Kelsey Plum has a rare off night, but Chantel Osahor and Talia Walton more than picked up the slack to help carry the Huskies to an 85-72 win over Kentucky on Friday. UW is in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2001 and will face Stanford on Sunday.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — She shuffled out from the joyous Washington locker room in flip flops, sporting two bags of ice around her aching knees, a grin on her face and a hug for just about everyone within earshot.
Talia Walton was happy. And why wouldn’t she be? Moments earlier, the Huskies’ senior wrapped up the best game of her career by wrapping up Chantel Osahor in her arms on the renowned Rupp Arena court, a short embrace for a victory that was a long time coming.
It was Washington 85, Kentucky 72 on Friday night in the Lexington Regional semifinal, and it’s the Huskies moving on to the Elite Eight of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
And it was, actually, a rather restrained celebration for a UW program that hasn’t played in a regional final since 2001. The Huskies, the region’s No. 7 seed, have never been to the Final Four, and they’ll get that chance against Pac-12 rival Stanford, the fourth seed, in the regional final at 10 a.m. PT Sunday.
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“We’ve had a motto throughout the tournament: What is next?” Walton said after scoring 30 points on 14-of-25 shooting.
The Huskies (25-10) have been the surprise of this tournament, knocking off two highly ranked teams this week on the opponents’ home court in the Eastern time zone.
Four days after shocking fifth-ranked Maryland, the Huskies were even better against 12th-ranked Kentucky, building a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter before a rowdy blue-clad crowd of 8,509.
“I thought our group today was about as good as we’ve played,” UW coach Mike Neighbors said, “and I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
Osahor had 19 points, 17 rebounds and five assists and Kelsey Plum overcame a cold start to finish with 23 points, six rebounds and seven assists. It was Walton, the senior forward from Federal Way, who seemed to have an answer for every Kentucky run, be it a three-pointer, a slashing drive or a smooth turnaround jumper on the block.
“We call it ‘Talia zone,’ ” Neighbors said. “I always look to Coach (Fred) Castro when I get stuck for a play and nine times in a row it (was) something for Talia. So it’s like, oh, keep going.”
The Huskies have come to expect those kinds of hot-shooting streaks from Plum, who had 32 points in the upset of Maryland. To have Plum, Walton and Osahor all playing this well at the same time? Well, let’s put it this way: If they do it again Sunday, they almost certainly will be marching on to the Final Four.
“We’re extremely dangerous,” Walton said. “We feed off one another. I hit a three. Chantel hits a three. Kelsey comes down and hits a three. It flows. When we are like that, like you said, it’s hard to guard us and play against us. So we just try to stay in attack mode and keep each other going.”
With Plum held to 3-of-10 shooting in the first half, the Huskies got contributions from elsewhere. Even backup guard Kelli Kingma swished in a three-pointer, her first basket in 22 days, and reserve Mathilde Gilling recovered from a knee injury to spell Osahor for five first-half minutes.
When Osahor went to the bench with her second foul midway through the second quarter, the Wildcats (25-8) closed the half on a 9-2 run. That cut UW’s lead to 35-30 at halftime.
But even with a stellar performance from Makayla Epps (30 points), Kentucky trailed by double digits most of the second half. Osahor, with her flat-footed set jump, beat the buzzer with a long three-pointer to end the third quarter, extending UW’s lead to 63-49.
Stanford 90, Notre Dame 84
Erica McCall scored a career-high 27 points and No. 4 seed Stanford stunned No. 1 seed Notre Dame, snapping the Fighting Irish’s 26-game winning streak.
Stanford (27-7) beat Washington at home during the regular season and lost to the Huskies in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals at KeyArena earlier this month.
|Lowest seeds to reach Final Four|
|There have only been three teams seeded seventh or lower that reached the women’s Final Four. Washington and Tennessee, both seeded seventh, look to achieve the feat Sunday:|
|9||Arkansas||1998||Lost to Tennessee in national semifinals, 86-58|
|8||Missouri State||1992||Lost to Western Kentucky in national semifinals, 84-72|
|7||Minnesota||2004||Lost to UConn in national semifinals, 67-58|