Huskies’ Opener Is Collier’s Long-Awaited UW Debut
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Katie Collier, back after conquering cancer and a reconstructed knee, joins freshman Kelsey Plum as the first two McDonald’s All-Americans in program history in a stacked UW lineup for Friday night’s 6 p.m. opener at Saint Mary’s.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – It’s an opener. That means to expect, in the word of always-colorful debuting head coach Mike Neighbors, “unpredictables.”
Yet there is at least one certainty to the Huskies’ women’s basketball team’s 2013-14 season opener Friday night at Saint Mary’s.
Katie Collier is making an extraordinary debut.
The McDonald’s High School All-American from Seattle Christian has bulled through being told two years ago she had a form of leukemia that had a 60-percent chance of killing her within five years, even with treatment. After conquering that, she attacked the torn anterior cruciate ligament she cruelly suffered 15½ months ago http://www.gohuskies.com/ViewArticle.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=30200&ATCLID=208016957 .
Friday at 6 p.m. at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, Calif., Collier will make her long-awaited, so-earned UW debut (1150 AM in Seattle, with constant updates on Twitter at @UW_WBB).
“You can’t even make a story up as good as hers,” Neighbors said before the Huskies left for the Bay Area Thursday and his college head-coaching debut, after 14 seasons as an assistant.
“So for her to be back out there on the floor … even playing, much less playing at the level she’s (playing) at, is just great.”
Beyond being the Huskies’ feel-good story entering a feel-good season, the versatile, 6-foot-3 Collier is joining freshman Kelsey Plum as the program’s first two McDonald’s All-Americans. They will be in a lineup Friday with three returning starters: two-time All-Pac-12 guard Jazmine Davis, senior guard and driven team leader Mercedes Wetmore plus Aminah Williams, who is coming off one of the best rebounding seasons in program history.
Collier gives UW a new dimension, a inside-to-baseline compliment to the drives of Plum and the scoring of Davis and, eventually, Talia Walton outside – that is, once Washington’s second-leading scorer last season returns from surgery to repair a broken finger. Her return is expected any day with an outside chance of suiting up on Friday.
“Last year you never saw any of this going on, no post up moves, no back to the baskets, no plays designed to throw it in there,” said Neighbors, whom UW promoted when Kevin McGuff left in the spring to coach Ohio State. “So with Katie you have that.”
Collier and the Huskies are facing a Saint Mary’s team that won 23 games last season and advanced to the round of eight in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. UW also opened last season against the Gaels, in Alaska Airlines Arena. The Huskies fell behind 18-6 and didn’t make a basket for the first 9 minutes before rallying to win 70-68 on Davis’ layup with 6 seconds left.
Collier and Williams, plus returning post Mathilde Gilling and debuting freshman Chantel Osahor give the Huskies more size than it had when Saint Mary’s out-rebounded UW 60-34 last November in Seattle. Williams, at 6 feet, is the shortest of the four.
Davis was the Pac-12’s freshman of the year two seasons ago who was second in the league last season at 19.3 points per game. She will be back in her natural, off-guard position this time against Saint Mary’s. Plum, who scored 32 points in her Huskies’ game debut Oct. 31 in Washington’s exhibition win over Concordia of Oregon, will debut at point guard.
“I think Jaz Davis is our most improved player, which is really kind of crazy to say about a kid who’s done what she’s done,” Neighbors said of the UW record holder for most points (1,113) through the first two seasons of a career. “She’s really come in in the best shape of her life.”
She’s yet another, enhanced weapon for a roster that is as talented and deep as UW has had in years, certainly dating to 2007 and UW’s last NCAA tournament appearance.
“I think we’re going to be a really hard team to guard,” Davis said, knowing the Huskies’ prime scoring options are no longer exclusively on the perimeter. “It’s kind of going to be a ‘pick your poison’ kind of season for us.”
As Wetmore said: “There’s so much skill and talent everywhere.”
Neighbors is trying to manage sky-high expectations. He calls this debut Friday “exciting.”
“It’s a little unpredictable I think,” he said. “I think a lot of people know the kids. They have expectations, but I think there are probably some unpredictables in there.”