Pac-12 season preview: Washington’s rebuild is far from over

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In preparation for the 2018 women’s basketball season, Can Sarioz will preview each of Cal’s Pac-12 opponents, starting with Washington.

Losing a beloved someone is, without a doubt, really difficult. Some mourning time is necessary, but life continues, and there has to be a restart at some point.

After losing star guard Kelsey Plum — and 89 percent of the team’s scoring and rebounding from the previous year — it is safe to say head coach Jody Wynn did not walk into an ideal situation for her first year at the University of Washington.

In the 2015-16 season, Plum led the Huskies to a 26-11 overall record while capping an impressive NCAA tournament run with a Final Four appearance. The next year was even better for the Huskies in terms of record, as they ended the season with a 29-6 record, losing just three games in Pac-12 play.

That year, however, concluded with a shocking first-round exit in the Pac-12 Tournament and only a Sweet 16 showing in the NCAA Tournament.

That wasn’t the worst part of that story. That last NCAA Tournament game marked the end of an era for Washington.

Currently, only three Huskies on the roster were part of that Final Four run, and the members of that trio will have a big responsibility leading the young squad with their experience.

Last year, Wynn took on a tall task in the midst of the rebuilding year. The Huskies finished the year with a 7-23 overall record, but Pac-12 play was disappointing for the youngsters, as they only managed to win one conference matchup and lost their last 11 Pac-12 games of the season.

All 10 players on Washington’s active roster averaged double-digit minutes per game — which is not a very common sighting in college play — and started at least one game on the season.

Only one player started every game: 5’6” guard Jenna Moser, who’s returning for her last year of eligibility as a graduate student. The veteran was also the only player who averaged 30-plus minutes on the floor per contest.

The Washington faithful will hope that an even spread of minutes will help the young team build chemistry as the Huskies take aim at a successful second season under Wynn’s watch.

In her extended role, junior guard Amber Melgoza shined with 19.0 points per game over the season and led the Pac-12 with 20.6 points per game in conference play. Her teammates, however, could not join her one-woman show, as no one averaged double-digit points besides Melgoza.

The main goal this season will be finding a complementary scorer to help push the team over the edge.

As a team, the Huskies have a long way to go, as they scored just 67.1 points on average while surrendering 76.0 points at the opposite end of the floor. This resulted from a combined effect of Washington’s low percentage execution on offense and inefficiency on the boards.

The Huskies took more shots and more 3-pointers than their opponents last winter but had trouble converting. They shot just 38.3 percent compared to their opponents’ 48.1 percent. Furthermore, Washington converted just 32.1 percent of its threes, while opposing offenses shot 37.6 percent behind the arc.

The fact that there is just one player on the team taller than 6’1” — 6’5” center Deja Strother — hurt the Huskies both in rebounds and in rim protection.

The Huskies pulled down 7.1 fewer rebounds than their opponents did, and the fact that more than half of their 32.9 rebounds per game came on the offensive end shows how challenging it was for the Huskies to defend the rim.

Wynn will rely on her 6’4” four-star recruit, freshman Darcy Rees of Australia, to help the team from day one and to develop under Strother’s guidance as fast as possible.

The Washington head coach has struggled to catch a break from injuries, as two players medically retired before the season start, adding to injury troubles from last season.

Is the rebuilding over? Not quite. Wynn will be looking forward to seeing some of her youngsters shine like Melgoza did last year. If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it is tough to see clearly, but the Huskies have to start somewhere.

Can Sariöz covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz.