Everything changed in Oregon.
In the span of two losses to the Oregon schools, Washington’s women’s basketball season went from a hopeful NCAA tournament berth to a building tool for the young team’s future.
UW coach Mike Neighbors’ staff no longer needed words to describe what could happen if the team wasn’t focused — there were two games that showed it.
“We didn’t play well, we didn’t travel well, we didn’t do anything well on that trip,” Neighbors said. “The trip, altogether, was the lesson. … It really sunk in that if you don’t do those things, you’re going to get beat up.
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“The kids made a change and we’ve been playing better ever since.”
Neighbors added that the trip through Oregon was his team’s lowest, morale-wise. True, UW defeated then-No. 21 Colorado before the Oregon swing for Washington’s first win against a ranked opponent since 2008, but UW was still dealing with being swept by Washington State for the first time in decades.
Instead of sinking after road losses to Oregon State (75-68) and Oregon (101-85), fierce competitors emerged.
UW closes its regular-season homestand with a pair of games against the same Oregon schools. The Huskies enter Friday’s matchup against the Ducks having won five of their past six games since the January loss in Eugene.
“That was early in the season and now everybody is accepting their role,” UW junior forward Aminah Williams said. “That’s a big part of it, knowing your role. We’ve all meshed together in the last few games and are playing with confidence.”
As his team survived the stretch of playing six of its past eight games on the road, Neighbors has handed his players weekly printouts of Pac-12 standings. UW (15-10, 8-6 Pac-12) is sixth in the conference standings and has a chance to finish in the top half, as predicted before the season.
On Sunday, Washington plays Oregon State (17-9, 9-5), which is tied for third with No. 20 Arizona State and USC. The Huskies defeated the Trojans on the road earlier this month.
The top four teams in Pac-12 standings receive a bye in the conference tournament at KeyArena from March 6 to 9.
“I’m proud we’re back in the hunt,” Neighbors said of UW’s positioning. “Fourth or third is not out of the realm, if you continue to win. And you just want to be in position in late February.”
How much Washington has changed will be evident against Oregon (13-12, 4-10). In the last meeting, Oregon sophomore Jillian Alleyne propelled the win, finishing with 34 points and 25 rebounds, including 11 offensive boards. Washington had 13 offensive rebounds as a team and was out-rebounded 58-47 overall.
Alleyne leads the nation in rebounding (15.7), and the Ducks lead the nation in overall scoring (93.6).
“If we can beat them, we can compete with a lot of teams in this conference,” Williams said.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JaydaEvans