Atchley, who played a total of 31 minutes in an injury-plagued season for the UW last year, scored a career-high 15 points on 5 of 8 shooting — including 4 of 6 from three-point range — with six rebounds in 38 minutes. Junior forward Katie Collier added 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks to...
He calls it a “No, no … yes!” play, and Washington coach Mike Neighbors actually hands out an award for it at the end of each season.
Senior guard Alexus Atchley, an unlikely hero in the Huskies’ 69-63 victory over rival Washington State on Saturday afternoon, is the front-runner to win the award after she hit an awkward, left-handed shot off the backboard to give UW the lead early in the fourth quarter.
Surely, most of the 3,157 fans in Alaska Airlines Arena had the same thought as Atchley lowered her right shoulder and drove against the sticky defense of the Cougars’ Taylor Edmondson. Neighbors was thinking it. His assistant, Morgan Valley, even yelled it out loud: “No, no,” as in: Don’t shoot it.
And, of course, once Atchley’s shot went in, Neighbors, Valley and just about everyone else in the arena celebrated (“yes!”). Besides, after a circuitous college career that took her from Colorado to UW walk-on to little-used role player, Atchley is due a good bounce or two.
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“You’ve got to love (her) story,” Neighbors said.
In a poor shooting performance (by her standards) for UW star Kelsey Plum, it was the Huskies’ supporting cast that provided stability after the Cougars erased a 14-point first-half deficit.
Atchley, who played a total of 31 minutes in an injury-plagued season for the UW last year, scored a career-high 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting — including 4 of 6 from three-point range — with six rebounds in 38 minutes. Junior forward Katie Collier added 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks to continue her solid play of late.
The Huskies (15-4, 6-2 Pac-12) have suddenly come to expect this kind of performance from Atchley, a team captain. In three games since taking over as the starting shooting guard for injured Brianna Ruiz, Atchley is averaging 10 points, hitting 10 of 18 shots and 7 of 11 three-pointers in that stretch.
“She’s absolutely made the most of her opportunity, and she’s thriving in it now,” Plum said. “She’s the reason that we’ve won the past three games. … That’s the truth. She plays defense, she gets 50-50 balls, she gets big rebounds and she’s hit shots.”
Atchley had 10 points in the first half, including a three-pointer in front of the WSU bench to give UW a 29-17 lead early in the second quarter. She then had a nifty feed to Collier for an easy basket to give the Huskies their largest lead of the game at 31-17.
The Cougars (12-7, 3-5) rallied in the third quarter, using a stifling matchup zone defense to limit Plum to outscore UW 24-11 in the quarter. Frustrated at what he felt was a lack of calls for Plum, UW coach Mike Neighbors picked up his first technical foul of the season midway through the third.
Edmondson hit back-to-back three-pointers from the top of the key to give WSU its first lead, 49-47, going into the fourth.
After Atchley’s circus layup gave UW a 52-51 lead, the Cougars again surged back, taking a 61-60 lead off an inbounds play to Caila Haiely for an easy layup. It was back and forth after that: a Plum jumper, followed by two free throws from WSU’s Louise Brown. Plum added two free throws to give UW the lead again, and this time for good.
Plum, among the national leaders in free throws attempted and made, hit 7 of 8 free throws — all in the fourth quarter — as the Huskies scored the game’s final seven points to win their fourth consecutive game.
Plum finished with 24 points on 7-of-26 shooting, Chantel Osahor had six points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and Talia Walton had 13 points and eight rebounds for the Huskies, who play at No. 11 Stanford on Friday.
Borislava Hristova, WSU’s standout freshman from Bulgaria, had 13 points but also struggled from the field, shooting 5 of 17 in part because of Atchley’s solid defense. That, too, has suddenly become the standard for the Huskies’ sudden starter.
“It’s so fun. I love it,” Atchley said. “My team’s awesome. They’ve been nothing but supportive, and that’s helped me the whole way through.”