Last season Amber Melgoza finished second in the Pac-12 in scoring with 19.0 points per game. However, no other UW Husky averaged more 9.4. That’s got to change if Washington is going to climb out of the Pac-12 cellar.
An old axiom in sports says to feed the hot hand and continue giving a player chances to score until they cool off.
It’s a proven strategy, but Jody Wynn is hoping the Washington women’s basketball team won’t have to rely so heavily on its star Amber Melgoza for a second straight year.
Last season, the 5-foot-10 junior shooting guard finished second in the Pac-12 in scoring with 19.0 points per game and tallied 570 points, which was the 11th most in the history of the program.
However, no other Husky averaged more 9.4 points.
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If the Huskies can’t find more consistent and reliable scoring options then, “we’re going to be in trouble,” said Wynn, the second-year coach.
Melgoza attempted 473 field goals — 200 more than the next highest Husky. She took 25.1 percent of the team’s shots and accounted for 28.3 percent of the scoring.
Ideally, Wynn favors a more balanced offensive attack on a team that struggled to average 67.1 points and ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring last season.
“I’ll never tell (Melgoza) not to shoot a good shot, ever,” Wynn said. “We want all of our players to be able to shoot good shots. Amber shouldered a lot of the load last year and a lot it came from her own work ethic and her confidence. She believed she was going to make every shot she took and we still want her to believe that.
“It’s different this year because she’s got a target on her back now. People know who she is.”
Melgoza scored 20 or more points in 14 games. She tallied at least 30 in three games and poured in a career-high 40 during an 86-79 loss to Stanford.
It was the most points by a Pac-12 player last season and a scintillating performance that encapsulated UW’s season. In that game Melgoza accounted for 50.1 percent of the points while no other Husky had more than nine points against the Cardinal.
Wynn knows Melgoza can score, but she wants the Husky star who averaged 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists to take become a better all-around player.
“We really talk a lot about scoring when the ball isn’t in her hands and … learning the game,” Wynn said. “Having a higher IQ where she can put herself in position to not only make herself better but make her teammates better.
“And it’s the job of her teammates to be able to knock down shots and score when she distributes it. A great player makes those around her better. She wants to be great and so she’s up for the challenge.”
If Melgoza, who averaged just 2.1 points as a freshman, maintains last season’s scoring average over the next two years, she would finish her UW career seventh on the school’s all-time scoring list behind Kelsey Plum (3,527 points), Jazmine Davis (2,277), Jamie Redd (2,027), Guiliana Mendiola (1,928), Talia Walton (1,817) and Rhonda Smith (1,801).
“I’d rather win a game than for me to score all of these points,” Melgoza said. “This year my main focus is to start getting people other shots. I’d rather have 10 assists than 15 points.”
Aside from Melgoza, there’s no other proven scorer on a UW team that was 7-23 and finished last in the Pac-12 at 1-17 last season.
Forward Mai-Loni Henson, who averaged 9.4 points, guard Jenna Moser (8.7) and forward Hannah Johnson (7.7) are the most accomplished returners.
“Last year we couldn’t implement too much because it was so game to game,” said Moser referring to UW’s first year with Wynn. “It was like drinking out of a fire hose. We could only implement so much.
“But this year we’re able to add a new (fast) break and different elements to our read-and-react (offense) that we wouldn’t have been able to put in last year because we weren’t all on the same page and that has been huge.”
Sophomore guards Alexis Griggsby and Missy Peterson, who played just 18 games due to injuries, will also be relied upon to make significant offensive contributions after struggling last season.
“Certainly having those two as sophomores brings confidence to the floor because I think they were our least confident players last year,” Wynn said.
“With a year under our belt comes confidence,” Johnson said. “We have players who are more confident. They’ve played in the Pac-12 before. Some players like Khayla Rooks, Alexis Griggsby they’re going to have more confidence to take that shot and not pass up their shots.”
The addition of 6-foot freshman forward Haley Van Dyke, who led California prep players with 29.8 points last season, brings much needed firepower.
However, until another scorer emerges, Melgoza can expect to draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses.
“I’m ready for that,” she said. “Mentally, I’ve been preparing myself throughout the last couple of weeks just knowing it’s going to be hard in games.”