Injuries continue to be bigger than the game for the Washington women’s basketball team.
The Huskies played with just seven players Monday in their final nonconference game of the season, defeating UC Irvine 72-69. Five other players sat on the bench in sweatsuits with injuries.
“We had a defense of four ready to go,” UW senior Mercedes Wetmore said of possible foul trouble Monday. “It was funny at the time, but it’s not really about being funny. It just showing what he (coach Mike Neighbors) does in literally preparing us and letting us know what we’re up against.”
Instead of foul trouble, it was fatigue due to the lack of depth that Washington had to overcome down the stretch. The Huskies’ double-digit lead was cut to 70-67 with 1:32 left after a rash of sloppy errors and flat shots.
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Washington couldn’t hit the three-point shot that helped build its lead, wasn’t quick to recover from defensive mistakes and guards Jazmine Davis (twice) and Kelsey Plum (once) missed the front-end of three one-and-ones.
Washington sophomore Talia Walton sealed the victory on a putback with five seconds left. She finished with 14 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks. Plum led all scorers with 25 points. Davis played the entire 40 minutes and finished with 15 points and five rebounds.
“There’s a difference between excuses and reasons,” Neighbors said in explaining the uncharacteristic play of his team in the second half. “Fatigue makes you do some funny things. It’s not an excuse, it’s a reason.”
Washington (7-4) opens Pac-12 play Friday at home against Arizona (4-7). Neighbors, in his first year as the UW head coach, doesn’t expect any of his injured players to return for the first two conference games. Right after that, the Huskies travel to Washington State on Jan. 7.
Freshman post Katie Collier is the closest to returning. She injured her hamstring during the team’s three-game trip to Las Vegas and could return next week. Freshman Chantel Osahor is out of her walking boot (stress fracture) but has played only two games due to an earlier shoulder injury.
Freshman Brianna Ruiz (knee) likely will apply for a medical redshirt while sophomore wing Heather Corral had minor knee surgery this month and should return later in January. Senior walk-on Kassia Fortier had offseason shoulder surgery and isn’t expected to play this season.
Monday, down 11-5, the Huskies took control with a 26-8 run against the Anteaters (6-7).
“With all the distractions and all of the bad things we’ve had happen to us, I think we put together a (nonconference) schedule that challenged us,” said Neighbors, whose team won five of its final six nonconference games. “We saw a lot of different styles of play that we’re going to see in the Pac-12. And once you start putting seven (players) in the books and you still win, it’s a check and you get ready for that next stage.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.