Kelsey Plum scores 24 points and sparks decisive 15-3 run that blows it open to lead the Huskies to a 65-53 win over Penn in the first round of the NCAA tournament, UW’s first tournament win since 2006.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The Washington women’s basketball team counts on Kelsey Plum as its offensive juggernaut. But it’s the supporting performances of Alexus Atchley that continue to stun Huskies coach Mike Neighbors.
The former walk-on gave her most important one yet on Saturday afternoon, hitting two late three-pointers and finishing with 11 points as the Huskies pulled away to defeat Penn, 65-53, for their first NCAA tournament victory since 2006.
“Every time I think the end of her story is written,” Neighbors said of the senior, “the story keeps getting better and better.”
Washington at Maryland, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Plum finished with 24 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, as the seventh-seeded Huskies finally got a victory in their third first-round contest since 2006, and second in as many seasons.
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Talia Walton added 18 points and Chantel Osahor had 10 rebounds to help the Huskies (23-10) survive a tough test against the 10th-seeded Quakers (24-5) and set up a second-round game against Maryland on Monday at 3:30 p.m. PT.
But it was Atchley’s three-pointer early in the fourth, off Plum’s kickout, that pushed Washington’s lead back to six and gave Neighbors and his team the belief that they would finally survive.
“You could see that, from Kelsey jumping in her arms, to Talia and Chantel,” Neighbors said of the moment.
Atchley has been a survivor throughout her college career, transferring from Colorado before her sophomore season and seeing her playing time reduced drastically during her junior year.
Then came Brianna Ruiz’s torn ACL in January, opening a window into the starting lineup for the Southern California native.
The Huskies needed a good dose of her resilience to rebound from a six-point first-quarter deficit and shooting just 27.3 percent (9 of 33) during the first half.
“We’ve been through a lot on this trip already,” Atchley said. “It was always the next thing, focus on the next thing. And so that’s what we did during the game, and it worked out.”
Atchley’s key three-pointer came during a 15-3 run that began when Plum found Walton for another open three-pointer late in the third.
Plum set up Walton beyond the arc again one possession after finding Atchley, then hit a running layup to make it 54-43.
Atchley truly sealed things on another three-pointer, the last of Plum’s seven assists, hitting from the left wing to make it 61-52 with 1:19 to play.
“We knew that we could try to wear them down throughout the game,” said Plum of her team’s 23-point final period. “The fourth quarter is kind of the time to put your foot on the gas.”
The Huskies played a disjointed first quarter and still struggled to find their footing by halftime.
Washington didn’t score until Walton’s pull-up jumper 4:15 into the contest, and the Quakers led 5-2 at the first media timeout after the teams hit only three of their first 15 combined shots.
By then, Neighbors was already adjusting his strategy for a game that came two weeks after the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
“They had us a little bit discombobulated, so we got off the script pretty fast,” Neighbors said. “It was: ‘Let Kelsey get going in transition. Let’s stop calling plays.’ I don’t want her looking over at me, I want her getting it and going. I thought that got us in a better flow.”
Sidney Stipanovich scored 16 points and Anna Ross added 13 for Penn, which upset Princeton on the final day of the Ivy League season to secure the league’s automatic bid.
“They hit some big shots that really affected us,” Stipanovich said of her team’s defensive effort. “Obviously, Plum, she got some fast breaks that really hurt us. But overall, I think it was a solid effort.”
|A Plum performance|
|Kelsey Plum helped the Huskies pick up their first NCAA tournament win since 2006. Here’s how her stat line compared to last year’s first-round game:|
|Date and opponent||FGM-FGA||Pts||Assists|
|March 20, 2015 vs. Miami (86-80 loss)||5-14||17||3|
|Saturday vs. Penn (65-53 win)||9-25||24||7|