Pac-12-leading Huskies move higher into college baseball’s top 10; next up: WSU this weekend

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These reborn Huskies keep on rising.

After their sixth conference series win in six sets this season, and first series win at California in eight years, the Huskies (27-8-1, 14-4 Pac-12) are at their highest spot ever in Baseball America's top 25: seventh.

UW is also up four spots to ninth in the USA Today’s coaches’ poll. The Huskies are now No. 5 in the Collegiate Baseball rankings and seventh in rankings released today by the scouting service Perfect Game USA.

Washington has won 25 of 30 games. A 7-1 loss Saturday at Cal, which felt almost startling in these heady Dawg days, prevented UW’s first sweep in Berkeley since 2002. The Huskies are 1 1/2 games ahead of Oregon State (27-7, 11-4) atop the Pac-12. The Beavers, who have won two national championships in the last eight years, are ranked fifth by Baseball America entering Oregon State’s series this weekend against hot Oregon.

The Huskies, 11-2 on the road, play Seattle University (17-18, 7-5 Western Athletic Conference) on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Bannerwood Park in suburban Bellevue. It’s a schedule switch, with the May 13 Seattle U.-UW game to be played at Husky Ballpark.

This weekend, the Huskies host Washington State (17-19, 7-8) on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The games will be televised by Pac-12 Networks. WSU got swept in three games at Oregon last weekend.

Another measure of how good the Huskies have been: Oregon (31-10, 10-5) has won nine consecutive games since UW won two of three over the Ducks at Husky Ballpark April 4-6. (The picture above from Red Box Pictures is my favorite of the season so far, after the Dawgs’ come-from-behind, walk-off win in 10 innings over Oregon in that series finale).

The Huskies’ formula remains improved, timely hitting for average and for power. That has backed a stingy pitching staff and one of the best defenses in the nation. Washington leads the Pac-12 is batting average (.292) and home runs (17), the latter are seven more homers than UW had all of last season.

And how about Brian Wolfe? The senior outfielder leads the conference with a gaudy .404 average and .596 slugging percentage — and that’s while playing the last couple weeks with a broken thumb he sustained March 30 at USC. He’s been hitting with a specially fitted brace. Wolfe, a two-time Pac-12 player of the week this season, is tied with teammate Robert Pehl for second-most home runs in the league (four).

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Spring finale: Lindquist throws 4 TDs; Petersen says Huskies are “at square one” in knowing 2014 QB

Jeff Lindquist climbed a padded wall behind the sidelines to visit with family members. He also signed this kid’s purple, Washington 17 jersey — the one of the quarterback he hopes to succeed this fall.

To that end, this afternoon’s final spring practice at rainy Husky Stadium was like the 14 ones before it over the last month:

Inconclusive.

Lindquist threw four touchdown passes during red-zone and full-field scrimmaging, primarily against the second-team defense. Troy Williams, the redshirt freshman passer with whom Lindquist split all of the Huskies’ spring plays, looked more sluggish while mostly facing the first-team defense – then said afterward he needs to work on staying in the pocket longer to get through reads and throw to secondary receivers.

And Chris Petersen said after his first set of spring practices as Washington’s coach ended that his decision on who will replace graduated record-setter Keith Price this fall “is at square one” — and may not be settled until immediately before the opening game Aug. 30 at Hawai’i, if not after that.

“Absolutely, that’s possible. Yeah, we could go to game nine, if it hasn’t been decided,” Petersen said. “We’ll take this one day at a time. One day, one game. I know it sounds cliché, but it really will be.”

That’s not exactly what most on the outside want to hear.

Warren Moon spoke for most UW fans today while standing on the north sideline when he said during an interview on Pac-12 Networks: “We’d like to know who the starting quarterback is.”

But that wasn’t going to come during a spring Petersen and his new staff spent installing a new system and a new culture amid a suspension that left the Huskies with just two quarterbacks in the program.

And, hey, it’s only April.

“I mean, it’s all nice to have a starting quarterback, but that guy graduated in December,” Petersen said of Price – and who may replace Washington’s starter for the last three seasons.

“And so, we are at square one. Until one guy establishes himself, we don’t have a guy.”

Petersen reiterated that by the time the coaches can get back on the field with the players again, at the start of August for fall camp, he will have made a determination on if and when quarterback Cyler Miles will rejoin the team. Miles was the presumed heir to Price until Petersen suspended him for all of spring practice following an alleged assault near campus in February.

