Day 1 of Washington coach Mike Neighbors new plan to get the Huskies playing better started Tuesday. A first-year head coach at the college level, Neighbors is testing one of his favorite quotes by Albert Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
So, now UW practices one day a week. Sounds insane. But as Neighbors explained, the team was getting about one practice in anyway, only it wasn’t everybody at the same time due to multiple injuries. On Tuesday players go through individual workouts, on Wednesdays, everyone who can play in the weekend’s games will participate in a traditional practice and Thursdays will be more focused on Friday’s opponent. Off-days are Mondays.
“We can’t improve because we can’t practice,” Neighbors said Tuesday. “It wasn’t ever going to get better the way we were doing it.”
Washington (8-7, 1-3 Pac-12) is on a three-game losing streak, creating a must-win scenario against Utah on Friday at Alaska Airlines Arena. UW faces its third ranked team of the season in No. 21 Colorado on Sunday. Washington lost to then-No. 23 Texas A&M (74-68) in December and then-No. 24 Arizona State (78-60) earlier this month.
Once the season began, UW went through injuries with Chantel Osahor (shoulder/stress fracture) and Katie Collier (hamstring/neck) while Talia Walton will be limited throughout the season with chronic knee pain. F Heather Corral has missed the team’s past eight games after minor knee surgery.
The backcourt in senior Mercedes Wetmore, junior Jazmine Davis and freshman Kelsey Plum is healthy and expected to average about 35 minutes this season, so their practice intensity won’t change, according to Neighbors. The trio is among the top-10 leaders in minutes played in the Pac-12. Davis ranks fifth in the conference in scoring (19.2 points) while Plum is sixth (18.7). Wetmore is fifth in the conference in assists (4.5).
But it was difficult to develop a rhythm with the frontline in practice when most were limited to 15 minutes and not simultaneously. Davis won’t use the reality as an excuse, noting it’s been the case since her freshman season. Neighbors is the first coach to publicly declare a change to counter injuries.
He’s really hoping the change helps Walton’s shooting. A known three-point shooter, she’s hitting 26.5 percent of the deep shots this season. She’s 2-for-18 from three-point range in conference play.
“Practice is going to be better than what we’ve had because we have not had a chance where we’ve had them all there together to work on timing, shooting and all of that,” Neighbors said. “With somebody like Talia, who needs practice to shoot to make shots, she’s going to get it. So, that’s what we’re trying.
“We’re not going to continue trying to do the same thing we’ve been doing because we just don’t feel like we’re getting improvement. We’re still playing hard and we’re in games. But we haven’t improved as much as we did in that little span (in December) when everybody was in practice.”
RANK ‘EM: Gonzaga returned to the national rankings after defeating then-No. 24 San Diego (79-50) and BYU (68-42) last week. The Zags appeared at No. 23 in the USA Today/Coaches poll. The Zags have been playing well defensively and Haiden Palmer (15.3 points) continues to shine offensively.
Colorado dropped a few notches to No. 21 in the AP poll after losses to No. 4 Stanford (87-77) and then-No. 19 Cal (57-55) last week. Cal moved up to No. 15 after the win. Colorado has to play smart through the remainder of the conference season to stay among the nation’s best since it only plays Stanford and Cal once this season. CU is at Washington State on Friday. The Cougs are on a four-game win streak, sweeping Washington in the Apple Cup.
GOING DANCING: Speaking of rankings, ESPN’s bracket guru Charlie Creme released his first prediction for the NCAA tournament. He has an approximate 90 percent accuracy rate.
Creme projects WSU among the first four out of consideration, the Pac-12 only advancing four teams (Stanford, Cal, Colorado and No. 19 Arizona State). The Cougs have two wins against ranked opponents and their NCAA RPI bumped up to No. 44 after defeating UW last week. A win against No. 21 Colorado, which WSU plays twice this season, would help in getting off the early bubble. It would also validate its current run. As fun as the start is, WSU swept ASU last season and UW isn’t a glamorous win in the bigger perspective of the season.
Gonzaga is projected to be a No. 8 seed in the field of 64. It is projected to play a first-round game against Texas in Toledo.
UW is one of 16 sites hosting the opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament. Creme suspects Michigan State, San Diego, South Carolina and Cal Poly would play at Alaska Airlines Arena in March.
POW: Here’s a list of conference Player of the Weeks based on ties from programs in Washington (UW, WSU, Gonzaga, Seattle U and Eastern Washington).
Pac-12: Stanford senior F Chiney Ogwumike.
WCC: Gonzaga junior F Sunny Greinacher.
WAC: Grand Canyon junior G Kaitlyn Petersen.
Big Sky: Montana junior G Kellie Cole.
GOLDEN APPLE: Said it earlier this week, but Greinacher and WSU C Shalie Dheensaw really impressed last week. I’ve been watching the pair this season because post play will be key in both programs being successful due to their already top-notch guard play. You can checkout Greinacher’s stats above. For Dheensaw, she recorded her first two double doubles of her career in wins against UW. She averaged 15.5 points on 65 percent shooting from the field with 13.4 rebounds.
NO LONGER SILVER: San Antonio re-branded itself, dropping the “Silver” from its “Stars” moniker. Fans already called the team the Stars, anyway. You won’t really notice the name change, however, because San Antonio also landed a marquee sponsorship in the H-E-B Grocery Company. The organization will display its red logo across the chest of the Stars’ jerseys this season.
San Antonio is the eighth team to sell its jersey space. Seattle may lose its Bing sponsorship and Los Angeles ended its contract with Farmers Insurance before announcing its ownership dropped the team. New York is no longer sponsored by Foxwoods Casino.
LA TO OAKLAND?: As for the LA Sparks saga, there are reports the Golden State Warriors could close a deal with the WNBA to relocate the Sparks franchise to the Bay Area by February.
ALL-STAR: Storm F Shekinna Stricklen was named an All-Star in the WKBL league in South Korea. C Lauren Jackson was nominated for the All-Star team in China, voting ends Jan. 20. I haven’t been able to translate the site to English, so if you’re able to figure it out, you can vote for Jackson.
NOMINATED: Pac-12 junior PGs Amber Orrange (Stanford) and Brittany Boyd (Cal) are on the watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award. The honor is given to the best PG in the nation. Storm All-Star Sue Bird (2000-02) and former Gonzaga star Courtney Vandersloot (2011) were previous winners.
On the HS level, Jackson PG Kelli Kingma (Washington), Mount Rainier star Brittany McPhee (Stanford) and Brewster star Chandler Smith (Nebraska) are among the gobs of players nominated for the McDonald’s All-American team.
Plum (2013) and Collier (2012) were UW’s first HS McDonald’s All-Americans in program history.