SEATTLE (AP) — After a career as an assistant coach, it’s probably not surprising that Mike Neighbors has walked into the wrong office a time or two since becoming the head man at Washington.
Other than that, not much has changed since Neighbors took over as the Huskies head coach replacing Kevin McGuff.
“We haven’t tried to change the culture. We had a good culture, had the momentum going in the right direction,” Neighbors said. “I’m different than Kevin. … I moved one office over. We’ve tried to keep it as seamless. I don’t think there was anything to change.”
For the first time in close to a decade, Washington enters a season where an NCAA tournament trip is expected and the Huskies could become Pac-12 contenders. They have quality depth and talent, and an offense that could be difficult to stop.
The question for Washington is will the Huskies be able to take that talent and move from the middle of the Pac-12 to join the likes of Stanford, California, UCLA and Colorado as the elite of the conference. The Huskies went 21-12 last season, then saw McGuff leave when the job at Ohio State became available.
“To be picked fourth with the past, to me that says all our hard work has not gone unnoticed,” Washington guard Jazmine Davis said. “It’s a nice pressure, it feels great.”
Washington’s talent is as good as at any point in the last decade, led by Davis. Last season, Davis was second in the Pac-12 averaging 19.3 points per game after a freshman year during which she averaged 15.7 points and was the conference freshman of the year.
What gives Washington the belief it will be significantly better is the cast around Davis, including a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans making their debuts this season. Redshirt freshman Katie Collier missed all of last season with a torn knee ligament, but is expected to be a major contributor in the frontcourt. The Huskies also welcomed 5-foot-9 point guard Kelsey Plum out of San Diego. The Huskies are so high on what Plum can bring they’ve moved Davis off the ball to shooting guard and are expected to start Plum at point guard.
Collier will team up front with Talia Walton, while senior Mercedes Wetmore will start as the third guard in the Huskies lineup. Wetmore is just one of two seniors on the talented, young squad.
Washington’s non-conference slate is a strong test. The Huskies host WAC preseason favorite Seattle at home, then have a two-game road trip at Houston and at No. 16 Texas A&M. They return home to face Wisconsin and will have three games in three days in Las Vegas including matchups with DePaul and Pittsburgh.
Washington will open conference play on Jan. 3 hosting Arizona. Washington’s most difficult stretch will be a six-game run in late January and early February with road games at USC and UCLA, home games against California and Stanford and on the road at Colorado and Utah.
Washington is also hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament and there’s the chance that the Huskies could get to play at home if they get to the NCAAs.
“If we do what we’ve been doing in the conference, I think we’ll be tournament ready,” Neighbors said. “The pressure to host the first and second rounds in our gym . they embraced it as soon as they heard it.”
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.
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