This afternoon, Washington Director of Athletics said on Seattle’s KJR 950 AM from Husky Stadium that both Miles and wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow — who this week in King County district court pleaded guilty to assault and third-degree malicious mischief and must serve five days on a work crew, pay a $693 fine and get anger-management counseling — are still going through the UW campus system for discipline of students. Woodward said he expects both Miles and Stringfellow to return to the team this fall and be better for their experience. 

By August, the Huskies will welcome a fourth competitor to their quarterback derby for 2014: incoming freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels, a U.S. Army All-American Bowl quarterback who signed with UW following his starring as a senior at Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, Calif.

Asked if he sees what everyone else does about this QB competition, that it is wide open, Williams said: Oh, yeah. No doubt.

“With K.J. coming in, Cyler, Jeff, me, it’s all wide open,” Williams said. “I don’t think anyone has the lead right now. We all have great skills, great talent. It’s going to be fun in the fall.”

Will Coach Pete tweet?

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Chris Petersen had a social-media guru address the Huskies last weekend. The message: Be smart in that tricky, fast-paced, very-public arena.

Washington’s new coach did not allow Boise State’s players to be active on Twitter when he was leading the Broncos. But many Huskies players — including prominent ones such as Shaq Thompson (@ST7_ERA) and Jaydon Mickens (@jaydiggla4) — have had accounts for years.

“We are trying to educate them; that’s our job,” Petersen said. “We are still figuring that out, whether we can handle Twitter. But you take Twitter away and there are still five other things they can do.

“You know, it’s the world we live in. I’m good if they are good. If they are not good it’s going to go away. And so they’ve got to learn to do it correctly.”

So how short a leash are the players on?

"I’m more optimistic than that, that we are going to get this right," Petersen said.

Now a better question: Will the so-far tweet-less coach himself join Twitter?

“That’s a good question,” Petersen said with a grin. “The only way I am doing that is for recruiting, so we will see.”

His entire staff that came with him from Boise State is on it — even strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha (@coachtimsocha). The assistants use Twitter for recruiting purposes by tweeting photos, videos and facts about the program, the UW campus and the city of Seattle.

Petersen: Lindquist, Williams still 1/1A at QB; suspended Miles’ fall status TBD “down the road”

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The Huskies ended their 13th of 15 spring practices in the same way they will likely end spring ball Saturday afternoon: With zero resolution on who will replace graduated record-setter Keith Price at quarterback this fall.

An investigative television news reporter made a rare visit to the final morning practice of the spring today. That meant a fresh round of questions on what may become of Cyler Miles. The presumed starting quarterback who replaced the injured Price in two games last season plus wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow remain suspended in the wake of an alleged assault near the UW campus in early February.

Miles has not been charged. The Seattle Times reports Stringfellow was charged with three gross misdemeanors and is scheduled for arraignment in King County District Court on Wednesday.

"Same as it’s been since day one," Petersen said when asked about the status of his quarterback situation. "We’ve got two quarterbacks that are competing their tails off. And there’s no change with Cyler right now."

"Despite the fact of Cyler not being charged?" Petersen was asked.

"Absolutely," the coach said.

When asked if Miles was still a part of the team, Petersen replied: “Right now he’s not.”

As for Stringfellow, “no change with him, either.

"We are always going to do the right thing by our program; I’ve said that from the start," Petersen said. "And so we are handling it internally, and we are going to do the right thing always …"

Asked when he will make a decision on Miles’ status for the 2014 season, Petersen said: “Don’t have that timetable yet.”

The most pertinent question was the last one Petersen fielded on the matter. With Miles apparently missing all of spring practice — the final two sessions are Thursday night and Saturday’s final one that is free to the public at Husky Stadium beginning with a fan fest at 10 a.m. — Christian Caple, UW beat writer for the Tacoma News Tribune, asked the coach: “Is it safe to assume either Troy or Jeff will be your starting quarterback (this season), or will Cyler have a chance to win the job if he returns in the fall?”

"You know, we’ll answer all those questions down the road for you guys here," Petersen said. "I don’t want to go off and just answer partial ‘this, that,’ when we really haven’t set everything with that.

"When I get that answer we will answer that for you guys."

