Women's Hoops Season Preview

Oct. 13, 2006

The Washington women's basketball team surprised everyone but themselves last year.

The same Husky team that was predicted to finish the Pac-10 race sixth and seventh by the media and coaches, respectively, earned its way to a 19-win season and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The good news for 11-year head coach June Daugherty? Last year's team was young. Its starting lineup featured two juniors and three sophomores.

For a young squad to achieve what it did, it's clear that the best is yet to come for the Huskies. This year's edition of UW women's basketball will have NCAA Tournament experience under its belt and for a group of players who have had a taste of the postseason, they are that much more driven to return.

'Getting to the NCAA Tournament and winning the NCAA title are always goals of the Husky basketball program,' Daugherty said. 'Returning to the field of 64 was very exciting and rewarding for our staff, players and fans alike. The players' hard work paid off as we advanced. Keep in mind we played a great majority of the postseason with a talented group of underclassmen. There is no doubt that NCAA experience has taken our level of motivation to an entirely new plateau.'

Led by first-team All-Pac-10 selection Cameo Hicks, the Huskies return all five starters and 10 letterwinners from last year. Hicks is also one of six seniors on this 2006-07 squad that features an experienced group of veterans.

All things considered, Washington will have to fill the void by left by a very special senior class in Kayla Burt, Nicole Castro and Kristen O'Neill. Burt's inspirational presence both on and off the court will be tough to replace, along with Castro's solid leadership and O'Neill's tenacious play on the floor.

Those three seniors definitely left a legacy, and one that this year's team can continue.

The Huskies had a head start on their preparation for the coming season with a foreign trip to Italy in August. UW played four games against international competition during their 10-day tour of Rome, Florence and Venice and were able to pack 10 practices in before their journey. Even more valuable than the time on the floor was their time together experiencing life in a foreign country.

'Being able to have those extra practices and games definitely helped us improve,' Daugherty said. 'But also being in a totally different culture gave our team an opportunity to spend time together and bond.'

The Huskies certainly have a lot to build on after last season. What took them to the postseason was their unrelentless defense, their high-energy running game and their strong presence on the offensive glass.

Washington still hopes to improve in many areas when it takes the floor this year. UW started 2005-06 strong, but hit a rough patch at the end of the regular season. Being able to play at a high level on a consistent basis will be a goal, along with improving shooting percentage and mental toughness.

'As a staff, our offseason goals for the team included mental toughness skill development, player skill development, strength work and improving our play on both offense and defense,' Daugherty said. 'We want to play at a much higher level of consistency. I believe if we can do that this year you'll see us reaching our program goals.'

Leading the Huskies to their ultimate goals will be the top two scorers and rebounders from last season - Hicks and junior foward/center Andrea Plouffe. Hicks made great strides in her junior campaign, a performance worthy of her first-team All-Pac-10 nod. All-American candidate Hicks averaged team highs in scoring (15.0 ppg) and rebounding (5.6 rpg) and racked up 24 double-figure scoring games including seven 20-point games.

'Cameo has improved each year and we expect her to have an ever better season this year,' Daugherty said. 'She is definitely one of the top players in the country.'

Hicks is as much of a leader off the floor as she is on the floor. The epitome of the term 'student-athlete,' Hicks was selected as an Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar last season and is in her second year as President of the Washington Student-Athlete Advisory Board.

Showing the most improvement last year was Plouffe. After a freshman campaign slowed by recovery from knee surgery, Plouffe exploded onto the scene as a sophomore. Her presence bolstered the Huskies' inside game as Plouffe finished second on the team in scoring (10.7) and tallied 20 double-figure scoring games. She was tabbed the team's Most Improved Player and was the MVP of the 2006 Husky Classic.

'Andrea's work ethic and level of commitment to improving her game has been apparent in the off-season,' Daugherty said. 'She is a dangerous player as she can take you both inside and outside with her total game. She may be the most versatile player in the Pac-10.'

Rounding out the three other returning starters are senior forward Breanne Watson and junior guards Dominique Banks and Emily Florence.

Watson provided the Huskies valuable play at the post position, finishing the season second on the squad in rebounding (5.0 rpg) and fourth in scoring (8.0 ppg). She was a big factor in the team's NCAA First Round win over Minnesota with 14 points and nine boards.

Banks solidified her spot in the lineup, starting 29 of 30 games last year. She averaged 7.2 points and 4.1 rebounds and her speed played a huge role in the Huskies' fast-break offense. The Huskies will miss Banks for the first half of the season as she is recovering from surgery performed in September to repair tibial stress fractures in both of her lower legs.

Florence, who started all 30 games at point guard last season, will continue to be the Huskies' defensive catalyst and playmaker. Florence led the team in assists and ranked second in steals last year, while averaging 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Daugherty might have the luxury of five returning starters from last season, but that doesn't mean her lineup is set. There will be nine other players challenging for those starting positions.

