The Washington women’s basketball team could not secure its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 this season.
Readjusting its goal to winning the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, the Huskies passed the first hurdle by emphatically winning the first game, a 67-50 home victory over Hawaii on Friday night.
Washington will play its second-round game at Oregon on Monday at 7 p.m.
Huskies junior guard Jazmine Davis nailed a three-pointer with 10:46 left in the game to put UW up 50-39 and an air of confidence settled into Alaska Airlines Arena. Sophomore Talia Walton blocked three shots. Freshman guard Kelsey Plum made three-point plays. Davis had no-look passes to junior forward Aminah Williams.
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And Washington (18-13) closed in on a victory.
“It’s progress,” Washington coach Mike Neighbors said of his first postseason win at the college level.
UW defeated three ranked teams, including No. 6 Stanford and No. 24 Cal, during the regular season. But it also lost to Oregon State at home and Utah in its first game of the Pac-12 tournament. As a result, the Huskies (18-13) could not secure an NCAA bid.
Plum led all scorers with 24 points while Davis added 22 points, four assists and five steals. Williams had her 13th double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Hawaii was led by sophomore wing Destiny King (13 points).
“We wanted to prove to people that we still want to play,” Williams said. “We’re in it to win it. That’s our motto.”
Washington is hosting opening-round games of the NCAA tournament Sunday and Tuesday, so it cannot host the WNIT game despite having a better record than Oregon (16-15). The teams split their two meetings in the regular season, UW losing 101-85 in Eugene in January and winning 108-100 at home in February.
“We owe them one at their place,” Davis said of UO. “They just outdid us in everything, and I’m glad we’re playing a familiar opponent.”
“We know they do nothing but run,” she said. “That’s why Coach is giving us the day off (Saturday) because we need to have our legs as much as we can for Oregon. They’re really, really good in transition.”
Plum started the scoring for UW on Friday with a three-pointer and Davis ended the opening half with a three-pointer with five seconds left.
Neither team shot the ball well in the first half, however. UW scored 16 points on second-chance opportunities while Hawaii shot 29.6 percent from the field overall in the first half.
The Rainbow Wahine (17-14) returned leading scorer Kamilah Jackson (ankle) to the lineup. She came off the bench and provided a strong presence inside but was 3 for 11 from the field for 10 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes.
Oregon defeated Pacific on Thursday to advance. Ducks coach Paul Westhead was told before the Pac-12 tournament in Seattle his contract wouldn’t be renewed. Westhead’s contract expires March 31.
“You can tell they’re loose,” Neighbors said. “We’re going to have to be (better) than we were here to advance in this thing.”