That would have been too big of a miracle, even in this season of miracles.
Good thing, as is widely assumed, that the Huskies already had cinched up a
spot in the NCAA tournament. They hardly are a kind of run-all-day bunch on the
order of, say, UCLA, so a three-wins-in-three-days run would have been
difficult. They also were a gang of shooters in a place, HP Pavilion, that has
proven to be an inhospitable place to shoot.
And then there was a matter of the Huskies' semifinal opponent, Arizona, a team
rising as quickly as dough in a hot oven. As far as cats-and-dogs matchups go,
the Wildcats-Huskies offers up nightmarish challenges for the canine end of the
equation. Not only does Arizona present double inside trouble in Shawntinice
Polk, the Pac-10 freshman of the year, and Krista Warren, it supports them with
enough perimeter quickness and firepower to make it impossible to attempt doing
much more than putting up one-on-one resistance inside.
During their 74-51 tournament loss to the Wildcats, the Huskies had hoped to
disrupt Arizona's high-low post game, make Polk work for her points with single
coverage, and contain her potentially explosive teammates.
A nice thought, but after two decisive Arizona wins and a Kristen O'Neill-
produced miracle finish in Seattle, it probably was an order beyond
As Arizona Coach Joan Bonvicini pointed out, after the Huskies produced a
chilling, 11-0 first-half run, the Wildcats "called timeout, and we regrouped.
From that point on, I really thought that we were the aggressors."
That might be an understatement. Arizona placed a virtual chokehold on the game
by scoring the half's last 13 points - six by Warren, who slashed her way by a
merry-go-round of Washington defenders for 14 points on an efficient 8-for-10
from the field, and three by Polk.
There is no hokey in this Polkey, as the 6-foot-5 Wildcat freshman prefers to
be called. She finished with a game-high 22, on equally efficient 10-of-13
shooting, and got the ball any time Arizona even sniffed trouble. Able to get
two the easy way, Arizona set a tournament record by shooting a sizzling 53.6
percent from the field.
"Polkey changes the whole equation," said Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer, whose
challenge will be to slow the Wildcat freshman in Monday's conference
championship game. "You have to have an answer for Polkey."
That the Huskies did not have that answer was not the sole reason for their
demise. Basketball, of course, is a game that requires solutions at both ends
of the floor. And the Huskies did not.
While Arizona extended its outburst well into the second half, it outscored the
Huskies 26-5, forcing Washington at one point to miss 11 straight shots and go
from the 6:47 mark of the first half to the 17:07 mark of the second without a
field goal. Deftly rotating person-to-person, zone and trapping defenses,
Arizona forced 22 Washington turnovers while yielding 25 looks from the three-
point arc that the Huskies struggled to convert.
Moreover, the Wildcats went for the head - Giuliana Mendiola - and chopped it
off. Though she passed for a conference-tournament-record nine assists, the Pac-
10 player of the year had single-digit scoring - seven points - for only the
third time this season. Attacked with big bodies whenever she put the ball on
the floor, and even often when she didn't, Mendiola squeezed off just seven
shots, only two in the entire second half. She then sat out the final three
minutes after turning her right ankle.
"We were rotating different people because of the way they played," Bonvicini
said of defending Mendiola. "We used Polkey at times on her. We were a little
nervous about that because she (Mendiola) can take her to the hole. But I
thought Polkey really stood her ground and would not let her penetrate. I
thought that everyone who was on her did a really nice job. You can't just
focus on one person, and I know that she is a centerpiece for Washington,
because so many other players can shoot the ball."
Whether it was because of the Arizona defense or the shooter-unfriendly
environment, no Husky other than Andrea Lalum (four-for-five three-pointers, 14
points) shot the ball very well. Some of that had to do with Washington's lack
of a conventional inside game. The Huskies generally set up inside with
outside, relying on their perimeter firepower to loosen up the underbelly of
opposing defenses for backdoor cuts and penetration.
Absent reliable long-distant shooting - Loree Payne, for example, struggled for
the third straight game with her shot, going 3 for 15 for the game and 6 for 26
for the tournament - the Huskies were easily road-blocked from the lane. As a
consequence, they managed only a single free throw during the first 32 minutes,
12 seconds of the game and only got their final total of three when Mendiola
was fouled on an attempted jumper.
The good news is that Washington has two weeks until the first round of the
NCAA tournament and therefore time to correct shortcomings and allow Mendiola's
ankle to mend.
"We've got to look at the big picture," Husky Coach June Daugherty said. "We've
had a great year, and we will continue to have a great year. This is a setback,
but not the end of the world."
Huskies blown out in San Jose
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