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Originally published Friday, March 2, 2012 at 8:04 PM

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Washington coach Kevin McGuff focused more on results than appearances

First-year Washington women's basketball coach Kevin McGuff doesn't have many rules for his players. "I want them to act a certain way, treat each other a certain way, go to class and I want them to achieve as well as they can."

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

UCLA @ Washington, 2 p.m., UWTV

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Ask any of Charmaine Barlow's professors, and they'll say she is known for her inquisitive mind. The dean's list student grabs a front-row seat and raises her hand so much it could be mistaken for a dance move.

It was no different when the Washington senior forward met coach Kevin McGuff last spring. McGuff, hired in April, gave a brief introduction then opened the floor to the players.

Barlow was the first to speak.

"We've got a problem with tattoos," she started.

"Yeah? What about them?" McGuff said.

"Well, I had to cover all of my tattoos," Barlow said, describing former coach Tia Jackson's philosophy that body art isn't a proper representation of the school during games.

"Really? Well, don't worry about it; you don't have to do it," McGuff replied.

And like that, the team was unleashed. Barlow, who looked injured in previous seasons due to athletic tape covering her tattoos, displays five with pride — each a dedication to her family and passion for basketball. Senior center Regina Rogers can go from purple hair extensions to red, and seniors Mackenzie Argens and Kristi Kingma can paint their nails every color of the rainbow.

Dancing (or laughing at those trying) appears to be a favorite pastime during practice and in releasing pregame jitters. And there's a tighter bond among the players that came not only from overcoming the adversity of four consecutive losing seasons, but from McGuff insisting the Huskies build true chemistry.

He helped by mixing up room buddies for every trip and limiting cellphone time around game days, prompting interaction. But unlike some NCAA coaches, he stops at restricting or personally monitoring Twitter use, believing the social-media outlet can be used to help promote the program.

"McGuff, he kind of watches and soaks it all in," freshman guard Jazmine Davis said of the team's humorous side. "He's really attentive to everybody and lets everybody be themselves. Whatever you need to say, he lets you speak out. (And) if we get carried away, he's quick to get you back in check."

Many believe the change in culture is why Washington was able to piece together a five-game win streak during nonconference play. Entering its final regular-season game, UW (15-12, 7-10 Pac-12) has its first winning record in five years.

Washington hosts UCLA (14-14, 9-8) Saturday at Edmundson Pavilion. It's the final home game for Barlow, Rogers, Argens, Mollie Williams and Liz Lay, whose career was cut short due to chronic knee problems.

"Last year, I felt like a mummy," said Barlow, who often pleaded with Jackson about taping her tattoos. "I felt I couldn't really show who I really am as a person, and people have tattoos all the time. It's not like they're explicit like guns or bullets, just family names that I want people to see that I'm proud of.

"We really have to give a big credit to coach McGuff and his coaching staff. His style of play and how he came in here and let us be ourselves, let us be free. He never got on us too much about things unless we really messed up in a game or practice, but he's a tremendous reason why we're at this point right now."

A successful coach during his nine-year tenure at Xavier, McGuff is simply more concerned with the process of building a championship-caliber team at Washington than appearance.

Recently, McGuff described Barlow as his type of player. She's a defensive stopper who had a 3.57 grade-point average last fall. She is set to earn a degree in psychology this spring.

"As we grow the program, one of our best assets is our players," McGuff said. "We've got a lot of great kids and they've got great personalities. I don't want our players to have to walk around like they're a bad person because they have a tattoo. I want them to act a certain way, treat each other a certain way, go to class and I want them to achieve as well as they can. If they're doing that, I'm pretty excited."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

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