Washington Huskies star Kelsey Plum started slowly Sunday, but finished strong, and her ability to score in the last four minutes has led her team into the Final Four to face Syracuse.
The most fascinating part of the Huskies’ frenetic start in their Elite Eight victory over Stanford on Sunday wasn’t how they did it but who didn’t contribute a point to the process.
Three minutes in, Washington had already run out to a 12-0 — and that was before Kelsey Plum had even attempted a shot. They led 20-5 before the junior guard scored her first basket.
Plum’s best skill is scoring. Her 2,401 points, most in UW women’s basketball history, prove that. But what Plum has come to realize in this remarkable NCAA tournament run is that her team is at its best when she’s more than just a scorer.
En route to the program’s first-ever Final Four berth, Plum made a concerted effort to get her teammates more involved in the offense early on. She recorded her third assist at the 4:34 mark of the first quarter and she didn’t score her first basket until 31/2 minutes later.
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She matched her season high with eight assists in the 85-76 win over Stanford, and in four NCAA tournament games, she’s averaging 7.25 assists — double her average of 3.67 assists in Pac-12 regular-season games.
Plum, who shifted from shooting guard to point guard at the start of the season, says she’s evolving.
“I think the biggest thing is I knew coming into the tournament, I’m not going to win it (by myself),” she said. “And that’s been a growth. I don’t know if I would’ve said that last year. So coming into it, I knew if I get my teammates going, I knew we were going to be good. And credit them: They’ve been huge, right? It makes my job so much easier. They’ve made a lot of shots and that gets me going.”
She passed more early, but as usual she didn’t pass up any open shots in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of her 26 points against Stanford in the final 10 minutes. She went 6 for 6 from the free-throw line in the final 1:18.
“Coach Castro always says, ‘Plum, the last four minutes — that’s your four minutes. There’s no such thing as a bad shot,’ ” she said of assistant coach Fred Castro. “I definitely take that to heart. I feel like in the last four minutes, the most aggressive team wins, right?”
Four Huskies scored in double figures Sunday. Chantel Osahor had 24 points and 18 rebounds and was named the Lexington Regional MVP. Senior Talia Walton had 12 points and senior Alexus Atchley had 11.
In four NCAA games, Plum is averaging 26.3 points — right at her season average, which overall ranks third in the nation — while shooting 38 percent from the field. She also has 20 rebounds, 29 assists and 15 turnovers.
On Monday, Plum was named to The Associated Press’ All-America third team, just the second Husky ever recognized on any of the AP teams. Giuliana Mendiola was an honorable-mention selection in 2002 and 2003.
The 10-player Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-America team, considered the most prestigious in the women’s game, will be announced Saturday. UW has never had a player named to that team.
Note: The No. 7 seed Huskies will play No. 4 Syracuse in the second national semifinal Sunday at 5:30 p.m. PT on ESPN2.
No. 2 Oregon State defeated No. 1 seed Baylor on Monday night to qualify two Pac-12 for the Final Four for the first time. The Beavers’ reward? A date with top-seeded Connecticut in the first national semifinal at 3 p.m. PT (ESPN).