Washington claws out win against ASU to remain tied for first in Pac 12

Washington and Arizona State players box out for a rebound during Sunday's game. Photo courtesy of Washington Athletics.
Washington and Arizona State players box out for a rebound during Sunday’s game. Photo courtesy of Washington Athletics.

Seattle, Wash. – The No. 10 Washington Huskies earned another hard-fought victory over No. 23 ranked Arizona State Sunday, 70-57, to remain tied for first place in Pac 12 standings.

The Huskies also beat Arizona Friday, and are now 12-2 and tied with both Oregon State and Stanford in the brutal conference race that has been this season. With the victory, Washington has guaranteed themselves a first round bye in the upcoming Pac 12 Tournament, March 2-5 in Seattle. And they still have an opportunity to be the number one seed, depending on the outcome of the final four conference games.

“That’s massive, to only have to potentially win only three games,” Husky coach Mike Neighbors said. “Last year we played three, but we were running on fumes at the end of that third game. To not have to play that fourth game, it’s the first time we’ve done that.”

“And looking at the big picture, with the RPI of our conference, as the NCAA committee comes out, I think it’ll be hard to get us out of the Top 16. And the chance to play two NCAA tournament games at home.”

Washington was led by senior guard Kelsey Plum, who finished with a game-high 29 points. However, it wasn’t easy, as Plum went 0-7 from the three-point range. It was the first time all season she did not make a shot from beyond the arc.

Plum acknowledged the Sun Devil defense.

“(It was) tough. They felt good coming off my hand,” she said. “I thought I had decent looks. Something I don’t normally get against Arizona State. I don’t know if I was surprised or just rushed it. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t make a three in a game.”

Despite, shooting just 3-14 three-point shots, Washington was able to find different ways to score, primarily from dominant post play by Chantel Osahor, who finished with 18 points and 18 rebounds. It was her 22nd double-double on the year – tops in the NCAA. She also became just the second player in program history to score over 1,000 points and grab over 1,000 rebounds.

Neighbors was pleased that his team was able to make adjustments.

“You’re not going to make many three’s against Arizona State – they take that away from you,’ he said. “The fact that we can still find a way to…..score 46 points in the paint, that means we have a couple identities. We want to be known as a team in rhythm, take what the defense does and make them wrong.”

Despite holding Washington well below their season average, Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne faulted her team’s defense.

“We gave up way too many points in the paint.” she said. “We did not want Osahor to beat us. We did not do a good job helping on Plum in the second half. We wanted to take away her 3’s and her free throws and we did do a solid job with that. But we gave up too many layups.”

“And with Osahor, we didn’t give her the perimeter game, but then she goes down low. We let her pivot around us. We let them play to their strengths too much.”

Sophie Brunner led the Sun Devils with 16 points and four assists, while Reili Richardson added 13 points off the bench.

The game started out in a slower low-scoring pace, which favored the visitors. The Huskies led by just three points, 14-11, after one period.

Similar to Friday’s game against the Wildcats, the difference in this game for Washington was the second quarter, as they were able to pick up the pace and take advantage of Arizona State starter Quinn Dornstauder getting into foul trouble. The hosts then outscored the Sun Devils, 21-11, to build a 13-point halftime lead.

Turner Thorne said not having one of her team leaders on the floor hurt them – especially considering the squad is so young.

“It was tough,” she said. “I have two seniors and a bunch of babies. When one of those is taken out of the game, it’s tough against a team this good.”

Both teams were flat in the second half, each scoring 16 points in the third quarter and 19 points in the fourth quarter. But according to Turner Thorne, that wasn’t good enough.

“We needed to come out and play better in the second half, because we were so bad in the first half,” she said. “We’ve got four freshmen out there. It’s been baptism by fire this year. The lack of experience. This is a tough place to play.”

One of the biggest moments in the second half was during the third quarter, when the Sun Devils were on a 6-0 run and Pllum had just thrown an errant pass for a turnover. Osahor was able to immediately steal the ball back and lay it up for two, halting Arizona State’s momentum for good.

Neighbors said that was a turning point in the game.

“We were about to have to call a time out until Chantel was able to do that,” he said. “To be able to get the steal without fouling and get the score; it was a huge breath of relief. We were able to get that separation back. And every time in the 4th quarter when we needed a big basket we got one.”

Washington hits the road this week to face No. 18 UCLA Friday, and USC Sunday.