Lindquist, from the Seattle suburb of Mercer Island, appeared late in three lopsided games last season but has yet to throw a pass in a college game. The redshirt sophomore for the 2014 season threw a deep-ball pass this morning to tight end Darrell Daniels for a highlight touchdown on a remarkable catch by the converted wide receiver.

Daniels, who made his position switch last fall, is pushing to be Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ replacement as UW’s primary pass-catching tight end this fall.

"I saw it was open safeties," Lindquist said, "and Darrell is a freakin’ stud."

Lindquist says his progress from the first spring practice to now has been “pretty large, for myself and everyone on the team getting comfortable with this new system and with the guys.

"Obviously we still have a long way to go," Lindquist said "We are 13 days into our new system."

Lindquist and Williams, the redshirt freshman from Los Angeles who again alternated with the starting offense in today’s two-plus-hour practice, have both benefited from the maximum repetitions they have received each practice day. Not only have they been running all the plays for the first-, second- and third-team offenses throughout each practice, they’ve been the only two doing new quarterback coach Jonathan Smith’s throwing, drop-back, scramble and even fumble-recovery drills.

"I think I have a pretty decent grasp of the playbook so far. For me it’s getting to the point where I’m starting to just play," Lindquist said. (Petersen has said he and Smith, the offensive coordinator, have installed about 50 percent of the playbook).

Petersen reiterated today that there is evaluating going on every day. But the fact the Huskies have just two quarterbacks using an entirely new system and calling a still-foreign language of formation, blocking and pass-route terms, this spring has been more about learning than evaluation and determination for the two Dawgs at the most important and complex position on the field.

As Petersen said following Saturday’s practice, there is no need to determine a starting quarterback right now. The opener at Hawaii is still 4 1/2 months away.

And, as the coach said today, Miles may or may not be back by then.

"I honestly think so far it’s still been (about) being comfortable. We’re still splitting reps," Lindquist said. "It’s about getting better as a group, and as individuals. The competition aspect hasn’t changed much. Still we are all trying to get better."

Shaq Thompson puts on a show — at running back; looking more likely LB will be a two-way man this fall

Shaq Thompson lit up the night during the Huskies’ 11th of 15 spring practices — as a running back.

The playmaking two-year starter at outside linebacker pulled off his white jersey he had been wearing on defense and put on a purple jersey for offense during the final scrimmage portion of the two-plus-hour practice. One play after fellow starting linebacker Travis Feeney intercepted a pass from Troy Williams over the middle and returned it about 60 yards for a touchdown, Thompson sprinted just as fast off left tackle for a 70-yard score. No Husky defender had an angle on Thompson, let alone a chance to bring him down.

Then on the next series the 6-foot-2, 231-pound former Class-A outfielder in the Boston Red Sox organization bulled through two defensive colleagues on an impressive 15-yard run.

In Tuesday’s practice, Thompson — the defensive version — sped into the backfield, ripped the ball from a running back behind the line of scrimmage and zoomed the other way for a touchdown.

New coach Chris Petersen said after that daytime performance he can’t wait to see all that Thompson can do for the Huskies this season — beginning Aug. 30 in the opener at Hawai’i.

It’s becoming more and more likely Thompson will be doing it on defense and on offense that Saturday.

"Really, I’m still learning about him," Petersen said. "If I’d have to say one thing I know now, he’s a very good football player. You put him on offense. You put him on defense. You put him as a kick returner (which he did once, impressively, late in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl against Petersen’s Boise State Broncos). He can just  do a lot of things very well.

"I like coming out here and see him get a run, make a play on defense and pull the ball out. So that’s interesting. That’s intriguing. He’s one of the guys I’m really anxious to go play a real game with, to see that show up, because he does so many good things out here. But I want to see it in a game."

Petersen had players appear on both offense and defense while he went 92-12 in eight seasons at Boise State.

"Absolutely, we have done that with a handful of kids over the years," he said. "We’ve done it in the secondary. We’ve done it at tight end. We’ve done it at running back. We’ve done it at linebacker with fullback-type guys. So I’ve done it.

"At the end of the day, we want to get our best personnel on the field. We have a lot of personnel, but if we truly have a guy who can help us on either side of the ball, we have to somehow get that done."

So far, so very good in getting that done.

BACKUP DB ENEWALLY DISMISSED

Petersen dismissed backup defensive back Patrick Enewally from the team for an internal team issue.

