INDING THE HUSKIES X-FACTOR
Ask any PAC-12 WBB pundits which player is the face of the Washington Women’s Basketball program and you’re likely to get a unanimous answer — Amber Melgoza.
Besides her back-to-back 500+ point seasons as a sophmore and junior, Melgoza led the Huskies in points, rebounds and assists last year.
Ask any Huskies WBB fan which player is Melgoza’s most important teammate and Missy Peterson immediately comes to mind, along with her iconic 3-point shot to beat 11th ranked Oregon State during the 2019 PAC-12 Tournament. Peterson finished 2nd in points and assists to Melgoza last year.
The Huskies certainly need Missy Peterson to step up to the leadership mantle alongside Melgoza. There’s clearly an expection around the program that Peterson will do so as part of her natural progression
Frankly, Missy Peterson can’t be the X-Factor because much more is expected of her based on her past performance and All-PAC12 talent level.
No, the Huskies X-Factor will be a third player (or fourth) that elevates her game to a level of consistent production that sparks and inspires teammates and coaches to more wins.
The X-Factor is a player that is under-the-radar in preseason, but who will step up as a key to success for the Huskies during the season.
The following players are our X-Factor candidates projected to potentially have a huge impact on the success of Washington Women’s Basketball in 2019-2020 (with the caveat that no incoming freshman were considered for this list).
Senior Mai-Loni Henson certainly looks like a prime candidate for X-Factor status.
Henson started 24 games (out of 32) for the Huskies last year.
Henson finished third in rebounding (4.0 rpg) and steals (1.1 spg); and fourth in scoring (5.2 ppg) and assists (1.9 apg) for the Huskies.
As a 6’0 wing, Henson is a tough competitor with enough versatility and basketball IQ to adjust her game to whatever the team needs at a particular time.
Henson is a solid 3-point shooter(30.5% – 25 made) and an above average ball-handler, passer, defender and rebounder.
The Huskies will accept a similar performance from Henson this season, however, significant production improvements are needed for Henson to boost the team’s success.
Rita Pleskevich is a newcomer to Coach Wynn’s program but she might be the most primed to make an immediate positive impact for the Huskies.
A 5’10” junior college transfer (Broward College, Miami), Pleskevich continues Coach Jody Wynn’s trend of finding tall combo guards to add to the roster.
A native of Moscow, Russia, Pleskevich is a tough competitor with a lot of international experience playing for Russia in FIBA competitions.
Rita Pleskevich has a mature on-court demeanor and comes with a well-developed offensive style.
Although film shows Pleskevich as mostly playing as a combo shooting guard for Mother Russia, Rita was more of a scoring point guard in junior college.
Coach Wynn recruited Rita as a point guard but expect her initial contribution will be to stretch opposing defenses with her three-point shooting (she’s comfortable at the farther international line).
No doubt Coach Wynn and staff will help Rita develop confidence on the defensive end and handling the ball throughout her first season on Montlake, in order to prepare her to contribute by PAC-12 regular season play.
Wildcard: Khayla Rooks
Khayla Rooks is a tantalizing combination of frontcourt size (6’1″) with wing athleticism and guard-like skills. Khayla can bring the ball up court, shoot the 3 (29.3% – 17 made) plus defend & rebound against bigs.
Rooks even led the team with a free throw percentage of 82.4% (making 16 of 19)!
Ironically, an argument can be made that checking so many boxes may have been a hindrance to Khayla’s development –i.e., being a jack of all trades on the court spreads her talent and focus too thin for her to craft a dominant court persona.
Khayla’s talent also presents so many options that the coaching staff has a hard time defining her most effective role.
If and when Khayla has her breakthrough, she will make the Dawgs a very dangerous team.
By far Darcy Rees had the most impact of the 2018 UW freshmen recruits.
Rees led the team in blocks (0.9 bpg), finished second in rebounding (4.1 rpg) and was third in scoring (7.3 ppg).
However, the 6’4″ Aussie’s biggest impact came at the end of a long road of in-season development, culminating in the 2019 PAC12 Tournament when Coach Wynn unleashed Rees in the role of a three-point shooting big to stretch opposing defenses.
Although Rees shot only 21.4% from three for the season overall, she shot a respectable and surprising 29.4% (5-17) from beyond the arc under the bright lights of Vegas at the conference tournament.
Rees displayed a quiet intensity all season, however, raising her performance under lose-and-go-home pressure is a sure sign that Rees is a player with a high ceiling.
The Dawgs will be much improved even if Rees just starts the 2019-20 season where she left off.
Haley Van Dyke — considering her monster success as a double-double machine in high school ranked 21st by ESPN among Class of 2018 forwards, Van Dyke had somewhat of an uneventful freshman campaign (4.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.7 steals per game).
Surpringly, the 6’1″ wing forward Haley seemed to have some trouble adjusting to the physicality of high major women’s basketball.
However, one bright spot was Van Dyke’s shooting efficiency. Haley led the team in field goal percentage, hitting 47.4% from the field overall (54-114), as well as shooting 34.4% (11 made) from three-point distance.
After a full year of UW’s strength and conditioning, Haley appears to be more lean and muscular heading into her sophomore season.
If Haley is quicker and more active on both ends, she could literally be a gamechanger for the Dawgs.
Wildcard: T.T. Watkins
Sophomore Wing/Guard T.T. Watkins is a prototypical Wynn recruit, a long and lean multi-skilled 5’11 versatile player with high athleticism.
Watkins can guard multiple positions, finish in transition offense and hit the open shot, including from three (40% – 6 made).
However, T.T. is returning back to the active roster after having a shortened season due to being held out for medical reasons.
It is possible Watkins will have some growing pains this season as she gets back into PAC-12 level shape. If so, Watkins may not have a major impact until late in the season (or even next year).
But if T.T. can shake off the rust from sitting out and pick up where she left off, she will be a versatile option for the coaches to eagerly blend in to their rotation.
A renewed T.T. Watkins would certainly put her in contention to be the X-Factor player.
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