Washington coach Mike Neighbors was certain about one thing when he booked Oklahoma for the season-opener Friday: “We’re going to come back better.”
Neighbors coached a solid game against OU coach Sherri Coale. But the latter ended up winning her 400th career game, 90-80. And the former picked up two glaring things about his team. No. 1, UW sophomore G Kelsey Plum can score against anyone. No. 2, it won’t matter if UW’s post defense doesn’t improve.
The Sooners (1-0) were swing dancing in the paint, spinning off the Huskies’ defense numerous times for layins or turnaround jumpers. OU Senior G Sharane Campbell-Olds displayed impressive improvement in finishing with 26 points, 11 rebounds and three steals against UW. OU redshirt junior F Kaylon Williams was even better, scoring 23 points with 10 rebounds and luring UW’s posts into foul trouble while drawing charges on defense.
“I know there are a lot of great and bigger post players in our conference (Big 12),” Williams told reporters after the win. “I’m just kind of sending a message that I’m down there, ‘watch out.’”
The duo helped Oklahoma outscore Washington 48-32 in the paint and post a 43-30 rebounding differential. UW post options Chantel Osahor, Aminah Williams, Talia Walton, and Katie Collier each had four fouls apiece by the 5:49 mark in the second half. The Huskies still managed to chop a 16-point deficit with 5:36 left to 86-80 with 1:12 on the clock.
Walton missed a three-pointer with 33 seconds remaining that could have inched UW within three points. She missed a pair of free throws with 21 seconds remaining and UW down 87-80.
“They were all fouls,” Neighbors said of the calls against his posts, Walton and Plum fouling out late. “It (post defense) is a point of emphasis this year and we knew it. We’ve just got to teach some technique better. We need to improve our post offense, too.”
Neighbors, who’s in his second season at UW, is also watching how the team responds to the loss. UW started on the road at St. Mary’s last season, losing 91-81. Washington returned and lost its home-opener, 91-77, to Portland at Alaska Airlines Arena.
UW (0-1) hosts South Dakota (1-0) on Thursday. The Coyotes advanced to the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in program history.
“The lesson we learned last year is if you let the loss linger…you can’t let Oklahoma beat you twice,” said Neighbors, whose team returns to practice on Monday. “Our offense, I have zero issues with; the focus will be on defense. From my background, it takes the offense a lot longer to get going, so we focus on that a bit at the first of the year. Our defense will catch up. It did last year and will this year.”
As stellar as Oklahoma played, however, broadcast announcers couldn’t peel their focus from Plum. The sophomore, who’s among ESPN’s top-25 players in the nation, scored a career-high 45 points on 15-for-27 shooting from the field, making 12 of 12 shots from the foul line. Plum also only committed one turnover in her 39 minutes, dishing out five assists, grabbing four boards, picking off three steals and blocking two shots.
Midway thorough the opening half, Billy Tubbs, a former coach turned color commentator, and co-host Bob Carpenter began wondering what defenses would stop Plum. The box-and-one? The triangle-and-two? Slice-a-Plum like Hack-a-Shaq? “And you have three years of her, folks,” Tubbs quipped.
“This was a big-time game,” Tubbs said post-game. “More like conference games that you play in February as opposed to the first game of the season. What a terrific performance by this young lady from the University of Washington (Plum).”
In addition to a career-mark, Plum’s 45 points is a Washington program-record and the most by any player at the Lloyd Noble Center. Former Oklahoma star Courtney Paris (Tulsa Shock) scored 41 points in 2007. OU opponent Patrice Hoskins scored 40 points for her Mississippi Valley State at the Noble Center in 1988.
“It was the easiest 45 I’ve ever seen in my life,” Neighbors said. “They (Oklahoma) said in their pre-game that they wanted to hold Kelsey to single-digits. So, not only did she do it (score double-figures), she did it against a team whose emphasis was on her. And it wasn’t like Kelsey was dominating. She did it steadily throughout the game and it was fun to watch.”