A string of 5 a.m. flights and a jolt of aggressive Washington defense wasn’t a favorable combination for San Diego. UW lulled USD into enough errors Wednesday night to win their Women’s National Invitation Tournament’s third-round matchup, 62-55.
Washington (20-13) will play the winner of Friday’s Colorado-UTEP game in Texas. The location of the WNIT quarterfinal matchup will be determined then. A spokeswoman with the WNIT only knew the game won’t be Saturday, when the other tournament teams will begin quarterfinal play.
San Diego had a 5 a.m. flight from California to Montana on Sunday, beating the Grizzlies on Monday. The Toreros had another 5 a.m. flight on Tuesday to Seattle for Wednesday’s game. The team has a 5 a.m. flight home on Thursday.
But the grind by San Diego wasn’t rewarded with a win at Alaska Airlines Arena.
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“I can’t fathom what those guys have been through on that travel side of it,” UW coach Mike Neighbors said. “I thought if we could hang around and hang around, we could get them in the last few minutes.”
The Huskies were dealing with fatigue of their own. Washington won at Oregon on Monday and then took the bus back immediately following the game and didn’t have a traditional practice on Tuesday.
Neighbors, who has led the program to its third consecutive 20-win season, said UO’s fast-paced style is like playing two games in one. Yet he pushed the team to travel back late Monday, arriving in Seattle at 3 a.m. so the players could sleep two nights in their own beds.
As the game teetered Wednesday, Neighbors reiterated that point.
“I told them: ‘Y’all remember that long bus ride? This is when it kicks in. This is that last eight minutes where we slept in our own beds and they’ve been in hotels and buses. We’ve got to be good.’
“We were great the last four minutes.”
Down 49-46 with 6:31 left in the second half, UW junior forward Aminah Williams forced a steal that eventually found freshman guard Kelsey Plum’s grasp. She darted to the hoop, drawing a foul for a three-point play that sparked an 11-1 run to help close out the win.
Plum, a native of Poway, Calif., about 20 miles outside of San Diego, finished with a game-high 21 points. USD senior guard Amy Kame led the Toreros with 20 points before fouling out with 12 seconds left in the game.
Washington used an aggressive defense and quick step on fast breaks to help build a nine-point lead with 6:42 remaining in the opening half. Then UW’s exhaustion settled in.
The Huskies missed defensive assignments and weren’t quick to grab the defensive rebound. The sluggish play helped the Toreros (24-9) close within 30-28 at the break.
There were six lead changes and four ties in the second half. UW scored 30 points overall off 22 USD turnovers, UW collecting 11 steals.
“Gritting it out and grinding, that’s just how we play,” said Williams, who finished with a game-high 17 rebounds and five steals to compliment seven points. “Because there are times when we’re not making shots, but we make it up on the defensive end. Getting steals, getting stops and trying to change the momentum.”
As for the Huskies’ next game, attendance is heavily weighed when making determinations for host sites. UTEP had 4,703 for its second-round win. UW drew 1,080 for its third-round game Wednesday.
“I know they’re trying to sell out that gym down there on Friday night,” Neighbors said of the Miners’ push for more home games. “It’s a tough trip and a tough place to play, if we have to travel. But we’ll watch.”
Senior guard Mercedes Wetmore, the team’s assist leader at 4.2 a game, became the Huskies’ leader in games played with the start Wednesday. Wetmore tied Giuliana Mendiola’s mark of 124 career games Monday.
“I’m pretty excited to say this year that I was able to play so many minutes and start something to help this program get to the next level,” Wetmore said. “I was telling the team that Cal won the whole NIT (2010) and it kind of boosted them into a consistent NCAA tournament team. So we’re taking this tournament very seriously.”