Amber Melgoza sent a text to Washington women’s basketball coach Jody Wynn on Friday morning and wished her happy birthday.
Wynn shot back: “The only gift I want on this birthday is a W.”
And Melgoza replied: “I got you coach.”
Later that night, Melgoza made good on her promise while scoring a game-high 25 points and hitting two clutch three-pointers to give Wynn and Washington a much-needed 75-66 women’s basketball victory over USC, which snapped a two-game skid.
“There’s ice in their veins,” Wynn said. “They wanted to win this game so bad. They deserved it. It’s Senior Weekend. And we’ve been so close so many times.
“They were like, ‘No not tonight. Not tonight.’ That was kind of like their mindset.”
So often this season, the Huskies (12-14, 4-11 Pac-12) hadn’t been rewarded with a victory following a hard-fought performance.
Four weeks ago, Washington went to Los Angeles and lost twice in overtime by a combined eight points.
In front of 1,677 spectators in Alaska Airlines Arena, the Huskies extracted a little bit of revenge against USC during a game that had a little extra meaning for them.
“We were playing for a cause bigger than a game,” Wynn said in reference to UW’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness game. “We were wearing pink not just because it’s a pretty color, but to bring awareness for cancer and early detection. That awareness will hopefully lead to early screenings and more donations to help those doctors find a cure.
“We had survivors in our locker room before the game and when you’re looking at them eye to eye and knowing that they’re battling something far greater than a basketball game, how can you not come out here and play with effort.”
On the court, Washington took control early and used an 18-7 run at the end of the first quarter to take a 24-17 lead into the second.
The Huskies led 40-30 at halftime, which was a good omen considering they’re 0-8 in games when they’re trailing or tied at the break.
Washington extended its lead to 12 points in the third quarter, but USC began the fourth with an 11-6 run to cut its deficit to 61-58 with 4:07 remaining.
That’s when Melgoza answered with back-to-back three-pointers on the wing near the UW bench.
“Jody and (assistant Derek Wynn) reminded me, you shoot the ball every single day and get almost 100, sometimes 200 reps in that spot so you just got to knock it down,” said Melgoza, who converted 10 of 19 shots, including 2 of 4 behind the arc. “I told myself to just let it fly and it went in. And when I had another opportunity, I knew I was going to knock it down.”
On her second three-pointer, UW’s senior star held her follow-through for several seconds and pointed into the stands at the 35 family members and friends from her hometown of Santa Barbara who flew to Seattle to watch her final home games.
“It was so amazing to see all of those people,” Melgoza said. “When I shot those threes, I pointed right at them because I knew that energy was feeding me. And I’m just so grateful for all of that.”
On UW’s next offensive trip, Missy Peterson drilled a three-pointer that gave the Huskies a 70-60 lead with 1:56 left and essentially secured the victory.
Sophomore forward Haley Van Dyke scored 13 points while freshmen centers JaQuaya Miller and Ali Bamberger each added 10.
Miller started in place of sophomore forward Darcy Rees, who will miss the rest of the season due to a stress fracture in her right foot.
“We told Darcy that she is our fallen soldier and we were going to pick her up and that’s what we did,” Miller said. “We killed them on the rebounds tonight and that was the difference compared to the game down there.”
Washington outrebounded USC 39-21 thanks in large part to Bamberger who had eight and Miller’s six.
“With Darcy down, we knew that Quay and Ali had an opportunity today and we just asked them to play hard, box out and give us rebounds,” Wynn said. “Offense? Whatever they could give us was a bonus.”
Washington forced 16 turnovers and dominated the bench scoring 33-8 while overwhelming a short-handed USC team that relied on a seven-player rotation. Freshman forward Alissa Pili finished with 19 points and sophomore guard Desiree Caldwell had 13 for the Trojans, who fell to 13-13 and 5-10.
It was Wynn’s first victory against USC coach Mark Trakh, her mentor and former coach.
“It’s about time,” Wynn said.
After the game, UW players circled around the 46-year-old Wynn at halfcourt and sung happy birthday.
“These women are amazing,” she said. “This is the best gift ever.”