It was basketball on Red Bull. A track meet in high tops. A jailbreak with ponytails.
Say what you will about women’s basketball – and a great many sports fans will never have much good to say about it, unfortunately – but the Washington State-Oregon score-a-thon Thursday night ranks among the most entertaining events to grace KeyArena since a carpetbagger stole the Sonics and moved them to a patch of dirt in the middle of nowhere.
Final score: Cougars 107, Ducks 100. The most points by one team, and two teams combined, in a Pac-12 Tournament game. The most points by one team (59) and two teams combined (114) in one half.
WSU led 59-55 halfway through 40 minutes of run, gun, reload and shoot some more, by two talented teams playing at a frantic pace that would have physically and mentally exhausted plenty of men’s teams.
“This,” WSU coach June Daugherty said, “was a fun game.”
Wow. Mark the date and time for the first understatement ever made by the omni-enthusiastic Daugherty.
“If you can’t get excited about women’s basketball in the Pac-12 after seeing what just happened, then I don’t know,” Daugherty said. “You have to check your pulse or whatever.”
The victory assured the Cougars (16-15) of no worse than a .500 record once they’ve completed play in the tournament. That makes WSU eligible for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, which seems like a likely destination for the Washington Huskies, after they wrapped up first-round play Thursday with a 65-53 loss to Utah.
“We didn’t give our crowd anything to cheer about,” Washington coach Mike Neighbors said glumly after his team shot a season-low 25.5 percent from the field. They tied a UW season low for points set Jan. 17 in a 53-52 overtime home win over Utah.
Washington State advances to Friday’s quarterfinals against 20th-ranked California (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). The second-seeded Bears (21-8), who beat the seventh-seeded Cougars in overtime last week in Berkeley, had a first-round bye.
Asked if she’s concerned that her team might have trouble recovering on short notice from Thursday’s high-tempo contest, Daugherty said, “It’s March Madness, so, no. Our kids practice hard. They’re in great shape.”
She added, “Our kids can rest all spring and summer.”
The Cougars received timely contributions from any number of players. Season scoring leaders Tia Presley and Lisa Galdeira tied for game honors with 31 points apiece. It’s the first time in WSU women’s basketball history that two players scored 30 or more points in one game.
Center Shalie Dheensaw added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Taylor Edmondson came off the bench to deliver career highs of 14 points and four 3-pointers. Point guard Dawnyelle Awa – “The straw that stirs the drink,” Daugherty said – added four points and a game-high three steals, and she matched the career-high eight assists she notched two weeks ago in a 108-88 triumph over the Ducks in Pullman.
Somewhat lost amid the scoring was the fact that WSU turned the ball over just eight times against Oregon’s presses and traps.“That’s extremely impressive,” Presley said.
The Cougars, the Pac-12 leaders in turnover margin, scored 18 points off 19 Oregon turnovers. WSU doubled the Ducks in assists (22-11) to make up for a 61-42 deficit on the boards. A crimson-tinted crowd of 3,754 enjoyed the show.
Chrishae Rowe, the nation’s leading freshman scorer, led Oregon with 29 points. Star forward Jillian Alleyne added 28 points and a whopping 21 rebounds – she broke the year-old Pac-12 record of 466 rebounds in a season held by Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike – but Alleyne was charged with 11 turnovers.
The Ducks (15-15) are eligible for the WNIT, but it remains to be seen if the nation’s No. 1 scoring team will keep playing. Oregon coach Paul Westhead was told earlier in the week that his contract won’t be renewed.
The 75-year-old Westhead, a former NBA, WNBA and college men’s coach, said he’s still interested in coaching.
“What an honor and privilege it has been to coach against Paul at Oregon,” Daugherty said. “I’ve learned so much from him and admire him.
“I wish him and his staff all the best. I’d also like to salute their entire team, especially their seniors. I can’t imagine how tough it was for them to come in here and play with everything that was going on.
