Washington coach Mike Neighbors doesn’t want to make a big fuss about the atmosphere at UTEP.
“We’re not going in to play the Lakers,” Neighbors quipped of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal game against the Miners on Monday night.
UTEP drew a WNIT-record 8,234 fans at the Don Haskins Center on Friday, when the Miners beat Colorado for the right to host a fourth consecutive postseason game.
Reports said many of those fans immediately purchased discounted tickets for Monday’s game. UTEP gave 100 tickets to students; Miners coach Keitha Adams made a public push to sell out the 12,222-seat facility. UTEP averaged 2,193 fans during the regular season.
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The largest crowd Washington (20-13) has played in front of this season was 4,169 at Texas A&M in December. UW upset California in Berkeley before 3,900 in February.
Music normally plays at UW practices and Neighbors had it blaring during work on offensive sets Sunday in an attempt to give the Huskies a feel of how noisy the crowd will be for UTEP (27-7).
“It’s something new,” Neighbors said. “Most of these kids have never played in front of that many people. How you react is up to them but it’s going to be loud for everybody.”
But Washington’s three-guard lineup will attempt to counter that. Kelsey Plum, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, Jazmine Davis and Mercedes Wetmore have developed a solid communication with each other and Neighbors on the sideline this season.
Plum and Davis are the second-leading scoring backcourt in the nation (40.3 points). Wetmore averages a team-leading 4.2 assists.
Once Washington gets past the noise, it’ll have to figure out defending UTEP senior Kayla Thornton, a 6-foot-1 forward who averages 19.8 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Chrishauna Parker is an aggressive rebounder, averaging 8.8 this season.
Rebounding hasn’t been UW’s strength this season. Junior forward Aminah Williams leads the team (10.5 rebounds) but in three WNIT games, sophomore forward Talia Walton has helped more. She’s averaging 12 in the postseason.
Neighbors wants the team to continue to be aggressive in the paint and with its signature style in driving to the hoop and drawing fouls. UTEP created a 30-12 disparity in free-throw attempts against Colorado on Friday.
The Miners were 26 of 30 from the foul line in the 68-60 win. The Huskies can’t have the same happen and expect to win.
Washington and UTEP have never met in program history.
The winner of Monday’s game will play South Dakota State (26-9) in the WNIT semifinals. If UW were to advance, it would travel to Brookings. SDSU drew 3,792 fans for its 76-64 win against Indiana on Sunday.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.