When Washington basketball stars Kelsey Plum and Andrew Andrews agreed to face off in a game of P-I-G for us this week, we were there to watch it, shoot it and write about it.
“So,” I said to Washington point guard Andrew Andrews, the leading scorer in the Pac-12, “you think you’re gonna take her?”
“I know I’m gonna take her,” he said. And then he walked away.
The senior has plenty of reason to be confident these days. The 21.7 points Andrews averages are more than four points better than anyone else in conference, and his team is tied for first in the Pac-12 men’s basketball standings. But when we talked Tuesday afternoon, he was about to face his fiercest competitor yet — UW women’s point guard Kelsey Plum.
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Plum, you see, also leads the Pac-12 in scoring. It’s just that, at 27.2 points per game, the junior leads the nation in scoring, too.
Still, when The Seattle Times arranged for the two to play a game of H-O-R-S-E at Alaska Airlines Arena, Andrews picked himself as the sure-thing winner. Which is good — because everyone else picked Plum.
“I gotta go with Kelsey,” UW women’s coach Mike Neighbors said.
“Plum,” center Chantel Osahor added matter-of-factly.
The sports information directors for the men’s and women’s teams each took Kelsey as well, but at least Andrews had men’s coach, Lorenzo Romar, right?
“I don’t know,” said Romar, serious as can be. “I don’t think Kelsey loses things like that.”
No, Kelsey does not lose things like that. Fearing the game might drag on, Ashley Walker, the men’s basketball sports information director, recommended the two play P-I-G instead of H-O-R-S-E. Oops. Plum didn’t miss once and wrapped the game up in eight shots.
She hung a “P” on Andrews when he failed to match her on an opposite-hand free throw (Plum is left-handed, Andrews right-handed), got the “I” with a three-pointer and iced it with another off-hand free throw.
Andrews never had a chance to take a shot of his choosing, and he couldn’t help but make note. “She’s the leading scorer in the country and you let her shoot first?”
Andrews said this light-heartedly, but the point was taken. For the sake of male egos everywhere, we’ll make this a best two-out-of-three.
The Pac-12 is the only NCAA Division I conference in the country in which the leading scorer in men’s and women’s basketball hail from the same school. But that’s hardly the only thing Plum and Andrews have in common.
Both are point guards who played off the ball earlier in their careers. Both have a second residence at the free-throw line, with Plum’s 146 made foul shots leading the country and Andrews’ 159 good for second among men.
Both are also among the Pac-12’s top 10 in assists, but if you’re looking for the comparison that best explains their success, Coach Neighbors put it best.
“If I’m in the gym, and I hear a ball bouncing, it’s either Andrew or Kelsey,” he said.
Natural ability will get you in the door in the world of college basketball, but it’s hard work that puts you in the VIP lounge.
Plum’s dedication has increased her scoring average every season — from 20.9 points as a freshman, to 22.6 as a sophomore, to 27.2 points this season — and may springboard her to the NCAA’s career scoring record.
Andrews’ devotion is responsible for boosting his average from 15.0 points as a junior to 21.7 now, and his assist average has more than doubled since last season.
Perhaps that’s why these two find themselves texting each other after big wins, as Kelsey did after Andrew posted 30 points and 12 assists against Arizona State on a recent Saturday. Or why Plum screamed at Andrew “stop fouling!” while the men were playing Colorado last week.
There’s a mutual admiration between these stars. They want each other to succeed.
Well, at least most of the time they do ….
Kelsey finally missed when a 16-footer clanked on the third shot of Game 2. But Andrews failed to capitalize, bricking a half-court heave instead. One shot later, Plum nailed a three from the top of the key while standing on one foot. Andrew couldn’t match, giving him a “P.”
Andrews stopped the bleeding by swishing a high-archer from behind the backboard a couple of shots later. Plum’s attempt rimmed out, making it one “P” apiece. About 15 seconds later, Andrew hit a 25-footer from straightaway that Kelsey couldn’t match, putting him one letter away from tying the series. And that’s when Plum’s competitive juices started bubbling.
When Andrews stepped back to 30 feet in an attempt to close the game out, Kelsey quipped “why are you backing up? Is it because you know you can’t beat me within the arc?” Well, yeah, that’s probably exactly why. But he did make the long three. Plum didn’t. Which means one more game for all the marbles.
“OK,” Kelsey said, “but if it gets close, we’re gonna make it P-I-G-L-E-T.”
So far, you’ve gotten a crash course on Plum and Andrews’ similarities, and make no mistake — a cutthroat competitive nature is one of them. But there are also plenty of differences.
Kelsey was a McDonald’s All-American at La Jolla Country Day High School in San Diego. Andrews was a three-star recruit out of Benson High in Portland.
Kelsey is a media darling who spends her free time on the town shopping with friends. Andrews, while always pleasant and insightful, is a lot more subdued in front of cameras — and spends his downtime watching Netflix.
Last week, cameras caught Kelsey drawing up a play on the white board for Neighbors during a game against Washington State. Asked about it afterward, Plum emphasized that she was making a polite suggestion that she thought would help the team. Neighbors, smiling, described the event a little differently.
“She said, ‘give me the board.’”
Andrews probably won’t be making such a demand this year, but Romar insists his input is invaluable. And just like Plum, Andrews has the adoration of every teammate.
Why wouldn’t he? The media picked the Huskies men to finish 11th in the Pac-12, but they’re 13-6 overall and 5-2 in conference. And why wouldn’t Plum? The UW women (15-4, 6-2) are No. 25 in the nation and on pace for an NCAA tournament appearance. Andrews and Plum have a lot to brag about, if they were the type to do so.
But now there’s the small matter of bragging rights.
After Andrews missed a half-court shot to open the third game, Kelsey went back to ol’ reliable — the opposite-hand free throw.
“Same trick pony,” Andrews said.
“It works,” Plum replied.
It certainly does. Plum improved to 3 for 3 on that off-hand foul shot and gave Andrews a “P” when he missed with his left hand. But after Kelsey clanked a fadeaway, Andrews answered with a 30-footer from the left-side to even the score. For his next shot, Andrews moved to the other side of the floor, stood on the outline of the Seattle skyline, asked “is this Starbucks right here?” then chucked a 30-footer. No good. Plum came back with a swish from the top of the key, Andrews failed to match it, and it was Kelsey “P,” Andrew “P-I.”
What followed were one-legged set shots, eyes-closed free throws (worth checking out in the video), and swishes from 18 feet. Andrews tied the score by hitting a three-pointer from behind the backboard that Kelsey couldn’t equal. He went for the kill with another try from half-court but missed. Plum was done messing around at that point. She hit her fourth straight off-hand free throw, watched Andrews miss, then called “game!”
“I just want to thank God,” said Plum in celebration. “I want to thank the University of Washington for giving me this opportunity. Thank you, guys. Thank you.”
Andrews, as you could imagine, wasn’t quite as enthused. But if it’s any consolation, he may soon be able to say he fell to the No. 1 scorer in women’s basketball history.
In the meantime, we get to watch the top two scorers in the Pac-12 for at least another month and a half. Can either Huskies team win the conference? Eh, that’s a lot to ask.
But as Andrews and Plum have confirmed, they always have a shot.