Although the obvious framing for tonight’s game between Seattle University and the University of Washington is the bragging rights to be gained from a cross-town rivalry, UW coach Tia Jackson downplayed that framing for their third consecutive "road" game.
"Every game for us is extremely important," said Jackson. "And we consider ‘em all rivals right now. We’ve gotta come out and really focus on who we are, but at the same time we can’t lose sight of who this team is."
Despite minimizing the significance of this game relative to others, the pressure has to be on Washington for this game as the more tenured Division I institution in Seattle.
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"We're not ready for those games, yet," said Bonvicini, whose schedule was set before being hired. "We're still a program that is growing. But the pressure is on Washington, not on us."
Nevertheless, it could end up being a significant game for both teams in other ways – while a loss for Washington would certainly fan the flames of fan resentment for Jackson, it is also an opportunity for SeattleU to get a jolt of local legitimacy after a bumpy start for the Joan Bonvicini era.
But aside from the cross-town drama surrounding the game, the big story on the court tomorrow night could be Washington’s sizable advantage in the post, particularly 6’3" center Regina Rogers, 6’3" reserve forward Mollie Williams and 6’2 reserve center Laura McLellan. Although SeattleU center Tatiana Heck has said previously that she likes the challenge of playing against bigger posts, it figures to be a daunting challenge tonight.
"As a post player, you may see a smaller team and you think you can get lobs, you can post up," said McLellan of her mindset before practice yesterday. "Regina is going to attract a bunch of attention so the four player that’s in there with her is going to get an even smaller post player. So I think we’re just looking to dominate inside and attract a lot of attention so we can open shots up for our guards."
However, while the smaller Redhawks have struggled to defend bigger opponents over the course of the season, the Huskies have had some trouble getting the ball into the post efficiently.
"We know [our bigs] are gonna get a ton of attention so we’ve gotta be smart and not force it in there," said Jackson. "With us being on the road, you guys don’t get to see a lot of how those turnovers are created; I know the perception is that it’s by a press -- it’s not. We love to get it inside but sometimes we force the issue a little bit. So I think that as we continue to progress with practices and games we’ll get more consistent at making that pass inside."
The advantage inside might not end with the formal post players as 5’10" senior guard Sami Whitcomb is also capable of working in the post as well, though the size advantage may not always be as large.
"[We] ended up getting her on the block, she made some things happen there and then the basket got real big for her," said Jackson about getting Whitcomb out of a scoring drought during their win against the University of Central Florida. "She’s a kid that knows if she’s not scoring right away, there are ways to get points on the board."
Despite their emphasis on post play, when the Huskies win, it’s been on the strength of Whitcomb’s performance. Whitcomb has indisputably been the top player in all three of the Huskies wins (and a last second loss to Portland State University), highlighted by her game winning shot against Brigham Young University. Her play on the perimeter has been a barometer for the team thus far this season.
Likewise, SeattleU relies heavily on their perimeter play.
"They’re a team that will remind you a lot of Sac State as far as how they look to score," said Jackson. "They’re a three point shooting team – I think they take about 24 threes a game. They’ve got one player Ashley Brown who takes ten of them. So we’ve gotta really pay attention and make sure those looks are contested, but they’ve also got a fairly decent penetrating game too that we’ve gotta look for."
While Jackson points to the play of Brown who stands out as the team’s leading scorer, as SeattleU’s play has improved over the last three games – two wins and a road loss to UC Irvine on a game winning shot – the responsibility for victory has been distributed across the lineup. While Brown was arguably the top player in their second win against Pacific Lutheran University – a Division III opponent – small forward Maggie McCarthy was arguably the statistically strongest player in their win against a solid University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee team and the combined post play of center Tatiana Heck and reserve Carley Butcher was essential to their performance against UCI.
In other words, it’s truly been a team effort for SeattleU.
"I think we’re moving the ball pretty well and we’re able to go inside-outside," said Bonvicini after the PLU victory. "Obviously our threes are getting better and we’re shooting a better percentage. Before I felt like we weren’t taking good three point shots – we’ve been working a lot on it. And now it’s been showing in our stats and it’s showing in our game."
At their best – their two wins, the close one against UCI, and a strong second half effort against Georgetown in the Basketball Travelers Invitational at Purdue University – the Redhawks not only showed strong shooting and ball movement statistically, but also played the type of defense that prevented their opponents from scoring.
SeattleU likes to play a trapping half court defense and uses a combination of defensive looks to try to keep opponents off balance. Considering that UW point guard Sarah Morton has 11 assists to 24 turnovers over the last five games, the pressure defense – both on the guards and playing passing lanes -- could be a factor in this game and be the key to victory for SeattleU.
In any case, while the Huskies might be the heavy favorites in this game, UW is not taking them for granted.
"They’re very good at what they do," said Jackson. "Joan is a fantastic coach – I remember coaching against her in the Pac-10 when she was at Arizona. So, I’m pretty sure she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve."
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- McLellan said she feels fine after sustaining a knee "injury" at the University of Central Florida and should be 100% for tonight’s game.
"I actually feel a lot better," said McLellan. "I think it was just scarier more than anything – anytime you get hit in the knees after having surgery and what not you think the worst. But basically, it’s just like a bone bruise so it will feel a little sore, but it can’t get hurt."
- In describing why she feels comfortable coming off the bench, McLellan also demonstrated the range of things a NCAA player has to think about when they take the court.
"I like seeing how the defense plays," said McLellan. "We’ll get to see if they front and if they front what you should do – if you should pin and seal or if you try to work the lob or if they play behind where the best positioning is or if they’re allowing you middle, allowing you baseline. If just kinda gives you a heads up on what you need to do once you get in there."
- Former Husky Kristen O’Neill is now an assistant coach with SeattleU as described by Scott Johnson of The Daily Herald.
HeraldNet: Kristen O’Neill still a Husky at heart (mostly)
"I’m a Husky fan for life, but I won’t be rooting for them" tonight, O’Neill said. "I’m absolutely still a Husky at heart. But (tonight) I’ll be Seattle University all the way." O’Neill’s coaching career lasted just 10 games before her allegiances were tested. The 26-year-old is in her first season as an assistant at SU, having given up her career as a player. After playing professionally in Spain and Ireland, where she was once named league MVP, O’Neill decided to hang up her sneakers earlier this year so that she could get closer to her hometown of Lynnwood. The former Meadowdale High School star formed an athletic training business called O’Neill Hoops and kept one eye on openings in the coaching world.