SEATTLE — Of all the things Sarah Morton did during her first nine years on a basketball court, struggling was generally not among them.
From the time she picked up a basketball in third grade through her final game at Monroe High School, Morton was usually the best player on the floor.
Now in her third season at the University of Washington, the point guard is still trying to find her way at the collegiate level.
“It has been a challenge — just because in college, people are bigger, stronger and faster,” Morton said this week as her Huskies prepared for a pair of road games this weekend in Florida. “But I don’t think you can get down on yourself. It’s just room for improvement, and it’s just something that can push you.”
The transition from high school to college has not gone as smoothly as Morton might have expected.
She was handed the keys to the Huskies’ car as a sophomore last season, but lost her starting job five games into the conference schedule. Morton spent the offseason bulking up and developing her game, and yet the fast start she hoped for in her junior season has hit another bump in the road.
During two games at last weekend’s Husky Classic, Morton scored just six total points and had four assists and 12 turnovers. By the final minutes of Sunday’s 74-71 loss to Sacramento State, sophomore Christina Rozier — the same player who replaced Morton as the starter last season — was getting the playing time at point guard.
“Christina just happened to be what was going well at that moment,” UW head coach Tia Jackson said when asked about Morton’s dwindling playing time in the second half of the Sacramento State game. “… If it’s not broken, we don’t try to fix it. It looked like it was working pretty well.”
Jackson still has faith in her starting point guard, even though Morton has shot 30 percent from the field and turned the ball over a team-high 22 times. Morton now has almost as many career turnovers (88) as assists (90).
The 5-foot-8 Morton has been working on her penetration skills but is still developing an outside shot. She is 2-of-14 from behind the 3-point line for her career, and 0-for-4 this season.
Jackson did not seem overly concerned by Morton’s statistics through her team’s first five games.
“She gets double teams,” the UW coach said. “She’s our point guard, and they’ve been putting two defenders on her. She’s trying to handle it well. She’s got some habits that she got away with in a one-on-one setting versus having two defenders coming at her.”
Morton takes full responsibility for her struggles as a ballhandler this season.
“I had a couple of turnovers that were silly, that weren’t forced turnovers, like travels,” she said. “I think that’s the main thing. Other than that, if I don’t hesitate, and I stay confident, I think I’ve been better than I was last year and the year before that.”
She also said that she doesn’t mind splitting time with Rozier.
“Even if it goes just like last year, we’ll play the same game — no matter if we start or come off the bench,” Morton said. “It’s really not a big deal.”
By no means has Morton been the biggest reason for the Huskies’ slow start this season. Jackson’s third UW team has struggled to shoot from the outside and has lacked consistency in almost all facets of the game.
“We’ve hit some unexpected bumps in the road,” Morton said. “I think we could’ve beaten Sacramento State, but some things went wrong and we weren’t disciplined real well. But if we put in that maximum effort, then we will be victorious and get the outcome we want.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement, and we just have to take our opportunities and make the most of them, especially in the Pac-10 season, when the games really start to matter.”