Washington (14-5, 6-2) is in a peculiar position at the quasi midway point of the Pac-12 conference season. Win its home games to date? Check. Sweep standard rival WSU? Done. Work way to a slot in the standings with room for error? Well…
With 10 games remaining in conference play, UW is tied with No. 18 UCLA (15-4, 6-2) for third. It appears cushy, until you realize four of the remaining games are against teams ranked nationally in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Poll. The good news? The UCLA, No. 4 Stanford (18-2, 7-1) and No. 6 Cal (17-2, 7-1) games are at Alaska Airlines Arena. And the Huskies only play the Cardinal and Bears once.
UW coach Kevin McGuff doesn’t like to speculate about the season or whether the Huskies put themselves in position to really make a run at a finish in the Pac-12′s upper half. But some players like to watch the standings, making last weekend’s wins against Oregon (Sunday) and Oregon State (Friday) even sweeter. The team had to play without PG Jaz Davis, who suffered a concussion in a road win against Washington State.
“These are really crucial wins for us,” Washington junior G Mercedes Wetmore said after beating Oregon. “We’re hoping we can take care of a lot of the Arizonas, the Oregons and the Wazzus. That was our goal.”
UW has a chance to sweep the desert schools in its road trip to Arizona (Friday) and Arizona State (Sunday) this week. But sweeping Oregon State won’t be easy. OSU coach Scott Rueck is bitter about the finish in regulation that led to the overtime loss at Hec Ed.
Washington redshirt senior G Kristi Kingma was fouled by the Beavers’ sophomore G Ali Gibson on a three-pointer with 4.1 seconds left. Kingma made the ensuing shots to tie the score and force overtime.
The Beavers (9-11, 3-5) will be hyped to face the Huskies at home in February. And, in a marketing gift, the game will air on Pac-12 Networks.
“We had a lot of great performances tonight,” Rueck said after the loss. “This team has a ton of heart. Situations like (Friday) are disappointing, but they fuel the fire for where this program is going in the future.”
In McGuff’s first season last year, the Huskies were 2-7 at the midway point, finishing eighth in the conference after a 4-1 finish in Pac-12 play. UW finished the season 20-14 overall, losing to Stanford in the second round of the conference tournament.
“With our team, I really try to keep focus day by day,” McGuff said. “That’s the most effective way to kind of manage this team and they’re much better when we focus on one thing at a time. You start talking to players about games you have in February when we play Arizona this weekend and their eyes will starting looking around like, ‘Oh, what are we talking about?’ It just fits me. I don’t like anybody to think about anything other than the next practice and the next opponent.”
Meanwhile Huskies F Talia Walton could be en route to duplicating Davis’ 2012 Pac-12 Freshman of Year honor. Walton was awarded her second Freshman of the Week nod on Monday. She scored 13 of her final 18 points in the second half of Sunday’s win, averaging 17.5 points and 12 rebounds in two wins. Walton also had a combined five steals and three blocks.
Elsewhere in the conference, it was entertaining to scoreboard watch, but ultimately the predicted winner found a way to do that. Cal escaped from No. 22 Colorado on Friday and defeated Utah 71-54 on Sunday. The Buffs (15-4, 4-4) had a heroic comeback against the Card on Sunday, losing 69-56. WSU played another close game, this time winning. The Cougs (6-13, 2-6) beat the Beavers 76-73 in overtime.
TV ALERT: ESPN2′s weekly “Big Monday” game pits No. 2 Notre Dame (18-1, 7-0 Big East) at No. 9 Tennessee (16-3, 7-0 SEC) at 4pm (PST). Here’s a some reading about Irish PG Skylar Diggins and an update on the world of the Vols sans legendary coach Pat Summitt.