A week ago, Jody Wynn wasn’t sure when or if the Washington women’s basketball team would open the season.
“That’s just how it’s going to be this year,” Wynn said with a slight chuckle. “I wish I could tell you we’re going to start on this day against this team, but I just can’t. Anything I say right now, could change in an hour.
“I know we’re looking to go to Las Vegas and hopefully find some teams to play a few games. We thought we had it nailed down, but then a team dropped out. … I’m not a betting person, but it’s looking like we’ll start in Vegas against somebody.”
Turns out, that somebody is San Diego State.
The Huskies will open their season at 7 p.m. PT Wednesday against the Aztecs at T-Mobile Arena in the Las Vegas Bubble Tournament.
Washington also will face Brigham Young at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at South Point Arena in Las Vegas.
Wynn hinted UW had hoped to schedule another non-conference game while spending the Thanksgiving week in Sin City.
“We need to play and we’re ready to play some games,” Wynn said. “But just getting on the court this year will be a major accomplishment.
“So we’ll see. We’ll see what type of season we can put together with all the challenges created by this virus. And believe me, it is challenging. But I’m so proud of our girls and our staff … for being focused on what’s in front of us and controlling what we can control.”
Wynn stressed the importance of playing as many non-conference games as possible for a young UW team that returns just one starter and six players from last season when the Huskies went 13-17 and tied for ninth place in the Pac-12 at 5-13.
Washington, which was picked 11th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, likely will have difficulty finding victories during the conference’s bolstered 22-game schedule, which is an increase of four games.
“This conference is no walk in the park,” Wynn said while noting four Pac-12 teams are ranked among the top 10 in The Associated Press preseason poll. “We play in the best conference in the country and we’re young, so for a lot of these girls they’ll get a chance to show what they can do against some of the best players in the country.
“I’m excited for them and for our team to see how much we can grow together.”
Washington’s progress will be tied directly to junior Haley Van Dyke, the team’s leading returning scorer who averaged 8.2 points while shooting 43.2% from the field.
The 6-foot-1 forward from Walnut Creek, Calif., also led the Huskies in rebounds (5.1 per game) and steals (2.1) last season.
“She knows how to score when the ball is not in her hands,” Wynn said. “She’s always moving because she’s in great shape and looking for scoring opportunities. That’s exactly how we want to play. Sharing the ball and finding the open shooters.”
Wynn expects immediate contributions from freshmen guards Tameiya Sadler and Jayda Noble, a pair of four-star recruits who highlight a quartet of first-year players.
“Tameiya is our point guard so she’ll have the ball in her hands a ton and we’re counting on her to make good decisions,” Wynn said. “That’s the thing with young point guards, the decision-making. You can only improve in that area by playing games and gaining experience.
“But those girls are fearless. And that’s what you need to be to play as freshmen in this conference.”
Junior center Darcy Rees, UW’s lone returning starter who averaged 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds, senior forward Khayla Rooks, senior guard Alexis Griggsby and sophomore center Quay Miller also will need to make strides if UW is going to overcome the loss of 60% of its scoring and rebounding.
Senior guard Missy Peterson (torn left ACL) and junior-college transfer Grace Beasley (hip surgery) will miss the season due to injuries while junior guard T.T. Watkins opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Huskies also lost Amber Melgoza, UW’s eighth-leading career scorer, and defensive ace Mai-Loni Henson to graduation. Meanwhile, guard Rita Pleskevich transferred to Florida Atlantic and Ali Bamberger left for Saint Mary’s.
“Between Amber and Mai-Loni, there was a definite presence of leadership so some of the other kids probably took a backseat the past three years,” Wynn said. “I probably would have too. Amber was so good and Mai-Loni was the mother hen.
“But now it’s time for Khayla and Haley and some of these kids to really step up and make a mark on the team.”