By Monica Lee
GoHuskies.com Contributing Writer
SEATTLE— Washington pressed the No. 23 California Golden Bears throughout the close back-and-forth battle, but a couple mistakes in the last minutes cost UW the game.
The Huskies were narrowly defeated by California 70-65 Friday, Feb. 7 in Seattle, Wash., at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Jazmine Davis led the Huskies with 20 points, freshman Kelsey Plum added 16 points and a career-high nine assists, and Talia Walton rediscovered her groove with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Washington (12-10, 5-6 Pac-12) created an evenly matched contest against a ranked California (15-7, 7-4) team. The Huskies shot 35.5 percent from the field while the Bears netted a 38.2 field goal percentage to end the half with Cal leading 35-31.
“Tonight we had a lot of energy that was extended to just being smart,” senior Mercedes Wetmore said. “We had to make adjustments on the 3-point line, but our initial game plan was going the way we wanted it to the first half. There wasn’t a whole lot of pressure that needed to be extended tonight.”
Walton, who had previously struggled in conference play due to an ankle injury, led both teams in first-half points and 3-point shots, making 3-5 from beyond the arc and adding to the Dawgs’ 66.7 3-point percentage. The forward finished the half with 11 points.
“I think once after making one, my teammates kept believing in me and finding me. I didn’t even know I was 3-5, but it was probably all those assists from ‘Cedes,” Walton said with a nudge and a smile.
“Bottom line, I have to score to help my team and lately it’s been a struggle for many different reasons,” she continued.
“So, I just felt like I had to rise to this occasion and I didn’t want to be that 6 (points) and 4 (rebounds) girl tonight and I knew I needed to do more. My teammates did a really good job getting me there, getting me going, finding me, and all that. I give all the credit to them. I just wish it would have been enough.”
After trading the lead four times with Cal and tying the game five times in the first half, the Huskies gradually took an extended lead of eight points with 12:08 remaining in the game. This was also the greatest lead of the night.
However, that 8-point gain did not last long as Cal forced five additional lead changes. There were a total 12 lead changes and the score was tied nine times during the night.
“They stormed right back and tied it. So, when we had a chance, we didn’t capitalize and extend that lead. And you have to against a great team that’s used to being in that situation,” head coach Mike Neighbors said.
“We got some really good looks. Kelsey got a great look at a three there and then we had a couple times in transition when I thought we had a chance and we came away empty. I’m not going to fault their effort. I’m not even going to fault some of the shots we took. We didn’t knock down a couple of timely shots and I really thought they did.”
With 1:01 left of regulation time, Reshanda Gray of Cal banked a put-back from under the basket to give the Bears a 68-65 advantage. Washington failed to convert in their last two possessions as time expired.
“The first screen that was set, when I heard, ‘Switch,’ I knew it was going to be kind of hard to get that shot off,” Davis recapped. “They had Reshanda who was ready and we really needed a three, so it was hard to make things happen.
“We were executing plays pretty well and then they switched up that D on us and they went just to switch everything. That was good, that was a good (Cal) coaching call right there.”
The referees called a fourth foul on Talia Walton, allowing the Bears to shoot two free throws and putting 0.3 seconds back on the clock. Boyd made both foul shots to cement Cal’s victory, 70-65.
“Everybody outside of Stanford is about a two or three possession game and I thought they won all three possessions tonight that were just tossups,” Neighbors said. “They won all three of those and that’s the difference in the game. So yeah, it was anybody’s game.”
UW finished the tight game with a high 83.3 free throw percentage, 36.1 field goal percentage, and 55.0 percent from 3-point range. Despite the defeat, Neighbors was still satisfied with his team’s chemistry.
“They really executed our game plan. They stuck to it, they played as a pack and we talked about how it was going to take a team effort,” he said. “Not one person on our lineup could go one-on-one against them and win, so we knew we had to do it as a team and I was really proud that they did that.
“We came up a couple of possessions short, but I can tell you that is not any part of my question about how the game went tonight. They stayed together, they did it through each other and with each other.”
Next the Huskies will host No. 4 Stanford at Alaska Airlines Arena on Sunday, Feb. 9. The match will air live nationally on ESPNU at 12:30 p.m. PST.
UW’s tough loss to California is far from a discouragement heading into Sunday.
“We did it tonight,” Wetmore said of the Dawgs’ pressure on defense. “We’re going to do even better on Sunday. There’s no other time to rise to the occasion then it would be on Sunday. We’re really excited. They’re coming in and we know they’re a really tough team. We’re well aware of how good they are and we just play our game and know that the game is going to be won at the very end.”