Washington women beat Kentucky 85-72 to reach regional final
LEXINGTON, KY. >> Washington's "Big Three" have the Huskies on the verge of their biggest moment ever in women's basketball.
Talia Walton, Chantel Osahor and Kelsey Plum combined for 72 points Friday night and the seventh-seeded Huskies upset No. 3 seed Kentucky 85-72 in an NCAA Lexington Regional semifinal. They're the same three players who have scored nearly three-quarters of Washington's points this season.
"It puts a lot of pressure on them to understand they have to perform every night, night in and night out, for them to continue to do it and pick each other up," Washington coach Mike Neighbors said. "This is the first time all three of them have played that well on the same night. That's what you're supposed to do when you get to this point."
Now they want to lead Washington (25-10) to its first Final Four appearance in school history. The Huskies play in the regional final Sunday against No. 1 seed Notre Dame or No. 4 seed Stanford.
The Huskies have gotten this far by showing a knack for delivering in hostile territory. Washington followed up its second-round upset of No. 2 seed Maryland on the Terrapins' home floor by surprising the Wildcats at Rupp Arena.
"Washington had some moments when they out-toughed us," said Kentucky's Makayla Epps, who withstood a sprained right shoulder to score 30 points. "That's something we've got to look ourselves in the mirror and face it and just learn from it."
The Huskies relied on the same three players who have led them all season.
Walton scored 30 points to lead the way. Osahor had 19 points, 17 rebounds and five assists. Plum added 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds. They combined for eight 3-pointers.
They've carried a team that relies on a short rotation. Washington used only six players against Maryland and seven against Kentucky.
"We're extremely dangerous," Walton said. "We feed off one another. I hit a 3, Chantel hits a 3, Kelsey comes out and hits a 3. It flows. When we're like that, it's pretty hard to guard us."
Kentucky's Evelyn Akhator had 10 points and 14 rebounds, and Alexis Jennings added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Rupp crowd's partisan nature was apparent from the "Go Big Blue" chants that arose from the partisan crowd as Kentucky took the floor.
None of that bothered Washington, which led almost the entire way.
Washington built a 33-20 lead in the first half by making seven of its first 12 3-point attempts. Kentucky crept back into the game and got to within 35-30 by halftime but couldn't build on that momentum after the intermission.
The Huskies put the game away by shooting 59.4 percent (19 of 32) from the floor in the second half.
Washington's big night has the Huskies in position to do something they've never done before. Washington's last appearance in a regional final ended with a 104-87 loss to Southwest Missouri State in the 2001 West Regional.
"They're definitely capable of going to the Final Four if they play the way they did tonight," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "They were just hitting on all cylinders."
Washington: Plum went 5 of 9 from the free-throw line. Plum entered the night leading all Division I players in free throws made (247) and attempted (276), and she was ranked fifth in free-throw percentage (.895)
Kentucky: The Wildcats now are 25-14 at Rupp Arena, including a 6-6 mark in Matthew Mitchell's nine seasons as coach. Kentucky had won five of its last six games at Rupp before Friday.
Kentucky actually had 13 more field-goal attempts than Washington, but the Huskies were much more efficient. Washington was 11 of 28 and Kentucky was just 5 of 21 from 3-point range. Kentucky also was just 3 of 9 from the free-throw line.
Washington advances to the Lexington Regional final Sunday against either No. 1 seed Notre Dame or No. 4 seed Stanford.