When you watch Washington women’s basketball, there’s one thing you can count on — Kelsey Plum is going to score.
It’s just a matter of how much. Twenty? Thirty? Forty-five?In Sunday night’s NCAA Women’s Final Four, it will be up to Syracuse to keep that number low.
That won’t be an easy task against Plum, who is one of the top scorers in the NCAA and most prolific in Pac-12 history.
“She's a great player,” said Syracuse senior guard Brianna Butler. “She has proven herself day in, day out, and in the conference or in NCAA Tournament she’s been doing a phenomenal job carrying her team. But we just have to do what we do and just contain her and try and do the best we can to stop her.”
Plum is Washington’s all-time leading scorer with 2,401 points and ranks third in the nation with 26.2 points per game. She is just 24 points shy of the Pac-12 single-scoring mark and if her scoring average keeps up, it also will be a conference record. She has netted double-figures in every game this season — and in all but two games in her career.
She’s flat-out dangerous.
“She can score in multiple ways,” said Oregon State senior guard Jamie Weisner, who has plays against her in the Pac-12. “Get to the hoop. Shoot the 3. Pull up. She’s always looking to score."
The junior guard from Poway, California, gives most of the credit to her Husky teammates.
“I'm really grateful to play in an offense where spacing is so good and I'm allowed to kind of play — I call it downhill,” Plum said. “It's because of my teammates and how talented they are, the spacing has allowed me to get a lot of good opportunities.”
Syracuse knows they will have to stop Plum to win Sunday night in the meeting between two Women’s Final Four first-timers. Or at least slow her down.
They have already done it once this season. The Orange forced Plum to commit eight turnovers and held her to 19 points when Syracuse beat Washington, 66-62, in December. But can they do it again?
“We took a lot away from that game,” said Syracuse guard Alexis Peterson. “We tried to come out and put pressure on her, not give her anything easy. She’s a great player, so we have to come out and stick to our game plan and keep pressure on her and keep a high hand on every shot and pressure her full court for 40 minutes.”
Peterson will be key in defending Plum, but it she certainly can’t go it alone.
“It takes team defense (to defend Plum),” said Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman. “You have to scheme it to where you're playing her in a team scheme but also understanding that she has shooters on the backside of the zone.”
Oregon State held Plum to a season-low 14 points when the Beavers beat the Huskies, 57-55, on March 5. The first time the two squads played in February this season Plum burned OSU for 30.
“I think for us we always wanted to force her to her right hand and just make it very difficult for her to even catch the ball and then just force her into something she doesn't want to do,” Weisner said.While Plum’s scoring prowess will be on display against the Orange, it may be her defensive skills that help the Huskies claim victory.
Washington head coach Mike Neighbors commends Plum for her dedication to improving her defense this year.
“It’s a lot of film work,” Neighbors said. “And y’all have seen her. That kid looks like 90 percent of the other kids walking down the mall. She’s not 6-foot anything, she couldn’t run from here to there faster than most people sitting her, she looks like everyone else out there, but she has an incredible desire to win and work at it. She wants to do the work.”
Plum is on track to become only the 11th player in NCAA history to score 3,000 points next year, but she knows that adding those defensive skills will take her and her team farther.
“I've tried to pay a lot more attention to my defense,” Plum said. “In the past, maybe my freshman, sophomore year, I didn't put a lot of effort into it necessarily, because I was so focused on other things, when really I started to grow and realize defense is what matters and that's how you're going to win games.”