Woodworth's emergence invaluable for Western

WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM Richard Woodworth
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM
Richard Woodworth
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM

Jan. 28, 2012

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -

Andrew Lang / THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

With an offense predicated upon an up-tempo style of play that allows players to create offensively, Western Washington University men's basketball guard Richard Woodworth said coach Brad Jackson has a saying he frequently uses in an effort to ensure the Vikings don't take advantage of their offensive freedom.

"Coach always has this saying when he goes through the offense," Woodworth said in a phone interview. "He says, 'We want to be controlled without taking away individual initiative.'"

And with a team filled with scorers who have the ability to produce on any given night, making a concerted effort to prevent the Vikings from getting too inventive, so much that it takes away from offensive productivity, is a task that falls heavily on the shoulders of Woodworth.

However, it's a task Woodworth has excelled at this season. It's also a major reason WWU, which has scored the most points in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference while maintaining a 1.2 assist to turnover ratio, is ranked No. 18 in the nation and is looking down at everyone atop the GNAC standings.

Last year, Western, which Jackson said likes to keep a stable of great ball handlers, was forced to rely heavily on current junior guard John Allen to run the offense after the Vikings lost Woodworth and Rico Wilkins for the season to injury.

Since returning from a stress fracture in his foot followed by surgery on his wrist, Woodworth has flourished this year in his starting role, averaging 10.8 points per game - fourth best on the team - the second most assists on the team with 60 and is shooting a GNAC-best 51.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arch.

Woodworth's stats are impressive, but it's his ability to control the game that has made a drastic impact from last season's squad to the 2011-12 version of the Vikings.

The emergence of Woodworth and his strong ball handling ability has freed up Allen to do what he does best - score. In fact, Allen, Rory Blanche and Zach Henifin - Western's three top scorers - have all benefited with Woodworth handling the brunt of the ball handling duties as all of their scoring numbers are up from last season.

"(Woodworth) has always been a very smart player and a good floor leader," Jackson said in a phone interview. "He has good size and is athletic. Over the last two weeks, in particular, I've seen him play with a lot of confidence. He's getting a good grasp of the offense. Something to remember is that he is only a sophomore, and it's really encouraging because over time he will continue to develop."

Woodworth did a fair share of development last season. While missing an extended number of games was a new experience for Woodworth, the payoff may have very well been worth it.

"I missed 10 or 11 months and couldn't play basketball or workout," Woodworth said. "It made me more of a fan of basketball. I was loving watching (WWU) on the online stream, and I really got into the NBA season. I started to miss it. It's kind of hard to make yourself improve when you're constantly playing. I got the chance to watch (John) and people on TV. It made me hungry to come back this year."

Woodworth saw limited minutes two years ago as a freshman. The Bellevue native averaged 8.5 minutes per game in the 26 out of 32 contests he saw court time in and averaged 2.0 points per outing. During that time, though, Woodworth said he gained a wealth of knowledge while learning under top-caliber guards such as former Western standouts Morris Anderson and Derrick Webb.

With a stat sheet from two years ago that provided Jackson with little information and almost a full-year of not participating in basketball activities, it was Woodworth's drive and want to improve that garnered Jackson's attention at the beginning of the 2011-12 season.

"We watched him a lot before he came here, and he did well as a freshman," Jackson said. "We felt all along that he could be a player for us and assume that leadership role. I go back to the end of season last year. He started working hard during a six month period, and it's really made a difference. He's done a really good job of embracing his role, and it just seems he always gets a little bit better."

Woodworth said he usually leaves the backcourt scoring to Allen and Wilkins, while he tends to look to distribute first. But, the fact the redshirt sophomore is converting on more than half the 3's he attempts, it's hard for the Vikings to neglect such strong production.

If Woodworth's scoring capabilities weren't evident before the Vikings took the ominous two-game swing to play Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks back in mid January, it sure is now.

Against Alaska Fairbanks, Woodworth scored a game-high 25 points to help the Vikings to a 101-81 win, and two nights later he scored 11 points and handed out a team-high eight assists in a huge 73-68 win that has catapulted WWU to first in the GNAC.

"In my mind, Richard has always been a great shooter," Jackson said. "I was watching him a lot during the summer time. I felt like he had the capability to take that to the next level. One of his strengths is his great lift, and his footwork is very good. He also has a good midrange game which has disappeared in a lot of players. He's got a really good pull up jumper from 15 to 17 feet Since Christmas break, I think we've seen him play at another level of comfort. He's working hard and does a nice job of blending together his scoring ability with his quarterbacking skills."