SAN FRANCISCO – Is it possible to carry momentum from one season to the next?
The Washington women’s basketball team hopes the answer is a definitive yes considering the Huskies ended last season on a high note with two upset victories to make a surprising run to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
“I definitely believe that you can carry momentum from one season to the next,” coach Jody Wynn said Monday at the conference media day. “I think a lot of confidence was gained. It ignited an incredible work ethic for our players to be able to taste success again in this upcoming season.”
The Huskies have made steady improvement in the win column under their third-year coach and that growth is reflective in the 2019-20 preseason coaches poll, which tabbed UW ninth after being picked last in the previous two years.
Two-time regular-season champion Oregon garnered the maximum number of first-place votes (11) and collected 121 points from the 12 conference coaches.
Stanford received the remaining first-place vote and was picked second followed by Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona.
Utah was seventh in the poll ahead of USC, UW, Washington State at No. 10, California and Colorado.
“I actually like the idea that we’re still the underdog and in the bottom half, which leaves us a lot of room to still prove people wrong and show them what we’re made of,” junior guard Missy Peterson said. “But you can tell that we’ve earned more respect.
“People are coming up to us here at media day and they’re excited to see us play this year. But I’m not too worried about the rankings right now.”
It’s been seven months since the Huskies were seeded 11th in the Pac-12 tournament and knocked off No. 6 Utah 64-54 in the opener before beating No. 3 Oregon State 68-67 with a last-second three-pointer from Peterson.
“I know that for all the people returning we know what the feeling is like,” Peterson said. “We know what it’s like to play in those big games and what it felt like to win. It’s a good feeling for sure.
“We know that we’re capable of proving people wrong and capable of upsetting these phenomenal teams. Yeah, it was a really long time ago, but we remember that feeling.”
Expectations are slowly rising for a UW team that was 7-23 overall and 1-17 in the Pac-12 two years ago in its first season under Wynn.
Last season, the Huskies improved to 11-21 overall and 2-15 in the conference.
Senior guard Amber Melgoza, who is one of two players remaining from UW’s last run to the NCAA tournament in 2017, said she hopes to continue the momentum built last season.
“I don’t want to have a season like we’ve had the past few years,” she said. “That’s not what I want to do. I want to make it to the tournament. I want to be in March Madness and I know that’s all of our goals.”
Melgoza, who led the Huskies in scoring the past two seasons, enters her final season ranked No. 21 on UW’s career scoring list with 1,202 points.
If she equals her 18.1 scoring average of last season, then she’ll finish the regular season with 1,781 points and seventh place among Washington’s scoring greats, trailing Kelsey Plum (3,527), Jazmine Davis (2,277), Jamie Redd (2,027), Guiliana Mendiola (1,928), Talia Walton (1,817) and Rhonda Smith (1,801).
“When I hear about records and stuff like that, I don’t even think about it,” Melgoza said. “I just go day-by-day and do what I got to do to make my teammates better and make myself better.”
Conceivably, Melgoza will get more help from returning starters Petersen and forwards Mai-Loni Henson and Darcy Rees.
Washington, which lost graduated seniors Jenna Moser at guard and Hannah Johnson at forward, bulked up the front line with an incoming class that includes a pair of 6-foot-3 centers in Kentridge High standout Jaquaya Miller and Ali Bamberger from Concord, Calif.
Freshman Nia Lowery, a four-star recruit from Sacramento, Calif., and Rita Pleskevich, a 5-9 junior-college transfer from Moscow, Russia, are a pair of newcomers vying with sophomore T.T. Watkins for the starting point guard job.
Since inheriting the team from Plum in 2017, Melgoza is surrounded by her best supporting cast, but it remains to be seen if Washington has made enough strides to break through in a tough Pac-12 that sent six teams to the NCAA tournament last season.
“We definitely want to remember what we did last year (in the Pac-12 tournament), but at the same time during the season it’s almost like you have to have a short-term memory and play every single day as if you’re having a dog fight,” Melgoza said. “You’re giving 110%. You’re not letting things come easy. You work hard and do the extra work.
“If we do all of that and stay together, then we’ll be good.”
WSU PICKED READY TO REBOUND
Washington State coach Kamie Ethridge is ready to turn the page on her first year with the Cougars that resulted in a 9-21 record and 4-14 finish in the Pac-12.
“I’m glad year one is over,” she said. “The thing that was the most difficult for us was just learning your own team in the midst of a season. We went through some things that I didn’t expect from the team a year ago, and that’s what happens. What you don’t know, you don’t know.
“And now a year later, I just feel like I know this group better. We’re built a little bit better. We have a little bit more depth in our program now, and having been the way we want to play and our system for a year.
The Cougars received an offseason boost when forward Borislava Hristova, aka ‘Bobbi Buckets,’ decided to return for a fifth year after leading the team with a 19.9 scoring average last season.
“This team has never been to the NCAA tournament for a long time, and this is something I wanted to be part of,” she said. “I think we can build something special this year, so I wanted to be part of it and leave something behind me when I leave, because I’ve got one last chance at this.”
MOVE OVER ZION
Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu is poised to become the first player in NCAA women’s basketball history to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.
“When you say the name Sabrina, casual men’s basketball fans know who you’re talking about,” Ducks coach Kelly Graves said. “Unless there’s another Zion (Williamson) coming down the pike here, and I don’t think there is, I think Sabrina really becomes the face of the college game.”
— Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer enters her 40th season with 1,067 victories and needs 32 to pass Pat Summitt (1,098) for the most by a women’s college basketball coach.
— The Pac-12 extended its contracts for men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Las Vegas through 2022. The men will play at T-Mobile Arena and the women will play at Mandalay Bay.