Washington coach Mike Neighbors may have found his winning pregame pep talk.
Before his women’s basketball team took the court to play No. 21 Colorado, he huddled the Huskies and told them they were already down 13-0. Then he stepped back and shrugged his shoulders.
“If that doesn’t work, I don’t know what will,” junior guard Jazmine Davis said of her coach’s final pregame words.
It worked. Freshman guard Kelsey Plum led an aggressive charge against Colorado’s noted defense to give Washington a 81-71 Pac-12 Conference win Sunday in front of 1,371 at Alaska Airlines Arena and two records were set for free throws made in a game.
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Plum scored a career-best 35 points on 7-of-18 shooting from the field and made a school record 18 (in 19 attempts) free throws in 39 minutes.
Washington made a record 38 (of 46) from the line overall, and in the first half nearly attempted more free throws (25) than Colorado had points (27) as the Huskies took a 39-27 lead.
By comparison, the Buffs were 15 of 22 at the line for the entire game.
“Coach preaches for Jaz and I to stay aggressive,” Plum said. “At a point where we need a bucket, I have absolute confidence in my team that we’re going to make the best decision and find whoever is open. A lot of them happened to be me.”
The lefty Plum hurt Colorado’s defense with dribble-drives to draw fouls or make shots in the second half, seemingly answering every Buffaloes charge.
CU used a 17-6 run to pull ahead 54-53 with 8:39 remaining, capping it with a no-look pass from guard Lexy Kresl to forward Jamee Swan. But Plum quickly answered with a three-pointer and a layin to swing the game right back to Washington.
The Buffs, behind their aggressive defense, closed within 73-67 with one minute left, but four free throws from Plum preserved the win.
“Our kids had a demeanor about them that it was not going to slip away,” Neighbors said.
The win is Washington’s first against a ranked team since defeating then-No. 9 Cal in March 2008. Washington (10-7, 3-3) travels to play at Oregon State on Friday and Oregon on Sunday.
For Colorado (11-6, 1-5 Pac-12), its struggles continued through early conference play. The Buffaloes, who lost 70-60 at Washington State on Friday, are on a four-game losing streak despite sophomore Arielle Roberson’s 20 points.
Neighbors, known as a defensive-minded coach, may have figured out the right scheme. Washington ended a three-game losing streak with two impressive defensive games to beat Utah in overtime on Friday and Colorado on Sunday.
“We were playing how we should start every game, and I hope everyone saw that,” Davis said. “Everything starts going your way. We start making free throws and start getting the calls. We were taking it at them instead of starting the game off getting punched in the face.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JaydaEvans