Smaller roster forcing Washington women into a faster pace
Huskies could be lacking size, experience up front
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Kristi Kingma's return to Washington women's hoops was a little strange.
"It's a different feel in practice when we take the court and I'm just as tall as everyone else out there," joked Kingma, a 5-foot-10 guard who missed the 2011-12 season due to a torn ACL.
Gone are former teammates Regina Rogers, a 6-3 center built like a linebacker, Mackenzie Argens, a rock-solid 6-3 forward, and Mollie Williams, a 6-1 rebounding force off the bench. They were the team's top three rebounders while Rogers was the leading scorer (16.8 a game).
Replacing the trio is ... well, that's still the question.
Coach Kevin McGuff begins his second season with the Huskies on Friday with a lineup that's a little shorter than anticipated and more uncertain than any of his previous 10 years as a head coach. And it wasn't by design.
Expected center Katie Collier, who's 6-3, tore her right ACL in August, moving Danish freshman Mathlide Gilling (6-3) into a bigger role inside along with redshirt sophomore Talia Walton (6-2).
McGuff already is planning a three-guard starting lineup with sophomore Jazmine Davis returning at point guard, with Kingma and junior Mercedes Wetmore flanking her.
Who starts in the post depends on development and competition in practice. Even traditional wings Aminah Williams, a noted 6-foot rebounder, and little used senior forward Jeneva Anderson could be in the mix.
A guarantee, however, is McGuff's lineups won't depend on opponent matchups.
"I wish I had that luxury," he said, reflecting on his career at Xavier where he coached two posts who became first-round WNBA draft choices.
"It was a little more work for me in the offseason in terms of making sure I got the style right," McGuff said of adapting his offense to his roster. "Last year, I could just sort of use what we were using at Xavier. This is certainly a departure from that. But, hey, that's OK. It's part of rebuilding a program."
Walton is ready for the challenge. Once a hopeful football player like her brother, she shifted her aggressive nature to basketball and now patterns her game after WNBA champion Tamika Catchings, who also doesn't allow size to dictate her game.
"The person that I played against that was tremendously bigger than me was just Regina," Walton said. "Practicing against Regina will get you ready for anything. When she was really posting up, I had to figure out a way to sneak around to get in front. If you're behind, everybody knows, you're done. I have to use my speed and coach is really pushing us to run, run, run."
Gilling's three siblings play basketball, with her brother starting 18 games for Arizona State last season. But she played international basketball with more of a finesse style in Denmark. She's benefiting from practice against UW's all-male practice squad and one-on-one sessions to grasp McGuff's style.
McGuff's new system could have Washington attempting more than 90 field goals a game — about 20 more than its game high last season.
The schemes also cater to three-point shooting, a signature shot for Kingma and incoming freshman Heather Corral.
"I have no problem going faster and faster, it's just that we all have to play at that same pace," Davis said. "The game is a lot more fun when you play fast. You get a lot more open shots and you catch a lot of teams slacking on defense coming back in transition. If we keep pushing it over and over again, eventually they'll collapse and give us the buckets."
Perhaps. But Washington's undersized posts have to rebound and play strong defense first.
The Huskies ranked third in the Pac-12 in rebounding last season (42.1) with a plus-five average against opponents.
But Rogers' post-up game often slowed transition play, so one advantage to being undersized could be UW's current posts can keep up offensively.
McGuff is hesitant to say the style will help the Huskies repeat the program's first 20-victory season in nearly a decade.
The impressive season included winning three games in the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
Past young teams, like California in 2010, morphed the WNIT into NCAA berths.
"We've got some challenging games in the nonconference, and the Pac-12 will be better this year," he said. "It feels like a young team because Talia and Kristi didn't play last year. Jeneva didn't play a ton of minutes and will have a bigger role, and then we changed the style of play. There are so many things that are new, it all feels young again. But that's part of the process of going where we want to go."
• Junior guard Kellie McCann-Smith remains away from the team due to a personal issue. Redshirt freshman Deborah Meeks isn't expected to return from knee surgery until December.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @JaydaEvans