Quarterback Cyler Miles and wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow remained suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Jeff Lindquist and Williams were the only two quarterbacks practicing for the 11th consecutive practice.

Hau’oli Kikaha earns Chris Petersen’s trust right away — and vice versa — amid a “spiritual awakening” in French Polynesia

Huskies 2013 co-captain and sack leader Hau’oli Kikaha was one of 16 male finalists for the 2014 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award. The national award for excellence by a minority student-athlete on the field, in the classroom and in the community went in 2011 to Russell Wilson; the Seahawks star was then graduating in three years from North Carolina State.

As Kikaha and the Huskies were in class today then preparing for the team’s 11th of 15 spring practices tonight, this year’s Ashe Award was presented to Ishaq Pitt, a basketball player and 3.94-GPA student at Maryland-Eastern Shore. Even though Kikaha — who has a 3.53 grade-point average in a curriculum steeped in anthropology and hands-on sociology abroad — didn’t win this year he was already in good company. Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins quarterback, was a Ashe Award finalist in 2011 after he won the Heisman Trophy for Baylor.

In yesterday’s Unleashed weekly column on GoHuskies.com, I detailed how new Huskies coach Chris Petersen recognized immediately upon arriving at UW four months ago how special a player, student and person Kikaha is — and why Petersen and the Huskies’ leading pass rusher already share a deep trust.

Kikaha will walk in UW’s commencement ceremony in June but will take more courses this fall during his fifth-year, senior season of football. He had been approved last July as one of 14 undergraduates and three graduate students for a study-abroad program on cultural communication in French Polynesia. But it didn’t appear former coach Steve Sarkisian would allow him to leave football’s daily winter workouts from January until the eve of spring practice starting in March.

Chris Rothschild, the study-abroad director in UW’s Information School that led Kikaha’s trip to the islands in the South Pacific, told me yesterday: “This didn’t happen for him until Coach Petersen arrived.”

The new coach has gotten his players’ attention — not to mention that of the nation — by suspending indefinitely quarterback Cyler Miles and wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow and sidelining for two weeks defensive co-captain John Timu all for violating team rules. He has sent others away to fix academic issues.

But with Kikaha, he decided within days of taking the UW job in December to allow the defensive end to leave and study for two months in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Hau’oli left a week after he had the final three of his 13 sacks last season in the Huskies’ win over BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl Dec. 27. The 13 sacks were the second-most in any season for Washington, and they came after he had missed 1 3/4 seasons because of major knee injuries.

“Hau’oli’s a really good student, and I know that’s important to him,” Petersen told me following Tuesday’s spring practice at Husky Stadium, which Kikaha and other Huskies missed because their new academic schedule for the new spring quarter has them in class during Tuesday morning practice times.

“He’s done a good job football-wise. You know, certain guys earn certain privileges. I hadn’t been here, but I did my research on the type of person he is and how important that was to him. And so we just felt like he deserved to go.”

You can read my entire column on this trust between the new coach and a key team leader, and on why Kikaha says what he learned in Polynesia was “a spiritual awakening,” here.

Petersen pleased with effort, but not progress, of Huskies’ spring practice

The learning continues for the Huskies football team under Chris Petersen and his new coaching staff.

The latest lessons are on standards — and on how quickly the two-time national coach of the year with a 92-12 record over the last eight seasons at Boise State wants those marks met.

As in, yesterday already.

This morning’s return practice following the players’ two weeks off for winter finals and spring break was the seventh workout of UW’s 15 spring practices, drills that Petersen said at the outset would likely be ugly.

In his mind, he’s been proven correct.

Asked if he was pleased with where his team is now at about the midway point of spring ball, Petersen’s replied quickly and forcefully.

"No, absolutely not," he said. "I’m pleased with their attitude. We are all in this together. Are we pleased where we are? No, because we have a long way to go.

"But I like the guys. I like them a lot. I like coaching them. But we have a long way to go. .. Got a lot of work to do."

Asked if any player has jumped out at him for stellar performance through seven practices, Petersen said flatly, “Nope. Nope. Not a guy.

"I’ll tell you if I see a guy, anyone out there that I go, ‘Whoa! That’s pretty special!’

Then Petersen shook his head and said again, “Work in progress.”

The coach termed that progress “two steps forward, one step back.”

Then again, it’s only the first of April, almost five full months before the opener at Hawaii.

But …

"Times’ ticking, you know? We only get so many days out here with these guys," he said.

