UW off to a surprising 7-5 start, but still plenty of questions about a team that ranks last the Pac-12 in scoring (69.1) and 11th in scoring defense (67.0).
The Huskies head into Sunday’s Pac-12 opener with as many wins as it had last season, which is cause of optimism.
However, a 7-5 record that includes a few impressive upsets doesn’t change the overriding narrative: Can Washington compete in arguably the toughest women’s basketball conference in the nation?
“Five teams are in the top 25,” second-year coach Jody Wynn said, noting No. 5 Oregon, No. 6 Stanford, No. 11 Oregon State, No. 14 California and No. 17 Arizona State. “It was such a young conference last season. The majority of the teams had young talent. Very good young talent that return for their junior years right now or their senior years.
“It just makes for a stronger conference on the whole. A lot of teams return many key starters. So it’s going to be a very challenging and competitive conference, game in and game out. It’s going to be interesting to see what teams and what players step up and perform under the pressure.”
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Wynn will learn a little bit about more the Huskies after Sunday’s 2 p.m. game against Washington State at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The Cougars were picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 preseason coaches poll, one spot ahead of the Huskies.
WSU (5-6) — the only Pac-12 team with a losing record — is off to a rocky start under first-year coach Kamie Ethridge and appears to be in a more perilous position than UW.
The cross-state rivals split a pair of games last season with each team winning at home.
Washington’s 56-49 home victory against WSU on Jan. 21, 2018 was its only win during a 1-17 Pac-12 season that ranks as UW’s fewest conference wins in a season since the league adopted an 18-game format in 1986-87.
Following the win over the Cougars, Washington lost 10 straight Pac-12 regular-season games, not including a 71-68 defeat to California in the Pac-12 Tournament opener.
Even though Huskies lack depth and proven scorers to complement all-conference star Amber Melgoza, Wynn loaded the nonconference schedule with several challenges.
Washington went on the road and pulled off surprise 71-54 win over Duke before stunning Ohio State 69-59 at home.
But UW’s momentum was stalled two weeks ago following a disappointing 73-69 defeat to Boise State in the Husky Classic Championship game.
And the Huskies’ didn’t put up much of a fight in their last outing, a 103-56 loss to No. 4 Mississippi State. The 47-point defeat was the fourth largest margin of defeat in UW history.
“We didn’t finish the nonconference the way we wanted to finish it with those two losses, but I do think everybody feels prepared in the sense that we’ve been challenged,” Wynn said. “We’ve come up short. We’ve won some good games that were tough. We had to perform down the stretch and everybody has gotten significant playing time.
“I don’t think anybody can be not confident moving forward.”
Well, there are a few reasons for concern.
For starters, Washington ranks last in the conference in scoring at 69.1 points per game and next to last in scoring defense (67.0).
Last season, UW was 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring (67.1) and allowed a conference-worst 76.0 points per game.
“There’s never a possession that you can take off,” Wynn said. “You just cannot afford to do that because the teams are pretty explosive offensively. The minute you relax or play kick the can on offense and turn the ball over the other teams is going down and scoring it.”
And for the second straight season, the Huskies are overly dependent on Melgoza. The 5-foot-10 junior guard leads the team in scoring average (18.5), assists (3.1), steals (1.5) and is second in rebounding (5.3).
Sophomore guard Missy Peterson, who has started 10 of 12 games, has emerged as a perimeter threat who averages 10.4 points.
But the Huskies haven’t shown they can survive without a big outing from Melgoza, who was held to a season-low three points in her last outing against Mississippi State.
“She’s a competitor,” Wynn said. “She wants to perform and she’s not afraid of a challenge. I’m not worried at all about Amber.”