A year ago, Plum had minor knee surgery in early April, rehabbed and then went immediately to play for USA Basketball in the Pan American Games.
After spending 16 of the previous 19 days in the Eastern time zone, playing ball and zigzagging back and forth across the country (logging some 5,400 miles in the air and 200 non-stop minutes on the basketball court ) while introducing herself to a national audience during the Huskies’ first run to the women’s Final Four, Kelsey Plum took a breath Tuesday.
Back in Seattle, the grunt work began: She cleaned her room and took out the trash, catching up on some of the day-to-day chores that have been understandably neglected the past few weeks of wonderful madness.
What she wasn’t quite ready to do, some 36 hours after the Huskies’ loss to Syracuse in the national semifinals in Indianapolis, was reflect on the historic NCAA tournament that put UW on the map.
3 Seniors graduating from the team, including starting forward Talia Walton, starting guard Alexus Atchley and reserve center Mathilde Gilling.
4 Incoming freshmen from a recruiting class ranked 16th nationally, including point guard Aarion McDonald, guards Amber Melgoza and Mai-Loni Henson and forward Gigi Garcia.
2,418 Career points by UW guard Kelsey Plum. She’ll have a chance to chase down the NCAA’s all-time record of 3,393 points next season.
“I’m not a big reflection-type person,” said Plum, the Huskies’ All-American junior guard. “It’s always something I’ve had to work on, just savoring these kinds of memories. I’m always just on to the next thing.”
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She wasn’t planning to watch the national-championship game Tuesday night between Syracuse and Connecticut. The wounds from the Huskies’ loss Sunday were still fresh, and she wants to take a break from basketball.
A year ago, Plum had minor knee surgery in early April, rehabbed and then went immediately to play for USA Basketball in the Pan American Games. She’s looking forward to some rest this offseason.
“I didn’t really take a lot of time off last year, and I know that I need a lot of time off now,” she said. “It’s been a long season, and I played a lot of minutes, so I’m not in a rush to jump back out.”
Plum was the catalyst for UW’s breakthrough season, averaging 25.9 points per game, breaking the school’s all-time scoring record and becoming the program’s first WBCA All-American. She finished fourth in the nation in scoring average, first in free throws made and attempted and first in minutes played. She played a full 40 minutes in all five of the Huskies’ NCAA tournament games.
She will be back for one more season, with a chance to chase down the NCAA’s all-time scoring record — and another postseason push.
“I’m going to be a lot better. I’m going to be a significantly better player before next year,” she said.
The Huskies lose three seniors, including Talia Walton, one of the best all-around players in program history. She was sensational in the NCAA tournament, capping her career with a Final Four-record eight three-pointers Sunday. Gone, too, are starting guard Alexus Atchley and center Mathilde Gilling, UW’s top reserve.
“These girls are going to do tremendous things next year and the years to come,” Walton said after the loss to Syracuse. “This team, this program is on the rise. That was my main goal when I got here — I wanted to make sure I could accomplish something like this, and I’m just blessed to say that I have.”
Scheduled back are veteran forwards Chantel Osahor, the MVP of the Lexington Regional, and Katie Collier and reserve sharpshooter Kelli Kingma. Four incoming freshmen are expected to give the program a boost: point guard Aarion McDonald, guards Amber Melgoza and Mai-Loni Henson and forward Gigi Garcia. That recruiting class was ranked No. 16 nationally by one service.
“I’m very confident in the people we have, and we do have a lot of recruits who will make a difference right away,” Plum said.
In the locker room immediately after the loss to Syracuse, UW coach Mike Neighbors emphasized how much the team had accomplished — 26 victories, upsets of tournament teams seeded second (Maryland), third (Kentucky) and fourth (Stanford), and becoming the lowest seed (7) in 12 years to reach the Final Four.
“Obviously,” Neighbors said, “when you get this close to something and you want it so bad, it hurts. And I think part of the process of going through that is letting it hurt for a while. I don’t want to move them too far too fast; I want to let them deal with it on their own.
“But I did tell them, ‘Your brain is a funny thing, and if you don’t (reflect) at some point — if you dwell on the negatives or you dwell on one possession — your brain will shut down on you and it won’t allow you to improve.’ ”
Plum, for one, wasn’t quite ready to reflect, but she got a text message Monday that helped put things into context. It was from former UW star guard Giuliana Mendiola, now an assistant coach at UC Irvine. Mendiola wrote: “It wasn’t your greatest game and it was not the team’s best game, but what you guys did for Seattle is you made them believe in women’s basketball again.”
“That,” Plum said, “was pretty cool.”