Highlighting that group will be the other four seniors on the UW roster including post players Jill Bell and Maggie O'Hara. Both Bell and O'Hara saw substantial minutes in 2005-06, rotating into the four and five spots with Watson and Plouffe. Bell averaged 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds off the bench, while O'Hara contributed 2.4 points and 2.6 rebounds.

The other two seniors - guards Cheri Craddock and Erica Schelly - also hope to end their Husky careers on a high note. Craddock has been Washington's three-point shooting specialist and has the potential to score in bunches when she gets hot. Schelly is both fifth-year senior who will challenge for more playing time in the backcourt.

The Huskies have a seventh senior on the team, but Angie Jones will serve her final season as a student assistant coach. Jones announced her retirement in early October after dealing with an injury-laden career. Jones suffered yet another injury to her right knee during one of the team's practice sessions for its Italy trip, after she had already undergone four previous surgeries on the same knee.

Rounding out the Husky returners are sophomores Stefanie Clark and Heidi McNeill. Clark is coming off a redshirt season and will challenge for minutes in the backcourt. McNeill, the only true freshman on last year's roster, showed great potential in the post and will more than likely be a regular in the rotation this season.

Washington welcomes four newcomers, three freshmen and one transfer. Michelle Augustavo, a Bothell, Wash., native, played two seasons at San Diego before moving back home. A junior, she will sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules but will be able to practice with the team. Augustavo averaged 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds at USD, the highlight of her career coming in a game at Clemson (Dec. 11, 2005) in which she scored a school record 42 points including 10 three-pointers. She was also a McDonald's All-American nominee and the Seattle Times Athlete of the Year at Blanchet High School.

The Husky freshman class includes local product Sara Mosiman and Californians Laura McLellan and Sami Whitcomb.

'The recruiting class of 2006 is a very talented and basketball savvy group,' Daugherty said. 'We expect these players to help us immediately.'

Mosiman, a 5-9 guard, comes to UW from King's High School in Shoreline, Wash., where she was a talented multi-sport athlete. She was the Washington state 2A Player of the Year in both basketball and volleyball as a senior after earning Player of the Year honors in basketball as a junior. She also led her prep hoops team to back-to-back state titles while earning state tournament MVP honors both years.

McLellan, a 6-2 forward/center, should challenge for playing time in the post early on. She comes to Seattle from Leigh High School in Campbell, Calif., where she was a first-team all-league selection as a junior and the sophomore of the year in 2004.

Whitcomb, a 5-10 guard from Buena High School in Ventura, Calif., arrives in Seattle with an impressive prep resume. An all-state and all-league player, she was named the Ventura County Star's 2005-06 Girls Basketball Player of the Year. As a senior she averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds.

The Huskies will certainly need all the help they can get when they go up against a very formidable schedule. Washington typically seeks to play the top teams in the country during the preseason and this year figures to be no different.

The Huskies' 2006-07 slate features nine teams that played in the NCAA Tournament and two more teams that went to the WNIT.

Right off the bat, the Huskies open the year with a road trip to Marquette and Purdue. Marquette is coming off a successful season that saw the Golden Eagles post 22 wins and advance as far as the WNIT finals. Purdue recorded an overall record 26-7 last season, advanced as far as the NCAA Sweet 16 and finished the year ranked 11th in the national polls.

After another road game at Northwest rival Eastern Washington, UW will open at home hosting the Basketball Travelers Husky Classic Nov. 25-26. Joining the Huskies in the four-team field will be Saint Louis, Miami (Ohio) and Northern Iowa. UW will play the Billikens in the opening round, a squad coached former UW assistant Shimmy Gray.

The schedule doesn't get any easier when UW heads back out on the road to the Midwest with contests at Kent State and Ohio State. The Buckeyes finished last year ranked second in final Associated Press poll and eighth in the coaches' poll, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

That trip will mark a special significance to the Daughertys, as both June and Mike played basketball for Ohio State and are Ohio natives. It will be the first time both have coached against their alma mater. June also began her coaching career at Kent State, serving as an assistant coach for three seasons there after she finished her professional playing career in Europe.

UW will conclude its preseason slate with home games in December against Texas A&M, Nevada, Gonzaga and Florida State.

The Huskies will open the Pac-10 schedule at Oregon (Dec. 21) and Oregon State (Dec. 23), a conference slate that promises to be a challenge. A record six Pac-10 teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season and the conference is only getting better. Stanford (2006 NCAA Elite Eight), UCLA (NCAA Second Round) and USC (NCAA Second Round) are all coming off successful seasons.

The Pac-10 schedule concludes with the conference tournament, held at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., March 2-5.

And with the veteran group UW has returning, it's safe to say the Huskies' season will not end in San Jose.

'We expect to return to the Tournament with this talented and hardworking group of players,' Daugherty said.

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