Press rankings last season. It’s the same Michigan team that, two days before being humbled by UW, beat perennial power Louisiana Tech, which advanced to the Final Four last season.

The Huskies won the rebound battle in their first two games — 46-40 over Indiana and 39-34 over Michigan — to begin the path toward an important goal this season.

"You look at our stats from last year, and we were minus-four on the boards all year," O’Neill said. "Teams outrebounded us practically every game. That’s just not OK and we’ve taken it to heart. We’ve come out and we’ve outrebounded teams and we’ve gotten our scoring up."

Here’s a look at players who may have the biggest impact on this season (asterisk denotes probable starter):

  • Megan Franza*, 5-11 senior: Franza is a long-range shooting specialist who had her best season, averaging 17.2 points to finish fourth on the Pac-10 scoring chart. She was the Pac-10 leader up to the final two weeks of the season. Franza, who starred at Cascade High School in Leavenworth, was named to the all-Pac-10 first team and earned district All-America honors.

  • Jill Pimley*, 5-6 senior: Pimley, of Goldendale, takes over the point guard duties after Julia Gray’s decision to transfer. Pimley is a defensive specialist who made 23 steals last season.

  • Giuliana Mendiola, 5-11 freshman: She was an honorable mention prep All-American out of El Toro High School in Lake Forest Park, Calif., who already has made her presence felt with the Huskies. Mendiola scored 10 points in the victory at Michigan. She is the younger sister of UW freshman Gioconda Mendiola.

  • Sarah Duncan, 5-7 senior: The former Lake Stevens High School star comes off the bench to run the offense and give the Huskies a quick defender on opponents’ better guards. "She gives us a lot of energy and a lot of leadership," Daugherty said. "She’s very vocal. We want her to hit her open shot and to be a defensive presence on the perimeter."

  • Loree Payne, 6-0 sophomore: A stress fracture in her left foot has put one of the league’s top scorers on the sideline until January. She’ll be back in the starting five when she returns. Payne averaged 17.4 points per game last season and broke the 20-year-old UW freshman scoring record with 521 points. She was selected to the USA Basketball R. William Jones Cup team that toured Taiwan and won a gold medal in an international tournament in Taiwan.

  • Carli Halpenny, 6-3 junior: The native of Victoria, British Columbia, struggled with a hip injury that kept her out until late January. In her first game, she made two of her three shots from the field and grabbed four rebounds to help UW upset 24th-ranked Stanford for the Huskies’ 500th career women’s victory.

  • Andrea Lalum, 6-4 freshman: Made an immediate impact with the Huskies by scoring nine points in the victory at Michigan. The Montana native led the state in scoring with 19.1 points per game last season and twice was named the state tournament’s most valuable player in leading Bozeman to back-to-back state titles.

  • Kellie O’Neill*, 6-1 sophomore: Former Meadowdale High School star has recovered from a foot injury that held her back most of last season. She is averaging nine points and 4.5 rebounds in two games, including a 13-point effort at Michigan. "The only goals I have are rebounding-wise," O’Neill said. "I have some goals to get double-doubles, but points are not my thing. That’s not my role on the team. I’m focusing on getting in there and hitting the boards."

  • Emily Autrey*, 6-0 sophomore: She was a Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention pick after averaging 5.6 points and 4.4 rebounds last season, when she started 14 games. The sophomore from Kamiakin in Kennewick is a presence on the defensive end, having recorded 30 steals in 1999-2000. She scored in double figures six times and had a season-best 12 rebounds against USC.

  • Melissa Erickson, 6-3 senior: She gives the Huskies a strong presence in the area of their game that needed improvement: rebounding. Erickson, of Littleton, Colo., led the Huskies in rebounding twice last season, including 10 in the upset victory over Stanford.

  • Heather Reichmann, 6-1 junior: The former King’s High School star struggled with an injured left shoulder that hindered her ability to be physical and battle for rebounds. She underwent surgery in the offseason and isn’t quite 100 percent, although Daugherty will turn to Reichmann as a key reserve when she needs rebounding and defense.

  • LeAnn Sheets*, 6-2 senior: Former star at Tumwater High School struggled early last season following foot surgery, but showed flashes of excellence with 17 points against Oregon State and a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) at UCLA.

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