The Pac-12’s all-time leading scorer has seen her average improve in conference play, despite facing better competition.
After Kelsey Plum ripped through Washington’s 13-game nonconference schedule averaging 30.2 points, her detractors countered: “Let’s see what happens when the Pac-12 season begins.”
Conventional wisdom said the teams that had played against the 5-foot-8 senior guard the past three years would be able to devise defensive schemes to slow down the scoring dynamo.
Plum’s critics didn’t take into account her competitive spirit, which craves bigger challenges to overcome and obstacles to hurdle.
UW women @ Arizona, 6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
In short, she plays big in big games.
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And when you’re ranked No. 8 in The Associated Press poll and in the hunt for Washington’s first Pac-12 regular-season title since 2001, then every game is a big game.
“I love to play competitive basketball games, so the preseason was a little tough for me because I want to compete,” said Plum, who is averaging 32 points in five Pac-12 games. “One of the reasons I love the Pac-12 so much is because I know every night I’m going to get someone’s best shot personally and as a team.”
No. 10 Oregon State is the only team to slow Plum, holding her to 22 points on 8-for-23 shooting during a 73-70 UW defeat two weeks ago.
Otherwise, Plum has been masterful.
She nearly registered a triple-double (21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds) during a 94-63 win against Washington State. She dropped a season-high-tying 44 points — one shy of her personal best — on Oregon.
Slowing down? Hardly.
“Personally, I play better against better athletes and better teams,” Plum said.
That’s a frightening prospect for the Pac-12 and Arizona (10-5, 1-3 Pac-12), UW’s opponent on 6 p.m. Friday at the McKale Center.
“The reason that her production is ahead of the pace than it’s been in the past is because she’s making more shots,” UW coach Mike Neighbors said. “She’s getting better shots as the result of the teammates around her. And we’re able to play faster in transition, so we’re playing more possessions.”
Neighbors calculated Washington (16-2, 4-1) averages four more possessions this season than last season. More possessions for the Huskies means extra scoring opportunities for Plum, who averages 19 attempts per game and shoots 52.9 percent from the field.
“We haven’t changed anything other than we’re a little faster and we’ve rebounded much better, which allows us to get in transition more often,” Neighbors said. “She’s making more hard shots than she’s made in the past. And she’s getting more open shots because … of the pieces being in place.
“It all leads to 3-4 shots per game when she’s absolutely wide open.”
Plum garners headlines due to her shot-making ability and scoring, but her biggest strides this season have been as a playmaker. She averaged 3.7 assists during her career and is up to 5.3 this season.
“I’m glad somebody noticed I’m not just out there shooting,” Plum said, laughing. “But seriously, that’s a credit to my teammates. They’re knocking down shots.”
Plum, the Pac-12 all-time scoring leader who is on pace to break the NCAA career points record, is moving up the list behind UW’s all-time assist record of 612, set by Giuliana Mendiola. Plum is third at 500.
“She’s going to be No. 2 no matter what,” Neighbors said. “But she’s got an outside chance to catch Mendiola. That’s mind-blowing to me that a kid could be on top of both of those categories.”
|Picking up the pace|
Kelsey Plum, who leads the NCAA in scoring, has increased her points-per-game average during Pac-12 play.
|Type of games||G||PPG||FG%|