"But we will get it, eventually. The eventually needs to be the sooner eventual than the later eventual."

I asked him when he thinks the players should be past the phase of needing to still learn the new coaches and their system and in the need-to-execute phase.

"That will come later. That’s always whole-part-whole. It’s always inter-mixed," Petersen said. "We’ve got a long way to go, on both spectrums.

"We’ve got a lot to learn still. Shoot, we haven’t put in half of our stuff yet.

"And obviously," the coach added, dropping his voice and his chin, "the execution has much to be desired at this point."

This — the missed assignments, the wrong pass routes, the incorrect decisions on plays — is not all the players’ faults, of course. And the coach reminds them of that often.

"We’ve hurt our kids, as coaches, by being a new coaching staff. We’ve set them back. We tell them that every day," Petersen said. "We tell them ‘We are giving you new things. A lot of people are ahead of us.’

"We are trying to play catchup as fast as we can."

He’s also trying to keep the practice mood competitive — and light.

Petersen kept the Huskies roaring through the middle of this morning’s practice at Husky Stadium. He led the latest of strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha’s offense-versus-defense competition in the middle of the field.

This one had 287-pound guard Shane Brostek and 277-pound defensive lineman Taniela Tupuo attempting to dive, barrel roll, jump or find any other way completely over blocking pads stacked at midfield. The landing area were large, gold pads.

"That was not very impressive," Brostek deadpanned when I asked him about his, uh,  "leaps" which unstacked the pads and splayed them across the turf.

After that comedy, Petersen called fleet wide receiver John Ross to oppose cornerback Jermaine Kelly. The pads got stacked far higher for those two, who combined weigh more than 200 pounds less than the linemen that preceded them over the pads.

Ross cleared the tall pile with a soaring, Fosbury-flop-like high jump.

Then Petersen called offensive line coach Chris Strausser and linebackers coach Bob Gregory to jump over a much smaller pile. Strausser won — much to the delighted roars of the offense over Petersen’s jubilant whistle. That meant extra sideline-to-sideline sprints for the defense.

PERSONNEL UPDATES

Quarterback Cyler Miles and wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow remain suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Asked about their status Petersen said, “No, I’ve got nothin’.”

Middle linebacker and two-time co-captain John Timu was back after a suspension for the first two weeks of spring practice.

Starters and great students Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton were among those missing from practice. Petersen said that’s because their new spring-quarter schedules have them in class on Tuesday mornings.

Such conflicts are why Petersen has moved the three remaining Thursday spring practices from morning to night.

"There’s things called academics around here, and they come first," the coach said. "And so they’ve got class."

Jaimie Bryant, a 309-pound defensive lineman from Tumwater, Wash., was on the field for the first time as a Husky freshman. Bryant committed last year with previous UW coach Steve Sarkisian but delayed his enrollment — “grayshirted” — until 2014. Petersen honored Sarkisian’s scholarship offer by offering him another one, which Bryant signed in February.

Petersen knows Bryant’s head is swimming in all that is new to him, which is what will make these next three weeks big for him heading into fall camp in August.

"He knows where the 40-yard line is," Petersen said. "But other than that, we started calling defenses at him and he doesn’t know anything.

"But it will be great. At the end of those three weeks he will know something, and it will put him a little bit further ahead for the fall."

Congrats to “one of the good guys,” coach Mike Neighbors, for great debut

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Time for a big shout out to Mike Neighbors for a first season so well done.

Neighbors’ debut season as a head coach in college basketball ended tonight when his Huskies lost 70-63 amid a wild, packed scene at Texas-El Paso in the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

There were 10,227 Miners fans screaming over UTEP’s 9-0 late to take a seven-point lead. They were gasping when Talia Walton and Jazmine Davis hit consecutive 3-pointers to pull the Huskies within 2 with a minute left.

After two UTEP free throws put the home team up by four, freshman extraordinaire Kelsey Plum had a 3 rim out for Washington’s last, best hope.

UW finishes 20-14, its third consecutive 20-win season since Neighbors joined Kevin McGuff in a new regime at Washington. UW hadn’t reached 20 wins for nine years until they arrived.

This is the first time UW has 20 victories in three straight years since it won 20 in seven consecutive seasons from 1984-85 to ‘90-91.