To their credit, Westhead and his players offered no excuses for the loss. No excuses were necessary, of course. The Cougars had to shoot 46.6 percent from the field (including 38.5 percent on 3-pointers) and score the fourth-most points in program history to send the Ducks down to defeat.
“They shot the ball very well,” Westhead said. “They minimized their turnovers. We do our best to kind of frazzle teams.”
On this night, the Cougars proved frazzle-proof.
The same could not be said for Washington. Seeded sixth thanks partly to one-point victories in both previous meetings with Utah, the Huskies fell behind early and never recovered against the 11th-seeded Utes (12-18).
“In tournaments,” Neighbors said, “the aggressive team wins. We said it before the game. We knew that. They were the more aggressive team.”
Neighbors and co-captain Kelsey Plum credited Utah with great execution and coaching.
“You give that coaching staff two games against you and they’re going to find your weaknesses,” Neighbors said. “They play to their strengths as well as anybody there is.”
Neighbors and Plum noted that one of Utah’s strengths is a defense that works best when the Utes can use their size to plug the lane and deter penetration.
“When you make a lot of shots,” Plum said, “it opens up the defense. You get more lanes to the hole.
“We weren’t hitting stuff. They were able to pack it even more than they usually do.”
Plum had 20 points and seven rebounds, but she had to sink 12 of 14 free throws to make up for 3-for-14 shooting from the field. “They’re a very good defensive team,” Plum said.
Standout point guard Jazmine Davis scored 18 points for the Huskies, but she hit just 6 of 16 shots, and she made a game-high six turnovers. Only six Huskies scored, and starting forward Talia Walton – Washington’s third-leading scorer with eight points – went 3 for 15 from the field.
Michelle Plouffe, Utah’s fine senior forward, came up one short of the career-high 31 points she scored against Washington last month. Fellow Canadian Emily Potter, a 6-foot-5 freshman, contributed 12 points and a season-high 15 rebounds.
Plum, whose talent and poise are so impressive that she has served as a team co-captain as a freshman, said nerves were not a factor in her poor shooting.
“No,” she said. “It’s exciting to be in this atmosphere of this great arena.”
Many of the fans at the evening session were Huskies supporters.
“We had a great crowd,” Neighbors said. “We just never gave them a chance to get behind us.”
No. 9 seed Colorado pulled away in the second half to down No. 8 UCLA 76-65, and No. 5 USC rallied past pesky No. 12 Arizona 59-54.
Brittany Wilson led Colorado (17-13) with 17 points, and twin sister/backcourt partner Ashley scored a career-high 16. Nirra Fields paced UCLA (13-18) with 24 points. Bruins senior point guard Thea Lemberger (15 ppg) only made a token appearance after suffering a concussion last week against the Buffaloes.
Arizona (5-25), down to seven healthy players, led by five at the half and didn’t give up the lead for good until the final 11 minutes. Ariya Crook topped USC (19-12) with 19 points, and reserve post Kate Oliver doubled her previous season high by scoring 12 points. Kama Griffitts led the Wildcats with 13.
The spotlight will shine on Chiney Ogwumike when the national player of the year candidate makes her tournament debut Friday with fourth-ranked Stanford . . . On Thursday, the subject of the most gawking – even though she’s redshirting – may have been 6-foot-9 UCLA center Savanna Trapp. The lanky freshman wears a size 15 men’s shoe and is one of the tallest players in college women’s basketball history. An attractive blonde who loves being tall, Trapp averaged 20.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.8 blocked shots at Esko (Minn.) High School last season . . . Cheerleaders, band members and local elementary school students (admitted free) might have made up more than half of the estimated 400 spectators on hand for the start of the noon opener between UCLA and Colorado. Official attendance for the afternoon session was 2,449, but actual attendance was less . . . The Cougars are more than little bit pleased to be in the opposite bracket from Stanford. WSU is 0-57 all-time against the Cardinal . . . The Cougars are 3-5 against Top 25 teams . . . UCLA has signed the consensus No. 1 recruiting class in the nation for next season.