Every coach’s barometer for player exhaustion is different. Washington women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors gauges guard Mercedes Wetmore’s cheeks.
“If Mercedes’ cheeks are pink, I know they’re tired,” Neighbors said of his trio of guards. “’Cause they’re never going to tell me.”
Since the season started, Neighbors has started Wetmore, a senior, with junior Jazmine Davis and freshman Kelsey Plum in the backcourt. And since the season has started, the three have ranked among the top 10 in the Pac-12 in minutes played. Wetmore and Plum each average 36.8 minutes, Davis 36.
Plum is the team’s leading scorer (19.7 points), followed by Davis (19.2). Wetmore averages 6.7 points and leads the team in assists at 4.3 per game.
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Neighbors said he isn’t worried about overworking the three well-conditioned players.
“It’s probably going to bite us at some point … but it hasn’t yet,” he said.
As the Huskies (13-10, 6-6 Pac-12) prepare to play at Colorado (14-9, 4-9) on Friday, Neighbors points to many reasons why he isn’t concerned about his backcourt’s minutes.
One obvious factor is the revamped practice schedule. The past five weeks, Washington has had only one traditional practice a week. The other days are for rest, treatment and walk-throughs.
Washington is 5-3 since the change, defeating then-No. 3 Stanford 87-82 Sunday. Wetmore played 40 minutes without a turnover, scoring a career-best 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Plum scored a team-high 23 points.
A less-obvious reason for the backcourt’s success is sophomore guard Alexus Atchley. The California product started the season as a walk-on and earned one of the available scholarships based on her preseason.
When players say “practice is harder than games,” that’s because of Atchley.
“Alexus is that spark,” Davis said. “In practice, she kills us on the boards. She has this unbelievable amount of strength that we figured out early against her and definitely has our respect.”
Atchley transferred to UW from Colorado, where she was an unrecruited walk-on.
Neighbors needed an extra player, because his intended backcourt rotation was suffering from injuries. Freshman Brianna Ruiz and sophomore Heather Corral since have had knee surgeries.
“We’re hyped whenever she plays in a game because she beats us up in practice and we want her to go beat them up in a game,” Davis said.
Atchley gives a bashful smile as teammates praise her game.
“(Neighbors) talked to me and said my role was just to be ready,” said Atchley. “In practice, I try to be a little rough on them. We’re all super competitive, but we do it in a positive way. It’s fun.”
It’s also working. For the obvious and not- so-obvious reasons.
“She’s one of us,” Wetmore said. “We’re a complete four-package of guards right now, and we’re really lucky to have her.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067