Neighbors’ Dawgs became the first Pac-12 team since 2006 to beat Stanford and California in the same season. The only other team to beat Stanford and Cal this season: Undefeated, No. 1 Connecticut, which is headed to the Final Four for the seventh consecutive year.

In the last three seasons with Neighbors on Montlake, the first two with him as McGuff’s top assistant, the Huskies have signed the program’s first two McDonald’s High School All-Americans, Plum and Katie Collier. Davis and Plum have won two of the last three Pac-12 freshman-of-the-year awards. Davis had more points than any previous Husky through two seasons. Then Plum arrived to set the school record for points in a single season by any Husky, any class.

Plum was the first reconnection Neighbors made last April when UW promoted him to head man, after McGuff left to go home and coach Ohio State. He worked tirelessly to re-affirm the star guard’s commitment after she had re-opened her recruiting. It says a ton about Neighbors that he got Plum to recommit to UW within days of his official promotion.

Plum found out what many others around college basketball have known about the 44-year-old native of Arkansas for years: He is unique; and he is genuine.

"There are a lot of people that love the game. There are a lot of people that coach the game. But Mike LIVES the game," Hall of Famer Gary Blair, the 2011 national-championship coach at Texas A&M, drawled to me 12 months ago by phone from southeast Texas.

"He’s one of the good guys."

It was Blair who gave Neighbors his first career break — which was more like a nose dive off a cliff in the Arkansas Ozarks.

Neighbors took a $58,000-a-year pay cut from being a highly respected high-school basketball state-finalist coach and biology teacher in his state to become an assistant to Blair at the University of Arkansas in 1999.

That was a year after Neighbors had a heart attack — at age 29. He had a second one when he was 38.

He’s also endured a divorce with a wife he describes an excellent mother to their children.

"He gives back," Blair said. "I think he has revolutionized women’s athletics, in the way of sharing information and ideas."

Throughout the year Neighbors publishes a newsletter for fellow coaches of anecdotes, drills, pearls of wisdom and motivation, industry news - you name it.

When I got added to the list I was subscriber number 65,356.

"In 39 countries and all 50 states," Neighbors says, proudly.

Here’s more of how real Neighbors is.

Monday the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association announced Neighbors was one of five finalists for the 2014 Spalding Maggie Dixon Division I Rookie Coach of the Year award. The award honors a WBCA Division I head coach who has led his or her team to a successful season during his or her first year on the job.

The other finalists for the award are Dan Burt of Duquesne, Bunky Harkleroad of Sacramento State, Billi Godsey of Iona and Megan Gebbia of American.

After starting slowing with so many injuries the Huskies couldn’t fully scrimmage in practice for months, Washington finished sixth in the Pac-12 at 10-8 in the league. That included wins over five teams that were ranked at some point during the season. The victory over then-No. 3 Stanford on Feb. 9 ended the Cardinal’s 58-game road Pac-12 winning streak. Once the Huskies got healthy, they surged. Only a late-season home loss to eventual Pac-12 tournament runner-up Oregon State and first-round loss to Utah in the league tournament ended the Huskies’ push for an NCAA tournament appearance.

The winner of the Maggie Dixon Award will be honored during the fourth annual WBCA Awards Show next Monday in Nashville, Tenn. That will be at NCAA Women’s Final Four.

The way Neighbors is building his own, unique, rising Huskies program, his team may be closer to someday joining him at the Final Four than anybody thinks.

A salute to Husky basketball’s “engine,” the driven, selfless Mercedes Wetmore

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This picture is from immediately after the Huskies upset No. 3 Stanford at Alaska Airlines Arena last month.

It perfectly captures not only that Sunday celebration but the spirit, drive and teamwork of one of the more remarkable players Washington women’s basketball has had in a while: Mercedes Wetmore (1).

The selfless, adaptable, senior point guard will extend her UW record when she plays in her 126th game as a Husky, in the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. The day of that game will be determined following tonight’s Colorado-at-Texas-El Paso WNIT matchup; Washington will play the winner of that one.

Wednesday the driver teammates have called “our engine” passed Giuliana Mendiola for the Huskies’ record in games played. She scored 10 points and again provided many of the key plays that don’t jump out of the box score in Washington’s 62-55 win over San Diego.

That might have been Wetmore’s final home game at UW. The WNIT determines home games not based upon seeding but upon which team tournament officials think provides the better chance for a fuller arena — and UTEP had 4,703 at its last home WNIT game, a win over Saint Mary’s.

