It wasn’t always pretty, but the Washington women’s basketball team overcame a woeful three-point shooting performance and pulled away from the upstart Bobcats in the second half.
The third-seeded Huskies withstood an offensive onslaught from Peyton Ferris to move past No. 14 Montana State and capture a 91-63 victory in Saturday’s NCAA tournament opener.
It wasn’t always pretty, but the Washington women’s basketball team overcame a woeful three-point shooting performance and a slow start to pull away from the upstart Bobcats in the second half, much to the delight of a near-capacity crowd of 8,059 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Kelsey Plum returned to her home floor for the first time since scoring a Pac-12-record 57 points and breaking the NCAA all-time scoring mark.
NCAA second-round game, Oklahoma (23-9) @ UW (28-5), 6 p.m., ESPN2
Despite converting just 1 of 7 three-pointers, the 5-foot-8 guard was able to get to the rim for layups and midrange jumpers for most of her 29 points. She was also 8 for 8 on free throws.
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“Our game plan going in was to try to take away the three-point line and foul line,” Montana State coach Tricia Binford said. “We obviously didn’t do the job on the foul line.”
Slowing down Plum, who entered the game leading the nation with a 31.7 scoring average, was easier for the Bobcats than containing UW’s other star, Chantel Osahor.
The 6-2 center dominated inside with 19 rebounds and 16 points for her 28th double-double this season. Because of Osahor, UW outrebounded Montana State 51-40.
“You can watch her on film and obviously her strength shows, but until you truly (try) to box her out or get position, you don’t know,” Binford said. “There were some possessions where we had the rebound and there is nothing I can ask more of from my players and she still got the rebound.”
Ferris added: “You’ve been hearing about them on ‘SportsCenter’ all year and watching them on TV. Just to get the opportunity to play against them, it was awesome. Two respectable people. I don’t know if I’ve ever respected an opponent more than those two.”
The Huskies expected big performances from their two stars in their first home NCAA tournament game since 1995.
However, it was unclear if UW’s supporting cast would step up in front in a big game. In similar occasions this season, the other Huskies accounted for less than half the scoring.
In their NCAA tournament debuts, freshman guard Aarion McDonald and Natalie Romeo, a junior transfer from Nebraska, provided a much-needed offensive lift.
McDonald darted into the lane for many of her 15 points and Romeo, who had three three-pointers, added 11 points.
“For us to beat the very best teams in this tournament it can’t just be Osahor and Plum. … I think we got contributions all the way down the line tonight,” Neighbors said.
Washington (28-5) faces No. 6 Oklahoma (23-9) at 6 p.m. Monday to advance to the Sweet 16 in Oklahoma City. The Sooners defeated No. 11 Gonzaga 75-62 in the earlier game.
Montana State, the Big Sky tournament champion, put a scare into the Huskies early and looked as if it had a chance to be the first No. 14 seed to win an NCAA tournament game.
The Huskies trailed 17-16 after the first period after it misfired on 9 of 10 three-pointers in the quarter and Delany Junkermier banked in a 21-footer at the buzzer.
“The first quarter felt like us,” Binford said. “We made them work for a lot of the shots that they got. I thought our energy was fantastic. Our effort was very, very solid.
“And then over the course of the game, with a team like that with their athleticism and size, it just wears on you and that’s where mental breakdowns start to pile up.”
It was the first game for Washington in 15 days, and Neighbors contributed the slow start to being rusty. During the two-week layoff, he pushed the Huskies hard at practice and had them participate in a simulated game complete with officials.
No amount of practice could prepare UW for Ferris.
The 5-9 forward had a career-high tying 33 points on 10-for-28 shooting. She was 10 of 12 on free throws and had seven rebounds.
“We tried different people on her,” UW coach Mike Neighbors said. “We kept running different looks at her. And she could have had 50, probably.
“She’s unguardable. You can’t keep her from getting a shot. You just have to make sure it’s contested. … She’s a matchup problem for everybody and not just us.”
Riley Nordgaard added 10 points for Montana State (25-7).