Are the Washington Huskies really making progress as a program?
There were no signs of progress on Sunday afternoon at Colorado, as the Huskies were blown out by 23 points, including an embarrassing 43 – 20 second half blitz by the Buffaloes.
The Dawgs have now lost all eight (8) of their PAC-12 matchups by an average margin of -10 points — and Washington’s record is 5 – 11, overall.
Here’s Part One of our takeaways from this blowout loss and the season so far:
Poor Rotations = Poor Bench Development
After sixteen games, Coach Langley has not developed a strong bench or even clearly defined bench roles.
In PAC-12 conference play, the Huskies have established a pattern of repeatedly failing to finish games strong in the fourth quarter — and against Colorado failed for the entire second half.
But it should be no mystery that Washington’s core players continue to fade late in games (at least, in part), because they are forced to play too many minutes against PAC-12 opponents — the premier basketball conference in the nation.
Prior to Colorado, Coach Tina Langley was over-working her core group of players with 30 minutes (or more) per game each — i.e., Nancy Mulkey, Haley Van Dyke, Missy Peterson and Lauren Schwartz.
Against Colorado, Langley seemed to make a concerted effort to evenly spread out playing time among other talented players deserving of significant time on a regular basis, i.e., T.T. Watkins (17 minutes); Alexis Whitfield (19 minutes); Darcy Rees(16 minutes) and Jayda Noble (16 minutes).
In fact, for the first time in PAC-12 conference play, no Husky player logged 30 minutes of playing time.
Most of the Huskies’ PAC-12 opponents have spread their playing time evenly between 9 or 10 players — Langley should take notice and follow suit.
Likewise, against Colorado, Coach Langley finally made some changes to her previously limited substitution patterns.
Langley even introduced some new combinations of players that had not previously played together.
However, these new player combinations were not previously game-tested, neither in PAC-12 nor nonconference play, so it was a difficult task to succeed without any previous game experience.
The box score shows Langley played an uncharacteristic 12 players — although, only 9 played more than six minutes and got meaningful time.
After eight (8) straight losses and only six (6) games remaining on the the schedule, any changes in rotation may be “too little, too late.”
However, Langley’s Huskies are staring the possibility of an “O-fer” PAC-12 season in the face — it is time to make significant changes.
Poor Rotations = Poor Future Development
More alarming, the opportunity to develop the 2021 Huskies freshman recruits has been wasted during these eight (8) straight losses.
If there is any hope for a brighter future for this program, it starts with developing the #17 ranked recruiting class in the nation that is languishing on the (0-8) Huskies’ bench.*
*[The 2021 class is now missing Avery Van Sickle, who left the program and entered the NCAA transfer portal, after Langley did not play her a single minute during the nonconference schedule ; and A.J. Marotte, who decommitted after Langley was hired to go to Oregon State — where she is a consistent contributor off the bench.]
Only three highly-lauded 2021 freshmen remain from the original five-player class, i.e., 6’3″ Aussie wing, Olivia Pollerd(Australian National Team & #22 in 2021 Global Rankings by Worldwide Hoops/Premier Basketball); 6’0″ point guard, Jess Finney (ESPN Top 100); and 6’2″ wing/forward, Marisa Davis (Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year/ESPN Top 100).
Yet none of these remaining 2021 freshmen seem to be in Coach Langley’s plans for the future, since they have received little to no PAC-12 game experience — instead racking up DNPs, i.e., “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision.”
Next year, the Huskies will bring in a three-player Class of 2022 that is ranked #14 in the nation.
Based on the 2021 recruits’ experience, it would appear that the 2022 recruits should expect to ride the bench, too.
Maybe Langley will have a change of heart regarding freshmen by next season.
Yet the question remains, why this year’s similarly touted freshmen class has not been given a chance to help the (0-8) Huskies?
Without developing the 2021 class of freshmen, PAC-12 success next season will be a long shot, at best.
Without substantial improvement in player development, it is more likely that Washington will be fighting to not finish 12th in the PAC-12 two years in a row.
Ex-Huskies head coach Jody Wynn won only one game in her first PAC-12 season, Tina Langley has much more talent at her disposal now than Wynn ever had — so “rebuilding” is no excuse for a winless PAC-12 season.
Langley’s mistakes appear to come from failing to adjust quickly to the rigors of the PAC-12; and thinking what worked in mid-major Conference USA will work effectively here — an 0-8 conference record, says otherwise.
This is why some eyebrows were raised when Jen Cohen hired another mid-major coach, after hiring and dismissing former mid-major coach Jody Wynn (Long Beach State).
The Huskies AD seemed unwilling to spend money to attract Power Five coaching candidates, but that doesn’t mean expectations were lowered by Husky women’s basketball fans.
Huskies WBB fans are hungry for a winning program, but the PAC-12 schedule is a crucible that exposes weakness on a nightly basis.
You can’t fake it in the PAC-12, Washington needs a higher level of offensive and defensive execution; otherwise, the on-court misery will only continue.