She’s absolutely been overshadowed by record-setting freshman scorer Kelsey Plum and all-Pac-12 dynamo Jazmine Davis in the Huskies’ prolific backcourt. But no way is Wetmore unappreciated — at least not by her teammates, coaches and anyone who has followed her career since she came out of Auburn Riverside High School in 2010 as an all-state point guard and Washington state champion.

That was three Huskies head coaches ago.

Tia Jackson recruited Wetmore and coached her through her freshman season. Kevin McGuff then came from Xavier in April 2011 and changed everything Wetmore and the Huskies knew, from grueling practices to how they ate. McGuff also made Wetmore his team’s trigger. That began a string of her starting 66 times in 67 games over two seasons.

Last spring McGuff jumped back to his home state to accept a lucrative offer to coach Ohio State. Mike Neighbors got a promotion off McGuff’s staff into his first head-coaching job at UW — and made some more changes to practices and schemes.

Meanwhile, McGuff and Neighbors signed Davis, Plum and Katie Collier. Davis was the Pac-12’s freshman of the year two seasons ago and also considers herself a point guard. Plum, another headstrong guard, and low post Collier are the first two McDonald’s High School All-Americans to play women’s basketball at Washington.

Yet through it all, Wetmore has dutifully adapted, led, supported and soldiered on. She has started 99 of the last 100 games for the Huskies; her only miss was when she was knocked out last season with a bad flu.

I mean, that must have been an awful one, to keep her out of a game.

When the Huskies have needed her to drive and score, Wetmore’s done that. When Davis and then Plum arrived, they needed her to defer and feed to thrive. Plum broke the school’s scoring record, Davis made UW’s one of the top two scoring backcourts in the country.

Someone had to ensure they got the ball. That was Wetmore — and Washington has won 44 games and counting over two seasons.

The starter with the highest 3-point shooting percentage this season for UW? That’s Wetmore, at 37.1 percent.

The only player on either team to play all 40 minutes Wednesday while Washington outlasted tiring San Diego in the WNIT? Yep, Wetmore.

This season she ranked second in the Pac-12 in minutes played. She played all 40 minutes in 14 of 18 conference games.

Wetmore ranked second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and fourth in assists.

As usual, she did far more than score Wednesday. She consistently fed Plum, Davis and Talia Walton for open looks. At 5 feet 8, she pulled down rebounds; she’s averaging 3.7 of those per game. Wetmore even blocked a shot, her fourth block this season, then converted a pass from Davis for a layup in the first half that gave the Huskies their largest lead, 25-16.

After San Diego tied the game for the sixth time, at 49 with 6 minutes left, Wetmore came up with a huge steal. UW stayed ahead from there, aided by Wetmore’s two free throws with 2:42 remaining. Those put the Huskies up 53-49. San Diego never got closer after that, and UW advanced to the quarterfinals while ensuring the Dawgs’ third consecutive 20-win season.

This is the first time UW has 20 in three straight years since winning 20 in seven consecutive seasons from 1984-85 to ‘90-91.

Wetmore has 138 assists to 65 turnovers in 33 games, better than the 2:1 ratio that coaches consider very good. Her 105 assists to 56 turnovers in the 2012-13 regular season led the Pac-12.

"She’s our engine," then-senior leader Kristi Kingma said last spring of Wetmore. "Mercedes is immensely important to us. She can score; she knows that. But for the good of the team she makes Jaz and myself and others look good.

"When Mercedes is playing well and passing well our whole offense changes."

The ever-pressing Wetmore said she has studied statistical trends among the top scorers in women’s college and professional basketball. She has found the percentage of points scored in one-on-one, isolation matchups is surprisingly low. Most of the points are scored by kick-out passes or other assists created off dribble penetration.

The research reinforced to Wetmore the importance of handling the ball into the lane as if to score, then passing to the Huskies’ shooters.

"I do pride myself on giving this team a lot of chances to score," she told me last season. "I can score if I need to, but it’s more about getting everyone else going."

But wait, there’s more.

Huskies softball coach Heather Tarr is so impressed with Wetmore’s leadership and winner’s mentality, she had her join her team midway through last season. Wetmore was mostly a pinch-runner, yet she instantly became a softball favorite and helped motivate her new teammates all the way into the Women’s College World Series.

This week the Pac-12 recognized how good Wetmore is off the floor, as well. The league gave her a second team all-academic honor.

