KeyArena is the site of the Pac-12 women's basketball tournament, and that has players who are fans of the WNBA excited.
KeyArena, the site this week of the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament, was once the home of the Sonics. But since the NBA team’s relocation to Oklahoma City in 2008, the arena has been known as something else.
“To me, KeyArena is the Storm’s court,” said Washington forward Talia Walton, a former Federal Way High School star. “It’s really cool to be able to play on the same court as WNBA stars.”
Walton, a 6-foot-2 forward, was named to the Pac-12’s all-freshman team with Oregon State forward Jamie Weisner (Clarkston High), Washington State guard Lia Galdeira, Oregon forward Jillian Alleyne and Colorado forward Arielle Roberson, the conference’s freshman of the year.
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They are true WNBA babies. Walton was 5 years old when Seattle was awarded a franchise, 6 when Kevin Walton gave his daughter her first basketball. Talia picked jersey No. 3 because of WNBA stars Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker.
So, it’s no surprise Walton wants to help make the four-day Pac-12 tournament a sparkling glimpse of its future in Seattle. No. 5 seed Washington (19-10, 11-7 Pac-12) gets the first prime-time slot, hosting last-place Oregon (4-26, 2-16) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Walton is UW’s third-leading scorer (13.5 points) and No. 2 rebounder (7.0).
“People would ask me, ‘What are you going to do with no post players?’ ” UW coach Kevin McGuff said of preseason concerns after McDonald’s All-American Katie Collier suffered a knee injury.
Walton was ready, even though she was asked to play out of position, at center. She had a minor knee procedure last season but was able to practice against former star center Regina Rogers.
“People didn’t anticipate Talia having the year she’s having,” McGuff said. “I got to see her in practice (last season) and thought she could be a terrific player. Plus, I felt we could craft a style of play that would fit this team.”
The Huskies defeated the Ducks twice during the regular season. In Eugene, the Huskies set a conference record for most three-pointers made in a game at 18; senior guard Kristi Kingma hit 11 for the individual conference mark.
But Washington has sputtered since the 97-71 win. The Huskies went cold the next game, though they managed to beat Oregon State, 49-44. Then came four straight losses to end the regular season.
Walton was 7 of 46 from the field starting with the game at Oregon State, missing the matchup against Stanford after a suspension for violating team rules. But a personal tragedy has made it tough for Walton to play at all.
On Feb. 16, the day after the game in Eugene, the team had gathered with family at a restaurant in Corvallis, two days before UW would play Oregon State.
Thomasina Walton, Talia’s mother, pulled Washington guard Jazmine Davis to her table. Davis then went outside to speak with UW senior Jeneva Anderson. They were searching for ways to support Talia, who was about to learn from her mother that her 2-year-old nephew, Khalil, had died of heart failure.
When she heard the news, Walton said she was done playing.
“We told her she had to play for him,” Thomasina said of the family’s wishes. “Talia is a tough girl and has been through a lot. And she didn’t miss a game. She didn’t play very well, but I can understand that because her mind was somewhere else. But she didn’t let her team down.”
Walton, a talented songwriter, says she funneled the pain, confusion and frustration into lyrics and letters. Walton attended Khalil’s funeral between losses at Utah and Colorado. Some of her writings were turned into music played at the service.
Khalil called Talia “TT” and attended most of her games.
“For me, once we put him down, that’s when it hit,” she said, playing with stickers displaying tiny angels and a baby’s bottle on her sneakers in his memory. “Khalil was not one to let people be sad about anything. I tell myself every day that even though I miss him, he’s in a better place and doesn’t have to deal with this crazy world.”
On Tuesday, she returned to practice re-energized. The session started with individual work with UW assistant coach Adia Barnes, the 1998 Pac-10 player of the year and a member of the 2004 Storm’s championship team.
Washington has nine scholarship players currently healthy and McGuff says there is little room for error. The Huskies led the Pac-12 in three-pointers (8.2 per game), which helped make up for their size disadvantage.
But UW hasn’t shot well in recent games, isn’t moving the ball well offensively and, according to McGuff, isn’t making enough hustle plays to give itself a chance.
It’s unlikely the Huskies will get an NCAA at-large bid but will probably receive a Women’s National Invitation Tournament bid. The Huskies advanced to the WNIT quarterfinals last season.
“I look at last year’s team and we played really hard at the end of the year,” McGuff said of a senior-laden lineup. “Then we came into the NIT with a lot of desire to make a run. We’re going to have to have that (desire) at the beginning of the Pac-12 tournament and beyond if we want to win.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JaydaEvans