The Pac-12’s scoring leader has a sweet tooth and a sweet game. Whether she is on the court or on the bench, the point remains the same: Just feed her.
Kelsey Plum doesn’t hide her inner yearnings. She is intense and passionate and hungry in a way you have never seen on a basketball court.
That’s because she is literally hungry. Like all … the … time.
“I love to eat,” Washington’s sophomore star said.
Pac-12 women’s tournament
All games at KeyArena
Thursday: No. 10 Oregon vs. No. 7 Washington State, 11:30 a.m.; No. 11 Arizona vs. No. 6 UCLA, 2 p.m.; No. 9 Colorado vs. No. 8 USC, 6 p.m.; No. 12 Utah vs. No. 5 Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Friday: No. 2 Arizona State vs. WSU/Oregon, 11:30 a.m.; No. 3 Stanford vs. UCLA/Arizona, 2 p.m.; No. 1 Oregon State vs. USC/Colorado, 6 p.m.; No. 4 California vs. UW/Utah, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday: Semifinal, 6 p.m.; semifinal, 8:30 p.m.
Sunday: Championship game, 6 p.m.
TV: All games on Pac-12 Networks, except championship game, which will be on ESPN
During timeouts on the UW bench, as coach Mike Neighbors is perhaps drawing up a play designed for her, Plum usually has designs on the granola bar waiting there for her. (Her favorite: a crunchy peanut butter Clif Bar.)
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During halftime, she often will eat an entire sandwich. During a game’s most stressful moments, she is most ravenous.
“Especially when it’s getting kind of tense,” she said. “I just feel like it’s a relaxer.”
Plum, aptly named, has a sweet tooth and a sweet game. Whether she is on the court or on the bench, the point remains the same: Just feed her.
A leader on, off floor
Plum enters the postseason averaging 23.0 points a game, having wrapped up the highest scoring regular season in UW women’s basketball history. She is on track to become just the second Husky to lead the Pac-12 in scoring — joining Giuliana Mendiola (21.3-point average) in 2003-04 — while leading the Huskies (22-8, 11-7 Pac-12) to their best regular season in 12 years.
The fifth-seeded Huskies play 12th-seeded Utah on the opening day of the Pac-12 tournament at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at KeyArena.
Plum is eager to make this postseason march last. She already has put together one of the more-prolific seasons in school history, and she has done so playing since late December with an injured right knee.
When pressed, the 5-foot-9 guard from Poway, Calif., shrugs off the severity of the injury in a similar fashion with which she nudges off defenders on sharp drives to the hoop.
“What’s best for the team,” she said, “is for me to play.”
After the injury, Plum’s mother, Katie, came to Seattle. They met with doctors and trainers and, Neighbors said, they decided collectively that Plum would be fine continuing to play.
“The doctors assured everybody that there was nothing further she can do (to damage) her knee,” Neighbors said. “It was just, ‘Hey, can you handle this pain?’ Some people can, and some people can’t.”
Plum said she never considered not playing.
“Every now and then I need some Advil,” she said, “but it’s not that bad.”
Since the injury, Plum hasn’t missed a game; she has barely missed a moment on the floor, averaging a Pac-12-best 37.8 minutes per game. UW senior guard Jazmine Davis is second in minutes played at 36.9.
“I tell you, I’m just so amazed that she continues to be able to function,” Neighbors said of Plum. “There were two NBA players that went out (last week) with the same injury, and they’re packing it up. Not Kelsey Plum. She said, ‘I can play.’ And of all the things she does, that may be one of the more amazing things.”
Plum prefers to focus on the wonderful season the Huskies have had. UW leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 75.6 points per game, and with an RPI of 30, the Huskies are almost certain to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2007.
“We’re gunslingers,” Plum said. “From top to bottom, everyone’s a gunslinger here. I don’t think we’re afraid of anything, yet we know we need to continue to get better to try to make a run.”
The topic of Plum’s free-throw shooting comes up, and it gives the affable Neighbors room to gloat. If only for a moment.
On her way into the gym one afternoon, Plum noticed Neighbors’ car in the parking lot. She sent him a message, challenging him to a free-throw shooting contest. Neighbors was game, and he won.
“I was on a roll,” he remembered. “I think I made 50 out of 50 to win. And I think she made 49. If you have to make 50 of out 50 to win, you’re not going to win very many times.”
In their two and a half years at UW together, that was one of Neighbors’ two victories against the left-handed Plum, who leads the Pac-12 with a 90.2-percent shooting clip from the free-throw line. She has made more free throws (193) than anyone in the nation, with the third-most attempts (214).
Most days, Neighbors doesn’t stand much of a chance.
“She shoots right-handed sometimes just to keep it close,” he said, “and to embarrass me.”