Washington (8-3) opens Pac-12 conference play on Friday against Arizona State (8-4) with a new look — 11 healthy players for the first time this season. Junior G Kellie McCann-Smith was the last to return to the roster, missing an entire academic semester due to personal reasons. Her first practice was New Year’s day but she won’t be available to play until she regains her basketball conditioning.
“I’m not running or doing anything like that, yet,” said McCann-Smith, who went through warm-up and defensive drills on Wednesday. “I’m on the bike and then I’m keeping up (by) just watching them. That (lack of conditioning) has a lot to do with why I was away, but for that, I would be more comfortable talking about that after the season. Right now, it’s being back with the team and seeing how they’ve been doing.”
McCann-Smith transferred to UW from Nebraska last season and was granted immediate eligibility because she made the move to assist in caring for her ill father. She averaged 4.0 points and shot 34.7 percent from three-point range as a reserve.
“It’s been good being back with them and seeing all the progress they’ve made,” said McCann-Smith, who didn’t have much contact with the team while on hiatus. She monitored games via web and online news reports. “They were all really welcoming, so it’s definitely good to be back with them. They’ve been loving and supporting so it’s awesome to come back to that.”
The completed roster, minus F Katie Collier who suffered a torn ACL prior to the season, gives UW coach Kevin McGuff depth in practice but the game-day rotation of eight players may not shift much. G Deborah Meeks is returning from a season-ending knee injury and is a deep reserve with a loaded Huskies backcourt that also includes freshman G Heather Corral, who suffered a broken wrist.
“As much as adding three players will help us, we have to make sure we keep the chemistry the same,” McGuff said of playing time. “It’s a double-edge sword because I want people to want more minutes because it means they’re hungry. I like the idea of competition. We haven’t had as much because of the short bench. I’m hoping that will be a part of us hopefully continuing to be a better team.”
USC is the only team in the Pac-12 that’s still struggling with major injuries. WSU (4-7) returned PG Tia Presley from a foot injury suffered late last season and the sophomore, along with freshman G Lia Galdeira, helped the Cougars snag impressive wins in nonconference play.
Washington State won its first road game 57-51 at Gonzaga on Saturday and defeated BYU (67-52) and then-No. 20 Ohio State (62-55) at home. The Cougs’ win over the Buckeyes was its first against a ranked opponent since 2001.
WSU opens conference play against Arizona (8-3) on Friday at Beasley Coliseum.
“We had a great experience in our preseason of growing up,” WSU coach June Daugherty said. “We’ve been inconsistent, no doubt about it. But when you have six freshmen and three sophomores, there’s a little bit of room for some growing pains…but I’m excited about jumping in against the Arizonas (schools).”
Eyes are on the Pac-12 with four teams ranked in the AP and Coaches’ Poll. No. 20 Colorado (11-0) is the sole undefeated team entering conference play after then-No. 1 Stanford suffered a brow-raising 61-35 loss to then-No. 2 Connecticut on Saturday at home. It’s the Cardinal’s first loss at Maples Pavilion in 82-games.
Stanford (11-1) remains the vogue pick in Pac-12 previews from various newspapers, however. The Cardinal has won the past 12 conference titles and returned 11 players from last season’s Final Four team. All-American F Chiney Ogwumike, a junior, is averaging 21.5 points and 12.8 rebounds. Stanford opens conference play at Colorado on Friday. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network at 7pm (PST).
Rank ’em: The new polls were released. I was one of three voters who didn’t pick UConn No. 1 in the land. I’m sticking with Baylor, calling its early loss to then-No. 3 Stanford an anomaly given Baylor PG Odyssey Sims left the game due to injury and the close 71-69 final score. Of course the Feb. 18 matchup between Baylor (10-1) at Connecticut (11-0) will settle the debate…until expected NCAA tournament play.
My Week 8 National Poll
1 Baylor (10-1)
2 Connecticut (11-0)
3 Stanford (11-1)
4 Duke (11-0)
5 Notre Dame (11-1)
6 Kentucky (12-1)
7 North Carolina (13-1)
8 California (10-1)
9 Tennessee (9-3)
10 Kansas (9-2)
11 Maryland (10-2)
12 UCLA (8-2)
13 Penn State (10-2)
14 Louisville (11-2)
15 South Carolina (12-1)
16 Florida State (11-1)
17 Nebraska (10-3)
18 Purdue (11-2)
19 Miami (10-2)
20 Colorado (11-0)
21 Ohio State (10-3)
22 Arkansas (12-1)
23 Syracuse (12-1)
24 Georgia (12-1)
25 Dayton (12-1)
NEWS ALERT: The Connecticut Sun are expected to name a new head coach on Thursday. Longtime coach Mike Thibault was fired in November and has since taken the Washington Mystics position. Storm coach and general manager Brian Agler is under contract and denied speculation he could take the position.