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Originally published January 2, 2014 at 9:06 PM | Page modified January 2, 2014 at 10:26 PM

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Wetmore is the rock of UW women’s strong backcourt

Pac-12 season preview.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Most things about Mercedes Wetmore go unnoticed.

“She doesn’t need the spotlight,” Washington coach Mike Neighbors said of his senior guard.

Like how Wetmore is the backbone of the basketball team. Not just on the court, where the 5-foot-8 Lake Tapps native averages a team-high 34 minutes and just two turnovers in Neighbors’ three-guard attack.

Two-time All-Pac-12 junior Jazmine Davis (18.8 points) and true freshman Kelsey Plum (18.3) handle the bulk of the scoring. But in a lineup where the trio seamlessly tradeoff bringing the ball up the floor, it’s Wetmore who’s orchestrating the offense and averaging 5.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals.

Meanwhile, she’s balancing the communication between the close-knit team full of competitors. Wetmore even wondered aloud if they topped her fierce drive. It’s a combination Washington (7-4) hopes leads the team to its first NCAA tournament berth since 2007.

UW is hosting the first and second round at Alaska Airlines Arena in March. The Pac-12 tournament is also in Seattle, which sets the plot for a possible storybook season in the Huskies’ own city.

Washington opens Pac-12 play against Arizona (4-7) on Friday. UW plays No. 24 ASU (11-1) on Sunday and Washington State (6-6) in Pullman on Tuesday for a stretch of three games in five days.

“If you asked everybody, it’s Mercedes (who’s the rock), it’s instilled in her,” Davis said. “She’s a leader. She always finds something to keep you motivated. It’s really hard for me to be vocal all the time and Kelsey’s the exact opposite, she’ll talk your ear off if you let her. She speaks her mind. … Mercedes is the calm, positive one. We balance each other.”

But you have to look for that. Just as you have to catch the different way Wetmore, 22, smiles on the court this season. After all, Wetmore is the type to have a welcoming grin while wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Free Hugs.”

Yet, in retelling a moment Thursday about Washington’s win against UC Irvine in the nonconference finale on Monday, there was a special glow to Wetmore’s face.

A career 28.9 percent shooter from three-point range, Wetmore made 3 of 4 against UCI. The final one was with 2:46 remaining in the 72-69 win. UW teetered with a 67-65 lead when Wetmore hit the shot from the left side of the arc.

Three-pointers were the favorite shot of former Auburn Riverside High teammate Rachel Givens. With Wetmore as the starting point guard, the duo helped the school win two state championships, building a bond that didn’t need constant phone calls to feel connected.

A late-night call in October from another teammate, Katie Grad, jolted Wetmore. Givens, 23, was killed in a hit-and-run while crossing the street to a pub in Sumner. The driver remains unknown.

Hearing the words, ‘She’s not going to wake up’ really puts into perspective what really matters,” Wetmore said. “It comes down to I’m thankful for the relationships that we had and that carries over to the relationships that I have with my teammates here. That’s what people are going to remember.”

Neighbors regards Wetmore as his “ace.” A player he frantically looks for when he needs a defensive stop or to run a key play. Someone he can check-in with about the team.

But although Wetmore said she could talk to anyone on the team about losing Givens shortly before the season tipped, she didn’t. And Neighbors hasn’t noticed it weighing on Wetmore, noting again, she didn’t want all the attention.

“I was angry at first, knowing that it was a hit-and-run. Not having answers. Not having closure for the family,” Wetmore said. “It’s just unbelievable. … We’re not going to have answers for something like that. We’re just going to have learning in a good way.”

A piece of what Wetmore said she has learned is an understanding of living in the moment and cherishing relationships – especially when it comes to her Washington teammates and their shared goals.

The NCAA tournament isn’t a hushed topic. Nor is the goal to get a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament. The amount of dedication and teamwork is also discussed.

Washington missed an opportunity at a signature nonconference win against Texas A&M (74-68) and Saint Mary’s (91-81). But a home win against Wisconsin (80-67) mid-December was pivotal.

Six players scored in double figures against the Big Ten school. Wetmore had 11 points, six assists, four steals and one turnover.

“That and the Seattle U win (82-60), those games gave us a little vision that we could really do damage if we play like this all the time,” Davis said. “But that’s the trick.”

Wetmore knows. And that vision is all she sees in her final season at Washington, smiling with every three-pointer made.

“When people are observing our game I want them to see someone who really cares about their teammates and really cares about this program,” Wetmore said. “What I’ve been working for my whole life — and that is to work really hard, play with fire and be selfless.”

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or On Twitter @JaydaEvans.

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