Last April, the UW Women's Basketball team was coming off their best season since the 2002-2003 season. The hiring of Kevin McGuff appeared to be the right choice. He put the team back on the map after finishing a promising stint at Xavier, and finally got 20 wins. It was big news, finishing 20-14 and making it to the quarterfinals of the Women's NIT. The following year, McGuff led the Huskies to a 21-12 record and a second round finish in the WNIT.
However greener pastures came calling, and Kevin McGuff left a promising program - looking to be on the rise - for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Athletic Director Scott Woodward decided it would be better to keep the coaching job in-house, and opted to hire then top-assistant coach Mike Neighbors. Neighbors had a great track record as a recruiter and a player-developer, but his only head coaching experience came at the high school level.
Prior to last year, Neighbors had a key hand in recruiting eight Mcdonald's All-Americans, and also sent eight women to the WNBA draft. On top of that, everywhere Neighbors has been he has coached either the number 1 or number 2 all-time scorer in history ... that would include Xavier University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Colorado, and the University of Tulsa.
Neighbors' job was easy on paper: continue the success.
The roster had plenty of talent, with all-Pac 12 point guard Jazmine Davis and two incoming Mcdonald's All-Americans in Kelsie Plum and Katie Collier. There was also plenty of veteran leadership.
Unfortunately, the season started off slow as the Dawgs first lost to St. Mary's and then promptly fell on their faces against Portland, a team that ended up 14-16 on the season. Then the Huskies went on a hot streak, winning 8 out of their next 10 games.
As Pac-12 play ensued, the Huskies posted a respectable 10-8 record in a division that would ultimately put five teams in the NCAA tournament. The highlight of the regular season was a win at home against the Stanford Cardinal. It was the first away loss in Pac-12 play for the Cardinal in its previous 58 road games, and it was a big day for the lady Huskies.
In the Pac-12 tournament, the Dawgs beat Cal in the first round but then lost to the 11 seed Utes ... sound familiar??? However the 6th place Huskies did enough to get a bid to play in the WNIT.
In the WNIT, the lady Huskies did not disappoint. They rolled out 3 wins in the NIT, making it to the elite 8, and eventually lost to UTEP. The Huskies finished 21-14. Neighbors was a candidate for the Maggie Dixon award, an award that goes to the best rookie coach in Division I Women's Basketball.
This season can only be looked at as a success. The team notched its third 20 win season in three years, something that hasn't happened since the 1988 - 1991 seasons. The team is definitely in good shape moving forward as well. They return 4 starters and an above average bench.
The biggest question moving forward is simply if Neighbors can sustain it. Will he be able to continue to bring in big-name recruits, and keep the program relevant? He was able to do this under McGuff, but as was mentioned earlier, he has never done it as a head coach. Time will tell, as it always does. As for now, Neighbor's seat is nice and cool, and he has a lot of things to look forward to.