Rockne's Weekly Wrap-Up

Dec. 28, 2005

By Dick Rockne

It took all of about 48 hours before the Pac-10 women's basketball race had its first upset of the conference season.

Washington 77, Stanford 72.

That's the Washington team that was consigned to a seventh-place finish in a preseason poll of the league's coaches, who picked Stanford to win it all.

It's also the Washington team that won seven of its nine non-conference games, a clue that the Huskies were at least worthy of contender status in a league that might be its most balanced in years.

How have the Huskies done it? How have they joined UCLA and USC at the top of the Pac-10 standings going into Week 2 of the campaign?

That's the amazing part.

After taking a quick look at the most recent Pac-10 statistics a case could be made that the Huskies are, in fact, more likely to finish seventh than they are first. They rank ninth in shooting percentage (38.7), eighth in three-point shooting percentage (32.4) and seventh in free-throw shooting (64.9 percent). They are eighth in scoring defense (64.0), eighth in field-goal percentage defense (42.3) and eighth in scoring margin (plus-7.0).

But probe a little deeper into the stat pile and there it is! Washington is No. 1 in offensive rebounds with an average of 19.45 per game.

Offensive rebounds? Probably no school has ever included its O-board average as the center piece of its basketball press guides. It's regarded as so insignificant that the NCAA does not even have a separate category for offensive rebounds in its numerical smorgasbord.

But, the Huskies are proving that offensive rebounding is not to be taken lightly. Not when each offensive board represents the equivalent of another possession; that each one can lead to another shot and, possibly, another field goal.

Washington might not be a great shooting team, but the Huskies this season have taken 713 shots, 101 more than their rivals. That's an average of nine more shots per game -- nine more chances to make amends for a miss, nine more opportunities to frustrate an opponent eager to get back on offense.

'We're having great success with it,'' UW coach June Daugherty said. 'I think it has a lot to do with our talent. We've got some kids who are pretty athletic and play very hard.''

Emphasis has contributed as well, including overloading the backside of the Huskies' offensive schemes.

'I think everybody in basketball knows that about 70 percent of the rebounds go opposite of from where you shoot it,'' Daugherty said. 'So we just figure if you get more players on the opposite side we've got a chance mathematically to grab a lot more boards.''

Surprisingly, the Huskies' leading offensive rebounders are guards - Dominique Banks and Cameo Hicks. Each have 31, seven more than center Andrea Plouffe and nine more than forward Breanne Watson.

The team total of 214 offensive rebounds averages to 19.5 per game. Opponents have 157 (14.3 per game). In the Huskies' win over Stanford, Washington had 15 offensive rebounds and Stanford had 10.

USC thriving with `threes'

Sure, USC coach Mark Trakh probably would feel more comfortable if his Women of Troy were better shooters from inside the three-point line. But because they are proving to be as accurate as they are from beyond the three-point line, the coach is willing to take what he can get.

'I'm just going with what's going in and more of those shots (three-pointers) are going in than the five-footers,'' Trakh said. 'We don't shoot the ball real well so we have to manufacture points wherever we can.''

In beating Oregon State by 10 points, USC attempted 27 three-point shots and made 11 (41 percent). They were 12 for 33 (36 percent) from two-point range.

'They're going in so we might as well keep taking them,'' Trakh said of the threes. 'But you live and die with three-pointers so there are going to be nights when we die. But we've got to go to our strength and right now that's our strength.''

Sophomore guard Brynn Cameron led the three-point barrage against Oregon State by making six, equaling her school record, out of 14 attempts.

Wildcats struggling

The Arizona Wildcats' struggle to overcome the loss of Shawntinice Polk, the popular senior center who died suddenly before the season began, is taking a toll.

'It's more difficult than I thought it was going to be,'' UA coach Joan Bonvicini said.

'As we started practice and started the season everyone was focused and playing hard. I think as we went on and went to Maryland and then to Fresno and Santa Barbara our kids lost some of their fight. It was even evident against ASU. It was very disappointing.

'Even for me, it's difficult. It's hard to say where the grieving process is. But I know right now I'm not happy with the way we're playing. I should say I'm more disappointed.''

In a row, the Wildcats lost non-conference games at Maryland, at Fresno State and at Cal-Santa Barbara and then dropped their league opener at home to rival Arizona State.

Bonvicini said she hoped her players would return from Christmas break with renewed resolve.

'Pokey would want us to fight and get through this and that's what we're going to do,'' Bonvicini said. 'I know we're a much better team then we've been showing. We're going to get back to business and ... be successful.''

Willis leading Bruins

Lisa Willis, a key player on the USA Basketball team that won the World University Games gold medal this past summer in Turkey, hasn't slowed down a bit in helping the Bruins get off to a fast start in the Pac-10 race.

The senior guard is leading the league in scoring with a 20.3 average and in steals at 4.0 per game following outstanding performances in victories over Oregon State and Oregon.

Against OSU, Willis equaled her career high with 31 points and had nine steals. Against Oregon she had nine points, six steals, three rebounds, three assists and one block.

UCLA coach Kathy Olivier said she thinks the effort put forth by Willis in making the World University Games team is continuing to pay off as she captures a significant share of the Bruins' offensive spotlight away from Nikki Blue and Noelle Quinn.

'She really wanted to make that USA team and she worked very hard to do it,'' Olivier said. 'And she made it. And I think that helped her confidence. She had a great summer. She's doing a lot of positive things on the floor.''

Among active Pac-10 players, Willis is No. 1 in steals with 301, No. 1 in three-point shots made with 210 and No. 2 in scoring with 1,330 points, 208 fewer than Blue's total of 1,538.



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