The Husky forward pulled down 19 rebounds, showing why she’s the nation’s leading rebounder, in leading Washington past the Bobcats in its NCAA tournament opener.
Their reputation precedes them, of course. Every team that plays the Huskies’ women’s basketball team, especially for the first time, comes in knowing that Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor are the prime forces that must be dealt with.
That, however, is easier said than done, and Montana State on Saturday became the latest UW opponent to find out that the best-laid plans, and the craftiest strategies, rarely make the transition from clipboard to hardwood against that duo.
“We’ve been hearing about them all year on SportsCenter and watching them on TV,’’ Montana State’s Peyton Ferris said. “To play against them was surreal. They are two respectable people. I don’t know if I’ve ever respected an opponent more than those two.”
Plum — on a night when Montana State was dead set on taking away her outside jumper and were fairly successful, holding the national scoring leader to 1 of 7 from three-point range — exploited them with darting drives to the basket on the way to 29 points.
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Montana State coach Tricia Binford noted wryly that one of her assistants called it an off night for Plum — “and she still had 30. I’d hate to see her on an ‘on’ night.”
But it was Osahor, in particular, who was a revelation to the Bobcats, the reality of her game exceeding even the advance billing, which was considerable. In Washington’s 91-63 win, Osahor pulled down 19 rebounds and scored 16 points, numbers that are fairly standard in the Osahor canon. But to see it play out in Osahor’s unorthodox yet utterly dominating fashion was eye-opening to Montana State.
“That kid is a phenomenal rebounder,’’ Binford said. “You can’t appreciate what you see on TV until you see it live.”
There were times when Montana State’s inside players were perfectly positioned for rebounds, and yet Osahor still ripped down the ball. She had two plays, in particular, that galvanized the Huskies, who needed a quarter to shake off the rust from two weeks of inactivity since the Pac-12 tournament.
In the first quarter, she stole the ball in the backcourt and drove powerfully to the hoop for layin, causing the crowd to erupt. And in the third quarter, with Montana State still hanging around, she sank one of her patented flat-footed three pointers — something you can see in person and still not quite fully process — to set the Huskies’ romp into high gear.
Osahor came to the postgame news conference toting a bag, which she revealed to be filled with a treat — “Mom makes this bomb banana bread,’’ she said with a grin.
It was well earned. Asked to evaluate her game, Osahor ignored the flourishes and focused on the nitty-gritty.
“I just look at what I’m supposed to do for the team, and I got 19 rebounds,’’ she said. “There were still a few more to be had, so I’m not satisfied, but it was a good day overall.”
Though Montana State was scrappy — particularly Ferris, who led all scorers with 33 and was deemed “unstoppable” by Washington coach Mike Neighbors — the Huskies’ ultimate rout was not unexpected. The Big Sky had lost 21 straight games in the NCAA tournament and its teams were 4-30 overall. The conference was 0-17 against the Pac-12 this year, all of which led the Huskies to be favored by more than 20 points.
A tougher test for Washington looms on Monday against Oklahoma, which has a powerful 6-foot-4 center in Vionise Pierre-Louis who will provide an intriguing foe for Osahor. For all the (deserved) fanfare that Plum gets, Binford acknowledged the role Osahor plays in igniting Washington’s attack.
“She certainly is the quarterback in a lot of things they do offensively,’’ she said. “I think that highlights the IQ of her play and her instincts both offensively and defensively. Her timing on the glass is phenomenal.”
Neighbors enthusiastically agreed with Binford’s observation that Osahor can’t truly be appreciated until you see her in person.
“I’ve been saying that for five years!” he said. “You can watch all the film you want, but you cannot convince or appreciate — the word I use a lot is convince — how hard it is to rebound in her space. She moves you horizontally instead of vertically.
“You can watch all the film you want and have all the plans you want — and I think they did a great job on her. A couple of times she could have gotten rebounds and has in the past, but they kept her from getting a couple. It’s a huge thing; when she doesn’t rebound on the defensive end, we don’t get in transition as fast.”
By the end, the Huskies were flying up and down the court, with Osahor often as the catalyst. Montana State found out, as most do, that Osahor in the flesh is even more formidable than the reputation that precedes her.