Wetmore has a nifty 3.46 grade-point average. She will earn a communications degree upon graduation this spring. She wants to pursue a career in real estate — and as an entrepreneur.

With her drive, I’m guessing she’ll kill it in both of those fields, too.

Husky Ballpark, team boomin’ right now; Lawyer Milloy to yell “Play Ball!” at Friday’s opening

"The Diamond on Montlake" opens Friday night for UW’s 6 p.m. game vs. Arizona. For tickets visit GoHuskies.com.

Husky Baseball is boomin’ right now.

Friday, UW opens its $15 million Husky Ballpark a 6 p.m. Pac-12 series opener against Arizona. More than 100 former players in the Huskies’ program will be there, including: Daryl “Lefty” Burke (1957-59), Dana Halvorson (1968-69), Ray “The Machine” Price (1971-74), Scott Brow (1988-90), Kevin Miller (1996-98), Sean White (2000-03), Jeff Heaverlo (1997-99), Ryan Lentz (1996-98) and Lawyer Milloy.

Milloy won six varsity letters at UW, three in baseball and three in football from (1993-95). People sometimes forget the 1995 All-America safety who went on to play 15 seasons in the NFL was also the Huskies’ starting center fielder. Milloy will be on field Friday to call out “Play Ball!” just before the first pitch inside new Husky Ballpark.

Burke, Halvorson, Price, Brow, Miller and White will throw out simultaneous, ceremonial first pitches Friday to represent the last six decades of Husky Baseball.

And the new, 42-foot-by-14-foot video board beyond the left-field wall will show tribute videos from current Huskies to the former players.

As for the team that will play in the new “Diamond on Montlake,” Washington is 13-5-1, its best start since 2006’s team began 15-5. The Huskies have won 10 of their last 11 games following last night’s 7-6 win over Portland. They are 6-1 on the road, already half of last season’s win total in 24 road games. They lead the Pac-12 with 10 home runs, and are getting great pitching and defense, too. Last weekend’s series win at Arizona State was UW’s first since 2004 — the last season that Washington made the NCAA tournament.

Completely transformed starting pitcher Jeff Brigham clinched the series win at ASU on Sunday, running his record to 3-0 by allowing just one run in five innings.He has a 1.29 ERA, fourth-best in the Pac-12, and has allowed a total of four runs in his five starts — his first five starts in 20 months. He had Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery on his elbow in July, 2012.

“I feel good about the season. Obviously, I’m having a lot of success and the team is playing well,” the junior right-hander from Federal Way, Wash., said.

"It’s been fun. It’s been fun to get out there and compete again."

Scouts are flocking to his starts and texting him between games; about 50 saw him beat Michigan State on two hits over seven innings last month in Surprise, Ariz. Some are beginning to liken Brigham to Tim Lincecum because of these recently dominant results. And the 6-foot, 183-pound Brigham draws inspiration from the fact neither he nor Lincecum fit the standard, big, tall flamethrower mold.

Yes, any mention of Lincecum is hallowed in Washington. His retired, No. 14 Huskies jersey remains on the right-field wall of the new Husky Ballpark for being the most accomplished pitcher in UW history. Before he became a two-time Cy Young Award winner and four-time All-Star known in the majors as “The Freak,” Lincecum was an undersized, 2004 All-American as a freshman. By the time the San Francisco Giants drafted him in the first round following the Huskies’ 2006 season, he owned Washington’s career records for wins (30), strikeouts (491) and innings pitched (342).

“You definitely relate yourself and try to find those pitchers who have found success and aren’t the prototypical 6-4, 220-pound, big bodies that scouts are looking for,” Brigham said when I mentioned Lincecum.

“But at the same time we are two totally different pitchers. We don’t have the same philosophies or the same build. We definitely don’t have the same motion. … It’s definitely cool to see someone who is not the prototypical size have that kind of success, yeah.”

There is so much more to Brigham’s story — how he is using basically just one pitch, his fastball, to succeed; his 3.45 GPA with what may soon end up being a double major in accounting and finance, his “Plan B” he says his surgery accelerated; even the fact he was a high-school dunk champion at Thomas Jefferson in Federal Way.

"I think they definitely give me a little bit of a bias because I am shorter," he said, chuckling.

You can read his transforming story here in my latest “Unleashed” column on GoHuskies.com.