Given first game jitters, a somewhat unorthodox Division II opponent, and the adjustment of playing someone other than teammates for the first time, it’s difficult to read too much into the University of Washington’s 69-61 victory over Seattle Pacific University last night in Bank of America Arena.
Sometimes what matters most in games like these is getting a sense of not only what a team is a capable of, but also additional things to work on.
"You have to love exhibition games," said coach Tia Jackson. "They reveal a lot about the things we have to work on to get ready for a pretty competitive pre-season and even more competitive conference play."
One of the things the Huskies will definitely have to work according to Jackson is defending perimeter shooters. Seattle Pacific was led by local product Daesha Henderson who scored a game-high 26 points and shot 5-6 from the three-point line. While the rest of the team only 4 of 14 from the three-point line, many of those attempts were uncontested as Husky defenders were either a few seconds late on rotations or unable to get a hand up. It’s something they’ll have to work on before entering the pre-season schedule.
"They’re not a traditional team," said Jackson about Seattle Pacific. "It’s not often that you come across a team that relies on the three so heavily. But they rely on it and they’re very, very good at it. So it’s something they’re extremely consistent in.
"We’re going to face a lot of that four out action with BYU. We’re going to face it with Portland State who does a lot of the motion offense, which is four out. So we’re prepping to get ready for our pre-season."
On the offensive end, the Huskies relied heavily on the production of their seniors. Center Laura McLellan scored 18 points on 8-10 shooting, getting a number of easy scoring opportunities in the post. Guard Sara Mosiman also had an efficient scoring night with 14 points on 7 of 12 shooting, coming off screens and softly floating mid-range jumpers through the friendly Bank of America Arena rims.
"She’s been super consistent all summer, all pre-season, so I think she definitely showed that," said senior guard Sami Whitcomb of Mosiman’s performance. "She comes off the screen really well – she reads it really well – and just has a really nice mid-range jumper and I think she showed that tonight."
As Whitcomb’s comments about Mosiman illustrate, another thing college exhibition games are valuable for is a first glance at how players developed in the off-season and what we can expect from them moving forward. One thing to look for is players who just seem consistently involved in making positive plays, even if they don’t show up in the box score.
In the Huskies game last night, the player who stood out in that regard was Whitcomb.
Jackson has pegged Whitcomb as a WNBA prospect, according to Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans, and she spend her off-season working on the perimeter skills that will help her make it at the next level. The work paid off in last night’s game.
"I worked a lot on trying to see the floor better, driving and trying to find the open person, and recognizing that," said Whitcomb, with Jackson quickly interjecting that Whitcomb recorded five assists.
Whitcomb’s comfort with the ball in her hands and ability to find open players within the flow of the offense was immediately evident. She’s a smooth ballhandler and although she only shot 6 for 17 last night -- including 1 for 6 from the three point line – her ability to stop and create scoring opportunities for herself with pull-up jumpers was impressive.
However, it was her ability to create opportunities for others off the drive or by making small moves to shift the defense that was most impressive.
With about 14 minutes left in the first half, Whitcomb managed to make a move by her defender, drive into the lane, and slide the ball over to McLellan for an easy layup when the help came to stop the drive. It was plays like those – creating easy scoring opportunities for teammates – that made McLellan and Mosiman’s efficient scoring games possible.
While Jackson was right to say the victory was a result of a collective effort, Whitcomb’s improved play-making ability will be essential to the success of the Washington team this season.
- While it was only an exhibition game, there were times when it looked like Washington might not have taken the game seriously enough, as described by Jayda Evans.
UNINSPIRED: Washington is ahead 51-45 with 10:22 remaining in the game, but aren't acting like it. The team walked out of the locker room at the break and players are lifeless on the bench. Meanwhile SPU is energized and its fans are lively. Not a good sign.
- One thing that stood out during the post-game press conference was the relative ease with which Jackson seems to relate to her players. In addition to jumping in while Whitcomb discussed her own off-season development, Jackson shared moments of laughter with her players throughout the nine minutes with the media. Regardless of whether the off-season murmurs about her being on the hot-seat were warranted, one thing that can be said for Jackson – and perhaps what helped her as a recruiter -- is that she appears to have a very solid rapport with her players.