Perhaps inspired by coach Mike Neighbors’ halftime rant, Kelsey Plum scores 21 of her 32 points in the second half to help the Huskies rally from a 10-point deficit for their third consecutive victory.
There wasn’t anything anyone could do to stop this second-half comeback.
After an abysmal first half, which preceded a “crazy” halftime outburst from typically mellow coach Mike Neighbors, the Washington women’s basketball team rallied to beat No. 25 USC, 69-60, Sunday afternoon to complete a weekend sweep of the ranked L.A. schools at home.
The Huskies (14-4) have won three in a row and sit in third place in the Pac-12 at 5-2. This week, they could also find themselves ranked in The Associated Press poll for the first time since 2003.
They will get at least one vote in the coaches’ poll.
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“I’m a top-25 voter, and I have not voted for us one time this year. Not one time,” Neighbors said. “I’m going to vote for us (Monday). I think we’re a top-25 team.”
They certainly didn’t look like one in the first half against USC (14-4, 2-4). For as tenacious and efficient as they were in knocking off No. 17 UCLA on Friday, the Huskies were equally soft and lackadaisical to start Sunday’s game, prompting a rare red-faced tirade from Neighbors in the locker room at halftime.
“Grandpa always said, ‘Save your crazy.’ Because if you’re crazy all the time, when you need it it’s not effective,” Neighbors said. “(That) was the first time they’ve ever seen me like that. …
“I’m normally very reserved and analytical and borderline sarcastic. But my mom would be embarrassed if (his outburst) ever got printed.”
He was “proud” of how the Huskies responded in the second half.
“We needed that,” junior forward Chantel Osahor said. “Maybe some people were surprised because he (usually) doesn’t yell … but I’m glad he did it.”
Trailing by 10 points at halftime, the Huskies needed a little more than 10 minutes to build a 10-point lead. The Huskies outscored USC 24-7 in the third quarter, and Talia Walton’s three-pointer in the first minute of the fourth quarter gave UW a 51-41 lead.
USC never offered much of a threat after that.
UW star guard Kelsey Plum, 4 for 11 from the field with six turnovers in the first half, was 6 for 8 in the second half and finished with 32 points. She didn’t leave the floor until after she made two free throws with 13 seconds left, then subbed out to a standing ovation from the 1,790 fans at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Plum, now with 1,950 career points, moved past Giuliana Mendiola (2000-04) into third place on UW’s all-time scoring list.
“It was a fun weekend,” Plum said. “This league is very talented, and I do feel like it was a defining sweep. It shows that we’re talented and when we come to play, we’re tough to beat.”
USC’s 6-foot-4 forward Temi Fagbenle, a Harvard graduate and a starter for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympic Games, was the best player on the floor in the first half. She had 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 18 first-half minutes, helping the Trojans build a 34-24 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Huskies flooded the paint with their 2-3 zone, limiting Fagbenle’s touches and daring the Trojans’ perimeter players to shoot. The strategy worked: Osahor and Katie Collier responded with a physical presence against Fagbenle, who had six points and five rebounds in the second half.
The Trojans were just 2 for 12 shooting in the decisive third quarter and were 5 for 28 overall on three-point attempts.
The Huskies shot 64 percent in the second half (14 for 22). Osahor (14 points, 11 rebounds) had her sixth double-double of the season, and senior guard Alexus Atchley (seven points, six rebounds, four assists) had another productive game in her second start in place of Brianna Ruiz, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
“We had to have a sense of urgency. There was too much on the line,” said Neighbors, now 6-0 in his UW career against USC and UCLA. “To beat two ranked teams in the same weekend, to get to 5-2 in the league … it was too big an opportunity to let slip by by not playing hard.”
They did it the hard way, but the Huskies got their defining sweep.
|Kelsey Plum moved past Giuliana Mendiola into third place.|