March 7, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Now that's a comeback!
A school record-setting one, in fact.
Down 22, their Pac-12 season about to go down in Duck feathers, the Huskies went to a man-to-man defense. They kept shooting, misses be damned.
And they awakened like they never have in four decades of women's basketball. Jazmine Davis scored 28 points while going a perfect 9 for 9 from the foul line, Talia Walton added 19 points, nine rebounds and a huge 3-pointer late, and Aminah Williams tied her career high with 17 rebounds. That's how sluggish, fifth-seeded Washington roared back from being down 35-13 to overwhelm 12th-seeded Oregon late, 69-62 Thursday night before 4,665 lively, mostly purple-and-gold fans at lively KeyArena.
According to the NCAA record book entering this season, this tied for the fifth-largest reported deficit overcome by a team in a victory in national women's basketball history.
"All (senior captain) Kristi Kingma kept saying was, 'We're fine, down 22. We're OK,'" said Davis, who shook off an 8-for-19 shooting night and kept on driving relentlessly inside during the epic rally. "That's why we won this game, because we stayed together."
UW missed 15 of its first 18 shots while falling behind 26-8 just 9 minutes into the game and 35-13 after 12½ minutes.
But the Huskies had been there before in this city -- three months ago, in fact. They rallied from 19 down to San Diego State to win three weeks before Christmas at nearby Alaska Airlines Arena.
"So we knew that we could come back. We never believed we were going to lose," said Kingma, the sharpshooter who missed all 10 of her shots from the field in one of her only games without a made basket in her five years at UW.
Besides being the inspiration to the team in a calm timeout huddle when the Huskies were down by 22, Kingma became more of a distributor instead, getting the ball repeatedly to Davis and Walton in half-court sets during the second-half rally.
"You know, in most situations you would almost be looking ahead to what might be next," she said. But being tournament time, and it being one loss and you are done, we were like, `OK, we are going to win this game!'
"We just didn't know how."
Even with its historic rally, Washington finished just 32 percent from the field, including 19 percent (6 for 31) from 3-point range.
But the Dawgs ultimately did what successful teams do in March: They survived. And they advanced, to Friday's second-round game against fourth-seeded Colorado (24-5). Tipoff at KeyArena will be at approximately 8:30 p.m.
UW is still smarting from a seven-point loss to the then-No. 20 Buffaloes in Boulder two weeks ago that the Huskies felt they would have won but for a wave of missed free throws late.
"It's a good thing for us, this quick turnaround," Kingma said. "As good as this was to come back and win, we didn't play well. We are anxious to come right back and hopefully get off to a better start against Colorado."
Oregon swished six of its first 9 3-pointers - many of them two or more steps over the top of Washington's 2-3 zone -- to take the huge early lead.
The Ducks (4-27) are coached by veteran fast-paced guru Paul Westhead. They began by running and gunning 3's in a hurry from all angles like Westhead's famously crazy-paced men's teams at Loyola Marymount in the late 1980s and early 90s. But using just seven players the Ducks' could not maintain their frenetic early pace early, just like they could not sustain their initially otherworldly shooting.
A change by UW second-year turnaround artist/coach Kevin McGuff from the zone to a more aggressive and denying man-to-man defense coincided with the start of the Huskies' rally. Oregon's 3's weren't so open anymore.
The Huskies contested passes in the lane and then double teamed the recipients. Oregon made just 2 of its final 18 shots from beyond the arc. Those many misses allowed the Huskies to finally get into their offensive game: fast-break drives and kick-out passes to their many long-range shooters.
"We were not playing with enough energy in the zone. We were giving up too many 3's and they were making us pay," McGuff said. "(Man-to-man) allowed us to string together a few stops, and when we did that then we were able to get out in transition offense.
"Because they were making so many shots (early) we couldn't get out in transition. It was all half court for us. Once we started getting stops in man-to-man it allowed us to get going the other way aggressively."
Despite shooting just 23 percent, and just 11 percent (2 of 18) from 3-point range, in the first half Washington cut the 22-point lead in half by halftime break. That was a big boost to its belief.
"We never panicked," said Mercedes Wetmore, the Pac-12's leader in assist-to-turnover ratio who had finished with seven points, two assists and one turnover in 34 helter-skelter minutes.
It took just the first 5 minutes of the second half for UW to cut that 11-point halftime deficit down to 5, on a jumper in the lane by Williams and then a 3-pointer by Davis that had the sophomore All-Pac-12 scorer pumping her fist and strutting back across half court.
It was about at that point the crowd gave one of its largest cheers of the night. The locals loved watching Harry the Husky throw Donald the Duck to the ground in what was supposed to be a faux fight between mascots during a timeout. The smackdown of not-so-furry friends was so heated a Pac-12 staffer felt compelled to step in from a nearby tunnel to break it up. By then Harry was on top of the prone Duck, whaling away at him and the crowd roared.
Two free throws by Davis with 11:11 left got the Huskies within 49-45. Another long jumper by Davis left the Dawgs down by just 52-51 with 9:38 to go. Then two free throws by Kingma, her first points of the game, with 8:26 remaining put Washington ahead for the first time all night 55-54.
Belief had become reality.
Williams got a steal, one of Oregon's 19 turnovers, and Davis scored in the lane to put the Huskies ahead by 3. Washington still led by that margin, 65-62 with 1:58 left coming out of a timeout. Kingma brought the ball into the front court and looked first for Davis. She was covered for one of the only times in the game.
But Walton was popping out to the far left wing. Kingma drove toward the baseline and passed back to Walton. Even though she had missed 17 of 24 shots to that point, even though the freshman had missed 7 of 9 3-pointers by then, Walton squared her shoulders and swished the biggest deep ball of the tournament-record 61 these teams combined to fire up.
That one put Washington up 68-62 with 1 minute left, and the Huskies and their sizable crowd of students and local fans could exhale. Finally.
"I just thought, `Keep shooting,'" Walton said. "I just wanted to get one more good look."
Thanks to a rally for the ages, all the Huskies get another one of those in this Pac-12 tournament Friday night.