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Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Washington's Melgoza leading her team, making her mark

Feb 27, 2020

Amber Melgoza remembers the journey home from the Washington Huskies road trip to Los Angeles in late January.

“We all sat on the plane and just looked at each other and said “Why is this happening?’,” Melgoza said. “What are we missing? Why is this happening?”

The Huskies were licking their wounds after a pair of overtime losses to UCLA and USC. They were up by five points on the then-No. 10-ranked Bruins with less than three minutes to go, up by six points at USC with a little more than four minutes to go.

What was missing was the ability to finish.

This past weekend at home, on the final Seattle weekend of Melgoza’s college career, the Huskies found what they needed to win. They swept USC and UCLA even without a pair of key players - Darcy Rees and freshman Ali Bamberger - sustaining injuries that could have a big impact on the remainder of the season

“This weekend was big for us,” Melgoza said. “It was a weekend where we knew we wanted to win for each other. Everybody was confident and we haven’t been on the same page like that for a while. I think we played with passion like we were little girls again.”

Melgoza, the senior from Santa Barbara, Calif., did her part and more, averaging 23.5 points over the two games with five rebounds and three assists. She was named Pac-12 Player of the Week.

Melgoza ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in scoring, averaging 16.3 points a game, 18.3 points a game in Pac-12 play. She is 55 points away from breaking into the top 10 on the Huskies’ all-time scoring list.

“She is one of the most competitive athletes I’ve ever been around,” said Washington coach Jody Wynn. “She is not afraid of failure and she is not afraid to put her team on her back. She has done that for us time and again, and she’s not afraid of the challenge.”

The challenge this season for Washington was taking last year’s surprising run to the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament and turning it into a strong season.

It didn’t exactly happen that way. The Huskies have experienced “almost” far too often.

Washington has played in four overtime games this season, losing them all. They lost to buzzer-beating shots against Tulane and Vanderbilt. Twelve games have been decided by fewer than 10 points. 

The regular season closes with a tough trip to Oregon State and then Oregon, the Huskies hoping their upset potential sticks around.

“One more defensive stop, one more rebound, one less turnover and we win five more games,” Wynn said. “It was great to see them be able to finish it out and get the reward of a ‘W’.”

Both Wynn and Melgoza said they feel like the Huskies are a team that could compete in the postseason.

“I feel like we could beat a lot of people out of this conference,” Wynn said. “But we have three not-so-good losses biting us right now.”

For Melgoza, having her senior season turn out to be something less than she had hoped for is, well, what it is.

“Can’t stop. Can’t give up,” Melgoza said. She learned that from Kelsey Plum, who was a senior when Melgoza arrived as a freshman and has been her mentor and best friend ever since. Plum, Melgoza said, reminds her to be grateful for the opportunity to play.

“It’s crazy how fast it’s gone,” Melgoza said. “Last weekend it was emotional and I didn’t think it would hit me and then it did. I’m excited to see what happens next. I’m a person that believes that everything happens for a reason, but I’m going to focus on the next couple of weeks and lead my team.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, San Francisco Chronicle, The Athletic and AOL Fanhouse. She was has won several awards, including the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball. For previous Michelle Smith features on, visit the archives page.