College Park, MD -- The Washington Huskies proved that March is filled with Madness as they pulled off the upset of the tournament so far, beating the Maryland Terrapins 74-65 on their home floor.
Junior Kelsey Plum lead the Huskies offensively with a game-high 32, and senior Talia Walton added 20. Junior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough with 17 led Maryland. Senior Brene Moseley added 16, and sophomore Kristen Confroy chipped in 11.
While many may have been shocked by Washington's upset win, none of those people were in the Huskies locker room.
"Credit to everyone in our locker room, there was not one ounce of doubt coming into this game. Now I think from the outside looking in, I don't think a lot of people expected us to compete, and you know what? That's okay," Plum said.
"We know what we can do and as we continue to move on it's the same feeling. We can't have any doubt when we go into a game plan. Everyone's gotta be all in. So, if we can continue to have that mindset I think we can really continue to compete."
The Huskies are an unconventional team, who beat a powerhouse in a very unconventional way. Anyone who follows Washington basketball knows that they only play a six-man rotation.
They don't practice as much as other teams and concentrate a lot on one-on-one skill work. While many may question how this approach can be successful in the long run, let alone cultivate a superstar, head coach Mike Neighbors isn't surprised.
"I'm not worried about our kids at all," Neighbors said. "We are the absolute freshest team in America; there is no doubt in my mind. I think there's going to be sixteen of us left, and I guarantee you if we did a cardio test we are in the best shape."
While the Huskies play unconventional basketball, it's clear in Plum they have an unconventional superstar--someone who has been doubted for a large portion of her career and plays with a tenacity and chip on her shoulder to prove how good her program is.
And while she can score the basketball seemingly at will, it is her leadership abilities that make those around her better.
"With her constantly in the gym, watching film, making all the right choices, coach said she's probably made two wrong decisions all year, and that's asking a lot from your point guard. So I just gotta give a lot of thanks to her," Walton said following the win.
Maryland struggled early to get hot offensively. With the exception of two back-to-back threes by Confroy and senior Chloe Pavlech to put the Terps up 8-2, there was little for the Maryland fans to be excited about.
At the end of the first quarter, Maryland found themselves down 19-11 behind the offensive maneuvering of Plum. The Washington floor general had seven points to put Washington ahead and led a balanced attack that was difficult to stop.
"She was really good just going to get the ball can score in a variety of ways," Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. "I thought she was really aggressive in transition. I thought she beat us at our own game in transition tonight in terms of her downhill on a slope and in her penetrating passes, her penetrating to finish, just a really hard matchup for us to defend."
Plum continued being difficult to defend, scoring four points in the second quarter as well. But Maryland regained the lead after two clutch three-pointers from Confroy. The momentum began swinging in their favor and was sealed by a Walker-Kimbrough three.
The Terps would not lose their lead for the rest of the half. Maryland's comeback in the first half was due to their offensive versatility: ten bench points, 14 points in the paint, 18 points off of three-pointers and 19 points off turnovers. When asked about Maryland's comeback in the second quarter, Plum said she wasn't surprised that the Huskies were able to mount a comeback following the half.
"This team is very resilient, and we've gone through a lot of obstacles this year. So credit to the women on this team who are able to shake it off and move on. So it's a huge win, and you know we're really excited about this, and we're just going to try and keep going," she said.
Early defensive breakdowns to begin the third would allow Washington to come back into the game. They regained the lead with about seven minutes remaining in the third after a series of backdoor layups.
After losing the lead, Maryland seemed to grow increasingly frustrated on both ends of the court as the Huskies went on a 15-4 run with a balanced scoring attack. Plum would score half of their fifteen points herself from free throws, layups, and a three-pointer. To end the quarter, the Terps only made two of their last ten field goals, which gave Washington a seven-point lead heading into the final quarter, 49-42.
A jumper by senior Tierney Pfiman immediately followed by a Walker-Kimbrough three would force Washington to call a timeout, but the Huskies refused to go away. Washington went on a 9-0 run to open their fourth quarter lead up to 11, 60-49.
Walker-Kimbrough came out of the Terps timeout draining a three-pointer. After two defensive stops, Walker-Kimbrough proved she had ice flowing in her veins by drilling another three at the top of the key.
It wouldn't be enough as Plum and junior Katie Collier answered her every move. The Terps would not regain the lead in the fourth quarter, and Plum would finish the fourth with 14 points after a series of late free throws.
What's clear is Plum has helped to create something larger than herself -- and the Huskies are hoping for a little more magic in March.
"Everyone plays their role. Kelsey has been the catalyst," Neighbors said. "But as Talia mentioned she has been so much of a leader who makes everybody on the floor better and has helped us get to the point where now I think you can't look past us anymore."
"All the people that told me that Washington was the wrong school or Neighbors was the wrong coach, I just think that in that moment God said, 'You know what, you're right where you're supposed to be,' and I thought that was just kind of the icing on the cake," Plum said.