Huskies star Kelsey Plum and UW coach Mike Neighbors are two big personalities that had two distinct reactions to that loss to Stanford.
Kelsey Plum was the first to speak, and you could see the pain on her face. Midway through a response to a postgame interview question, the Washington senior gave a sigh that revealed more than any number of words could have.
The No. 7 Huskies had just lost to 10th-ranked Stanford, 72-68, despite holding an 18-point lead in the first half. And they suffered that defeat in front of a sellout crowd that shattered the previous women’s basketball attendance record at UW.
Plum knew her team gave away a chance to slap an exclamation point on a historic night, and the disappointment was clear.
“That was kind of the whole point (of getting the big crowd). Show up and we’ll win,” said Plum, who finished with 44 points on 17-of-27 shooting. “I almost want to apologize because I feel like we didn’t do our job.”
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Mike Neighbors was the second to speak, and you could see the pride on his face. The Washington coach began his postgame news conference by raving about the atmosphere the home fans created.
All Neighbors had wanted for months was an attendance higher than 5,834, which would crack the top 25 crowds in program history. Sunday, he got an attendance of 10,000, which was No. 1 by more than 1,500 people.
Neighbors knew his team could have earned a monumental win and improved to 21-2, but to him, that wasn’t the moral of Sunday’s story.
“Not disappointed. Not upset. Nothing. Not discouraged,” Neighbors said. “For us to come out and see 10,000 people — regardless of the score — whether we would have been on the top end of that or the bottom end of that. A day that we all worked for and a day that we’ll all remember.”
Plum and Neighbors are two big personalities that had two distinct reactions to that loss to Stanford. So who was in the right?
Actually, both of them were.
There’s no writing around the fact that Sunday’s defeat was a big-league bummer for the Dawgs. When Plum hit her sixth straight three-pointer in the first half, Alaska Airlines Arena became the epicenter of the city. Russell Wilson and Ciara were on hand because Wilson’s sister plays for the Cardinal — but based on the vibe through those first 20 minutes, you got the feeling the couple might become regular attendees.
Soon enough, however, Stanford chopped away at that seemingly insurmountable lead. Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer made a defensive adjustment, Plum got in foul trouble, and the rest of the Huskies struggled to make shots.
Had Washington managed to hang on, it would have surged even higher in the polls, tied Oregon State atop the Pac-12 standings and become the temporary toast of the town. But because the game slipped away — and this feels brutal to write — fans may not feel as inclined to bum rush the doors for the next home game.
You get the feeling Plum understood that, which made the loss particularly sobering. But at the same time …
Wow. No, seriously. To pack 10,000 people into Hec Ed for a women’s hoops game was incredible. It’s partly a testament to Seattle’s passion for sports, but more than anything, it’s a testament to this team.
The Huskies captured the city’s attention by making a Final Four run last year, but Sunday was the true indication as to how far this program has come. And when you win 20 of your first 22 games, have the nation’s leading scorer in Plum (31.3 ppg), the nation’s leading rebounder in Chantel Osahor (14.6 rpg), and have made 30 more three-pointers than any team in the country (255 total), the attention is deserved.
Neighbors knew selling out the building was a signature moment, which made the loss tolerable. But now the question is: What’s next?
The Huskies (8-2 in conference) trail Oregon State (9-1) and Stanford (9-1) in the Pac-12 standings and are tied for third with UCLA (8-2). None of those teams will be in Alaska Airlines Arena for the rest of the regular season, although Washington will face the Bruins on the road.
However, all of those teams will be in Seattle for the Pac-12 women’s tournament, which UW has never won. Perhaps that will be its chance for redemption.
The Huskies didn’t take advantage of the second half against Stanford on Sunday. But if they’re lucky enough to earn another sellout, you’d like to think they would take advantage of a second chance.