Maybe it will be made into a movie someday.
That’s because Washington’s 74-68 women’s basketball victory over No. 8 UCLA on Sunday afternoon on Senior Day at Alaska Airlines Arena had a Hollywood-type script.
It began with a UW senior, unable to play in college after five ACL injuries, getting announced into the starting lineup, then coming out for the opening tip.
And one of the most improbable wins in the Pac-12 this season ended with her back on the court for the final seconds.
This was always going to be a special afternoon with Amber Melgoza and Mai-Loni Henson, two Washington starters, playing their final home game.
They got a big surprise when the starting lineups were announced when the third senior on the UW roster, Gigi Garcia, was announced as a starter. They got a further surprise when Garcia went onto the court to contest the opening tip.
“My team has done so much for me and they always supported me through these hard times,” Garcia said. “I know they have always wanted me on the court with them and they’ve pushed me to get to that point. Physically, I knew it would never be possible but I wanted to surprise them and my family and give them that gift (of being on the court) on Senior Day.”
Garcia didn’t jump, and then the game was stopped. She was only on the court for a moment, but her impact lasted the entire game.
The Huskies (13-14, 5-11 Pac-12) never trailed and led by 13 points with 2:38 left in the game. UCLA (23-4, 12-4) went on a 9-0 run in a 56-second span to cut the deficit to 67-63 with 1:42 left.
But UW, which has blown several late leads this season, did not wilt.
When the Huskies had finally squelched a furious late rally with eight free throws in the final minute — including four by Melgoza and two by Henson — UW coach Jody Wynn surprised Garcia.
With three seconds left, Wynn brought Garcia back into the game. She inbounded the ball, then started celebrating with her teammates.
Garcia, whose father Aaron was a quarterback at Washington State, was a highly ranked recruit out of Sacramento, Calif. But after suffering three of her ACL tears at UW, her impact was off the court.
“She’s been an inspiration to every one of us since we stepped on campus with her,” Wynn said. “She’s a role model and I think the toughest kid I have ever been around. For her to be able to take the court on her (Senior Day) is just an ounce of what we can for do her in what she means to us. She’s a strong leader. She’s a strong woman.”
The Huskies, who lost at UCLA in overtime last month during a nine-game losing streak that derailed their season, led 15-12 after the first quarter. They led 30-19 in the second quarter before UCLA finished the half on a 7-0 run to trail by four at halftime.
It became obvious early in the third quarter that UW’s inspiration was not just a first-half phenomenon. The Huskies controlled play, taking a 50-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
The fourth period was much the same until UCLA’s quick 9-0 burst that was aided by a technical foul on Wynn.
But Melgoza, who earlier this season became the 11th Husky to surpass 1,500 points, helped the Huskies regain control. She finished with a team-high 22 points.
“We put our foot down and we won this game, and I am very proud of everybody,” said Melgoza, who added the win was among her top five highlights at UW.
Garcia said the day is one she will tell her kids about “all the time” someday — the day when she inspired her teammates.
“It was a moment that I assumed was going to be sad, but it’s definitely the happiest experience I have had here,” she said.
Husky forward Ali Bamberger, who had 12 points and five rebounds, went down late in the game with what is feared to be a significant right knee injury. “Just devastating,” said Wynn.
UW was already without starting center Darcy Rees, who recently suffered a season-ending foot injury.