With several seniors to tap, men’s basketball head coach Mike Montgomery is optimistic about the upcoming season.
“Justin Davis, Matt Lottich, Joe Kirchofer—leadership of the men’s squad is in good hands,” Montgomery says. “We’ve got some experience. We should be okay.”
Last year’s team finished the season 24-9, placed second in the Pac-10 and won in the first round of the NCAA tournament. “Everybody was really unselfish and didn’t care who got credit as long as they got the job done collectively,” Montgomery adds. “We came together and won all the close games we needed to come out on top. Now we have to maintain that same team chemistry. ”
But don’t expect a reappearance of the zone defense the team tried last year. “We got a little bit of a jump start with it,” Montgomery says, “but it wasn’t great later on and we’re primarily a [man-to-man] team.”
Redshirt sophomore and point guard Chris Hernandez will be back on the court after being sidelined last season with a broken foot, and two freshmen are also expected to have an impact. Tim Morris, a 6-foot-4 guard from Atlanta, “will probably have an opportunity to play [point guard],” Montgomery says. And Fred Washington, a 6-foot-5 forward from Los Angeles, “is a real athletic player. ”
The Pac-10 championship women’s team, which returns all five starters and 11 letter winners from last year’s 27-5 run, launched the year with a September trip to Italy, where they played five professional club teams over a 12-day period. Missing were junior forward T’Nae Thiel, who suffered a stress fracture of her foot, and Eziamaka Okafor, a redshirt freshman who was sidelined last year with a knee injury and underwent surgery in September for a torn Achilles tendon.
The injuries are “really disappointing,” says head coach Tara VanDerveer. “But we have plenty of talent and there will be opportunities for some of our young players to get game experience.” Look for 6-foot-5 freshman Kristen Newlin to contribute in the paint.
“This year’s team is a lot more experienced, and I think that counts for a lot,” VanDerveer says. “We should be a lot more physical this year and a lot stronger.”
VanDerveer notes that many of last season’s games were won by fairly close margins. “We found ways to win, and if we’re healthy and everybody’s playing really well, we can do it,” she adds. “But we don’t start head and shoulders above other teams.”