UW Women's Basketball
Burt, O'Neill together again
They will always be linked together, even if Kayla Burt and Kristen O'Neill continue to move in opposite directions on the basketball court this season. Linked by the Washington...
Seattle Times staff reporter
They will always be linked together, even if Kayla Burt and Kristen O'Neill continue to move in opposite directions on the basketball court this season.
Linked by the Washington women's basketball team as two members of its 2001 recruiting class. Linked by their Snohomish County roots. Linked by injury and illness and a season spent together on the sideline.
Linked this season by their comebacks, best friends taking turns slumping and surging or surging and slumping, but never together — a trend both find a little odd and inexplicable.
"It's been really hard on both of them," UW coach June Daugherty said. "They're doing more than anybody should ask of them, to be honest with you. I'm worried about how much we put on them. It is what it is. We need these kids. And they know that."
These Huskies are as green as Oregon's McArthur Court, the site of their game against the Ducks at 7 p.m. today. The closest thing UW has to seniors on its roster are Burt and O'Neill, the remaining healthy members of its 2001 recruiting class. Both would be seniors this year had they not missed last season — Burt with a heart condition and O'Neill with mononucleosis and a stress fracture in her foot.
In the beginning of the season, Burt stood atop the Huskies' scoring chart. She dropped 18 points in a loss at Utah and 14 first-half points in a loss to nationally ranked Baylor. In that game, Daugherty said Burt looked like "an All-American, flat out."
Recently, the roles reversed. O'Neill took strength from a 16-point effort in a loss to Stanford and ended her slide completely with 19 more in a loss to UCLA to take over the scoring lead. Meanwhile, Burt has struggled, last breaking the 10-point barrier on Dec. 29 and scoring none against the Bruins in the Huskies' latest loss.
"It's a product of what's happened in their lives," assistant coach Mike Daugherty said. "Kayla was out for almost two years. She was a great player. She'll be a great player again, at some point. I have no doubt about that."
A heart condition forced Burt to retire midway through her sophomore season, and she's still shaking off the rust evident from the 20-month layoff. Burt doesn't completely agree with June Daugherty's opinion that she's burdened, saying, "I put more on myself than they do, more on myself than I should."
Mike Daugherty can sense Burt's frustration, but he doesn't think the team can. He sees the Huskies' leader pointing that frustration inward.
"When you don't do as well as you'd like, you start to question yourself and you get self doubt and you wonder, 'Can I really do this?' " Burt said. "I've struggled with that. You'd think by now that I'm comfortable. But I'm not yet."
O'Neill can sympathize with her best friend because she was in the same spot about a month ago. That's when coaches moved O'Neill to the four, allowing her more touches than at point guard, creating mismatches inside (with guards) and outside (with forwards).
"That's just the evolution of her feeling comfortable, of us needing that," Mike Daugherty said.
Coaches didn't come to O'Neill and tell her to increase her scoring because that's not her mentality. She took it upon herself to help end the Huskies' offensive woes, saying, "it's not rocket science," because those woes still have no end in sight.
Like Burt, O'Neill isn't concerned with her statistics, even when things are going well. Asked about her scoring explosion in the past two weeks, O'Neill blushed and dropped her eyes to the ground.
"I'd rather win," she said.
The Huskies haven't won all that frequently this year. They lost four in a row at one point and the last three games they played. They swear they have yet to give in and look toward next year. But they know the fate of what's left of this season rests on the shoulders of their veterans.
June Daugherty points to the loss at Notre Dame, saying Burt and O'Neill had a "glow" about them and smiles on their faces. They forced the Huskies to relax, something Daugherty notes won't show up on a box score. Now, if they do show up there, that's an added bonus considering where they're coming from and a necessary bonus considering where they want to go.
"I don't want make excuses," Mike Daugherty said. "We are what we are. We're competitive. We're just not winning. We're getting there, but we have to learn how to win."
Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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