This time it’s different.
That’s what Talia Walton felt at practice headed into Washington’s third straight appearance in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. UW (17-13) hosts Hawaii (17-13) at Alaska Airlines Arena at 7 p.m. Friday.
“The thing about last year was we were all so disappointed that we didn’t make the NCAA tournament, so we didn’t give the NIT our all,” Walton said of Washington’s second-round loss to Pacific at home.
“Mentally, me and my team, we have the mindset of ‘We’re here, so let’s take all of it,’ ” she said. “People who normally aren’t out early at practice are out there now. That just goes to show how serious we are about this and we’re all on the same page.”
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Not that Washington wasn’t down after it lost to Utah in the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament, ending any chances of an NCAA berth. Washington was 5 for 23 from three-point range in the 65-53 loss.
Walton was 2 for 9 from three-point range. Since the loss, she’s worked on her rhythm with teammates. The Huskies are 11-5 when Walton scores in double digits.
“If she plays half as good as she’s practiced this week, it’ll be the best (game),” Washington coach Mike Neighbors said. “So much of Talia is how she feels. She’s done better in school, so she feels better and her knees feel better. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. When she’s in a good spot on and off the court, she’s better.”
Walton, a 6-foot-2 sophomore forward, will be a key piece against Hawaii. The Rainbow Wahine has a smaller lineup than the Huskies, but the ’Bows counter with active rebounding.
Hawaii averages 40.5 rebounds while limiting opponents to 34.7. Washington has a negative-4.2 rebounding margin. Forward Aminah Williams is UW’s best player on the boards, ranking fourth in the Pac-12 in rebounding (10.4).
“They can win the game with just that one aspect,” Neighbors said. “That’s a concern. Any time you face a team that rebounds like that, it lets you know they’ve got a lot of intensity and desire.”
Hawaii won’t have any trouble finding motivation for its second straight WNIT appearance. The question is whether UW will find a way to match it.
Rainbow Wahine senior Kamilah Jackson missed the final six games of the regular season and the opener of the Big West Conference tournament due to a right ankle injury. She played 18 minutes off the bench in the ’Bows’ second-round conference tournament loss, in case it would be her last game.
Now Jackson has the WNIT to provide a better senior exit.
“Going into the game knowing we’re going to have her is exciting,” UH coach Laura Beeman said.
Jackson is the team’s leading scorer (14.8 points) and rebounder (9.3). But she was rusty in her return. Beeman is hopeful the two-week span between games helps Jackson get back to playing shape.
Jackson is just 5-11 but is physical in the paint, and her style forms a strong inside-out presence with junior guard Ashleigh Karaitiana (10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds) and senior wing Shawna-Lei Kuehu (10.4 points and 4.2 rebounds).
The Bows are 3-3 against the Huskies all-time.
Can UW pull it off? Last year’s disappointment is on the Huskies’ minds.
“It’s a totally different feel, and that’s really exciting for us,” Walton said.