This town has never had a team quite like these Huskies. It’s never had a group go from invisible one second to incredible the next.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kelsey Plum didn’t answer for 15 seconds.
Asked to reflect on her time at Washington, the Husky superstar choked up as the emotion hit her like a flash flood.
All the history she helped make there. All the memories she helped create. You could see those magic moments swirling in her head as she struggled to gather herself.
“I’ve really built a family here,” said Plum, whose team just suffered a 75-64 loss to Mississippi State in the Sweet 16. “It’s going to be difficult saying goodbye.”
For Seattle sports fans, the feeling is mutual.
This town has hasn’t had many teams quite like these Huskies. It’s hasn’t had a lot of groups that went from invisible one second to incredible the next.
The Seahawks, the Mariners, the Washington football and men’s basketball teams — those all had built-in fan bases that had season-openers circled on their calendars for months. But UW women’s hoops? That team jumped out from behind the door and gave the Emerald City a yearlong surprise party.
Thirteen months ago, there weren’t many people in Seattle who would recognize anybody from this team. Now, players such as Plum and fellow senior Chantel Osahor are local celebrities.
It has been a joyride nobody saw coming and one nobody wanted to end. But it finally did Friday — and who knows if we’ll see something like this again.
Who knows if we’ll see this team make another Final Four. You remember the pixie dust behind that run, don’t you? The seventh-seeded Huskies smashed second-seeded Maryland at Maryland, clobbered third-seeded Kentucky at Kentucky, then mastered fourth-seeded Stanford to reach college basketball’s biggest stage.
Suddenly Plum was boxing out Felix Hernandez for front-page centerpieces. Osahor’s flat-footed set shot was being analyzed on ESPN’s Sports Science. The Huskies certainly weren’t the best team in the nation, but they may have been the most charming.
And do you know what happened next? They got better.
Who knows if this program will ever produce as entertaining a product. When the season began, UW coach Mike Neighbors was just hoping his team would draw 5,835 people to Hec Ed for a game — which would be one of the top 25 attendances in program history. He ended up getting a record 10,000 fans against Stanford and a few others with at least seven grand.
Folks couldn’t stay away. They wanted to watch a team that led the country in three-pointers made, knowing Neighbors would bench a player who passed on an open shot. They wanted to watch a team that climbed to as high as No. 7 in the country as it plowed through one Pac-12 opponent after another.
They wanted to be a part of history. They wanted to see something they’d never seen before. They wanted to pay witness to talent that was not only spectacular, but entirely unique. And with Plum and Osahor, they got it.
Who knows if we’ll ever see players like those two again.
With Plum, fans got the NCAA record holder for career and single-season points. They got a point guard who shot over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the three-point line. They got a player who once scored 57 points using everything from pull-up threes, to floaters, to two-handed scoop shots — wowing crowds as she demoralized opponents.
You really had to see Kelsey to truly appreciate what she could do. Looking at the stat sheet rarely did her justice. And Chantel? It never did her justice.
Neighbors always used to say that game film couldn’t prepare opponents for Osahor — that it was always a different experience in person.
Yes, she led the nation in rebounding with more than 15 boards per game, and yes, she recorded the first triple-double in Husky basketball history. But the chess match she was playing in her mind — the fact that she was always two steps ahead of who she was playing against — that’s what made her special.
After Friday’s loss, Neighbors said that he probably wouldn’t be coaching if it weren’t for Plum and Osahor — that he’d “be working at Blockbuster if it were still around.”
Instead, after the three straight trips to the NCAA tournament, two straight trips to the Sweet 16, and a Final Four run, he got to be part of a plot usually reserved for the movies.
“We’ll probably have reunions for a long time with this group,” said Neighbors, whose team finished with a record of 29-6. “(Their accomplishments) should be written about for years and years and years.”
Maybe that’s the main takeaway from Friday. Maybe the focus shouldn’t be on an era ending, but rather the joy that era produced.
Will these Huskies be missed? Absolutely.
But they won’t be forgotten.