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Originally published Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 6:59 PM

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Senior Mollie Williams adds intangibles to Washington's success

The senior forward is making an impact on defense, where she has averaged 8.8 rebounds in her last six games.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

USC @ UW, 7 p.m.

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Ask how Washington reached this point — winning record, best possible conference finish in five years — and an unexpected reason emerges from players: Mollie Williams.

The senior forward's stats aren't flashy. But she's like a wrecking ball off the bench late in games, grabbing rebounds and making needed free throws to nonchalantly help the Huskies win.

It was Williams' 14 points and 11 rebounds in a 67-61 road win against USC earlier this month that propelled Washington to winning four of its past six games. Sweep USC (16-11, 10-6 Pac-12) on Thursday at Edmundson Pavilion and UW (15-11, 7-9) has a chance to finish sixth in the Pac-12, its best since 2008, and dash the Trojans' hopes of advancing to the NCAA tournament without a solid run in the conference tournament next week.

"It's her last year, and Mollie wants to make a statement," said fellow senior Regina Rogers, who leads the team with 16.2 points and 8.4 rebounds. "Her first three years she hadn't done anything that she felt herself proved who she was. This year, she sat down and talked to me and said she wanted to be more than just that role player, and I feel like she's stepped it up a lot."

After missing the opening four games this season due to a second concussion, Williams has made her biggest impact on the defensive end lately. She's averaging 8.8 rebounds in her past six games. Overall, she averages a career-high 4.5 points and 5.3 boards this season.

Because of the slow start, first-year UW coach Kevin McGuff was uncertain what he would get from Williams if inserted in the game. He credited her dedication to the improvement to end the season.

"Early on, she showed some flashes of what she could do and what she could be," McGuff said. "I'm happy for her that lately it's been more of a consistent Mollie that she wants to be. It's been really fun to watch ... Some of these games we would not have won had she not played like she has."

No. 2 Stanford (first seed) and California (second) are the only teams to lock positions in next week's Pac-12 tournament in Los Angeles. Washington is currently seeded seventh, and even if it swept its final two games against USC and UCLA, moving up to sixth is only a possibility if Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State lose their remaining games.

As with any week, though, Washington remains focused on itself, knowing with Williams playing as she's has this month, anything is possible.

"It's not any special thing that I've been doing," said Williams, a native Californian whose family will attend her final home games this week. "It's just me playing and wanting our team to come out with some wins at the year and go out my senior year with a bang."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @JaydaEvans

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