Getting all five of the state's Division I women's basketball teams to play each other creates a scheduling problem.
In the tight tapestry of Northwest women’s college basketball, is there a way to crown a true champion?
Players have faced each other since they were kids, carrying it through high school and now college.
Washington freshman Talia Walton won’t let Huskies senior Jeneva Anderson forget that her Federal Way High School ended Anderson’s Lewis and Clark’s run at a third consecutive 4A title.
Seattle U sophomore Makenna Clark played at Auburn Riverside with Washington junior Mercedes Wetmore, who lived down the street from Katie Grad, a senior at Washington State.
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Gonzaga junior guard Jazmine Redmon won a 4A regional title at Mead High with junior guard Chenise Pakootas (Eastern Washington) after winning a 2006 national AAU championship with junior guard Kellie McCann-Smith (Washington).
And that’s just one stitch of fabric. Only it’s not conclusive. Wouldn’t it be interesting to settle the rivalries in a real basketball version of the Apple Cup?
Washington (11-5 overall, 3-2 in the Pac-12) is hogging the bushel. The Huskies will try for their 36th straight victory over Washington State (5-11, 1-4) at 2 p.m. Sunday in Pullman (Pac-12 Networks).
Seattle U senior Daidra Brown mulled the Apple Cup idea, remembering how badly she wanted to beat the Huskies in November, a game UW won 77-75 in overtime. Brown played at Kennedy High with Huskies sophomore Aminah Williams.
“Yeah, I think it would be fun,” Brown said. “It would bring back the old days. We’re familiar with a lot of these girls, so it would be fun to see who comes out on top.”
There’s already a format established. Philadelphia started a women’s Big 5 in 1980, pitting St. Joseph’s, Temple, La Salle, Penn and Villanova in a round-robin tournament to decide the city champion. Villanova won its second consecutive title with a 48-44 win against Penn on Wednesday.
Spanning three conferences, the schools use four of their nonleague games for the annual tournament. The big difference in Philly is the schools are within no more than 30 minutes of each other.
Depending on whether Washington’s Big 5 — Eastern, UW, WSU, Gonzaga and SU — played at KeyArena or Spokane Arena, somebody’s making a five-hour trip.
“We’ve had discussions about this (a Washington Big 5) in the past,” said WSU coach June Daugherty, the former UW coach. “It’s a question of managing the conference schedules around it, especially in the Pac-12. It’s going to take somebody to sponsor something like that, too. But scheduling is probably the toughest thing that I’ve ever encountered in the Northwest.”
From truckloads of free shoes to free air travel and office equipment, UW assistant Mike Neighbors has seen it all used as bargaining chips when he’s formatted schedules.
“We’re usually on the receiving end of that. He’s not making it up,” said Eastern Washington coach Wendy Schuller, who added she’d enjoy adding all of the state’s Div. I programs to her schedule. “We’re a little dog in the fight when you throw those other four schools out there. If we can sneak up and nip them in the heel, that’s what we’d try to do.”
Schuller described scheduling as abstract art, sometimes putting home-and-home games together three years in advance.
Neighbors said when scheduling he needs to consider luring recruits, playing top-tier teams for NCAA berths and seeding, and meshing home games with the men’s basketball and volleyball schedules. With all of that, gobbling up four of the allotted 11 nonconference matchups for an in-state tournament becomes less enticing.
Seattle is already hosting a high-profile event, the Pac-12 tournament in March. It’s the beginning of a three-year contract with the backing of the Storm ownership group’s Force 10 Sports Management. Seattle U has hosted games in the Women’s Basketball Invitational in the past while UW and Gonzaga have been frequent hosts of the NCAA tournament early rounds.
Of course, all of Washington’s Big 5 coaches would have to agree to participate.
“No,” said Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves, whose team has made five NCAA tournament appearances since 2007 but lost to WSU this season. “I don’t have a hole in my schedule the next few years. We thought of doing something like this regionally over here but it just never materialized.”
Well, for now, it’s simply Washington and Washington State highlighting the state’s rivalries.
“Back at home in the summer we’re always joking about being a Husky, being a Coug,” said Grad of her friendship with Wetmore. “She knows not to come into my house with purple on.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.