New UW coach Jody Wynn can construct a solid, if not excellent program. It just may be awhile before we again see the excitement — and fandom — of the Kelsey Plum years.
Sometimes, a coach takes over a program after it has experienced unprecedented success. That’s pressure.
Sometimes, a coach takes over a program after it graduated its best players. That’s challenging.
And sometimes, a coach takes over a program only to watch its best returner transfer and several core players retire due to injury.
Oregon @ UW women, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
Put all of the scenarios together — and that’s Washington women’s basketball coach Jody Wynn.
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Almost a year after Kelsey Plum broke the NCAA all-time women’s scoring record, and nearly two years after the Huskies stormed to their first Final Four, Wynn is learning how merciless Pac-12 hoops can be. After going 6-5 during their nonconference schedule, the Huskies are 1-11 in league play and sit at the bottom of the standings.
The games themselves? We’ll call them learning experiences — ones that range from first-quarter blowouts to overtime losses.
So what’s it been like navigating such choppy seas?
“It’s definitely been difficult in regards to the win-loss column,” said Wynn, who came to Washington after serving as Long Beach State’s head coach for eight years. “But at the same time and in the same breath, it’s been rewarding because our team is competing. We could have easily laid down and folded.”
Over on the men’s side, Mike Hopkins has transformed the Huskies into a likely NCAA tournament participant in his first year on the job. But comparing his situation to Wynn’s would hardly be prudent.
The men’s team lost Markelle Fultz but retained most of its talent and scored stud freshman Jaylen Nowell. The women’s roster, on the other hand, was totally gutted.
Gone is Plum, one of the most of accomplished players in women’s college basketball history. Gone is Chantel Osahor, who led the nation in rebounding last year and posted the first triple-double in program history. Gone are Katie Collier, the team’s next best rebounder, and Heather Corral, its top three-point shooter.
Painful as those departures were, though, they were expected. The same can’t be said of Aarion McDonald’s transfer to Arizona or Natalie Romeo, Kelli Kingma and Briana Ruiz, all retiring due to injuries.
Amber Melgoza, the Huskies’ top scorer (17.2 ppg), averaged 7.1 minutes last year. Their next-leading scorer, Jenna Moser, averaged 2.8 minutes.
And yet, every now and again, the Huskies have found themselves competing with nationally-ranked teams, threatening them in a way scouting reports never could have predicted.
They played within nine points of then ninth-ranked Ohio State in Columbus. They were leading 16th-ranked Oregon State by six at halftime. They lost by nine to 24th-ranked Cal.
Yes, there have also been foes such as USC, Stanford, Utah and Oregon — all of which led by at least 15 points after the first quarter — but it hasn’t quite been the bloodbath UW’s record suggests.
“I’m certainly proud of the fact that we have been in games that, on paper, we don’t have any business being in,” Wynn said. “We’ve been playing extremely hard, we’re just not always performing our best.”
Wynn points to inexperience as one of the Huskies’ shortcomings. Maybe it’s rushing a shot, or overdribbling, or missing a defensive rotation — all nuances that players learn with time. And the fact that no player over 6 feet 1 has logged a minute this year is a bit of an impediment, too.
So where do they go from here?
It’s important to note that Wynn took over a Long Beach State squad that finished 8-21 the year before, and had three straight 20-win seasons before she came to Washington. And last year, the 15th-seeded 49ers were a basket away from upsetting second-seeded Oregon State in the NCAA tournament.
This isn’t unfamiliar territory, and now she’s coaching at a top academic university in a progressive city that, as we saw last year, will come out in droves for women’s basketball.
“How can you not build a national power here with the city, the resources and the support of the athletic department?” Wynn said. “We’re confident that there are going to be players that want to come in and make an impact right away.”
What we saw in the Plum-Osahor years might never be repeated. But that doesn’t mean Wynn can’t construct a solid, if not excellent, program.
This season has been rough. Real rough. But if you squint, you can see some promise.