The Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament is being played at KeyArena through the weekend. One of the biggest names in college basketball – the University of Washington’s Kelsey Plum – is a big draw. If Plum and the Huskies do well in this tournament, it will help their position in the NCAA tournament.
KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked with 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick about the team’s chances for a national title run.
Thiel said it's looking good for the UW women to repeat last year's appearance in the NCAA's Final Four.
"Last year's team had 11 losses and this year the Huskies are 27-4. They played the regular season very well and lost only to the cream of the crop. So, it stands to reason that they're going to be even better," he said.
"They have four seniors, including Kelsey Plum, the nation's leading scorer, and Chantel Osahor, the nation's leading rebounder. No team in NCAA women's history has ever had the top scorer and the top rebounder on the same team. They are a very potent force.
"This year, they're a target. Last year, they were kind of a surprise. I don't think anybody thought that this was a national-caliber team until they started knocking everybody off in the NCAA tournament.
"They got very exciting very fast. I think this team is capable of a very similar run."
Kelsey Plum was on track this season to tie or break the NCAA's all-time career scoring record. But Thiel said hardly anyone expected her to do it by the end of the regular season.
"It was amazing last Saturday," Thiel said. "No one anticipated what was about to unfold. She needed 53 points to tie Jackie Stiles to become the NCAA's all-time leading scorer. And she never scored more than 44, which is still quite a feat.
"So, everyone said, 'Well, she won't get it during the regular season. We'll probably wait for the Pac-12 women's tournament at KeyArena.'
"It didn't quite work out that way because she got 57 points [against Utah]. It was a remarkable display and I think everyone was surprised that she did it.
"It was the final regular season home game and the fans just ate it up. It was a standing ovation, huge embrace of her and her feat over four years."
'Ball Skills And Will'
Plum set a new NCAA all-time scoring record of 3,397 points, breaking the record set by Jackie Stiles of Southwest Missouri State. And Plum this week was named the Pac-12 player of the year.
"Kelsey is really a remarkable athlete," Thiel said. "She's only about 5'8". Brittney Griner, the woman she passed for second in all-time scoring, is a 6'5" power forward and she can dunk. That's not Kelsey's game. It's all about ball skills and will.
"And to be able to will a team at this level to as many wins as she has is a remarkable statement about her perseverance and her leadership."
Thiel said Plum grew up in a suburb of La Jolla, Calif., and dreamed of going to Stanford.
"That was her goal because the Stanford women's program has been preeminent. They've been very good for a long time. But they didn't even bother to recruit her. So she said, 'Well, I'll take somebody else.' And there was Washington.
"So, the Stanford-Washington thing has been going on, including this year. In the first women's basketball sellout in UW history, Stanford beat Washington 72-68. Kelsey had 44 points. But the rest of the team only had 24.
"That's kind of the vulnerability of this team going into the tournament. They risk being spectators watching Kelsey score. And Washington could have trouble because everyone is on the lookout for Kelsey Plum. That is going to be a pressure point. Other teams are going to see what Stanford did.
"And Kelsey Plum wants to pay Stanford back, big time, should they meet in the Pac-12 tournament or in the NCAA tournament.
"So, there is going to be drama. If you're not doing anything, watch that Stanford-Washington game wherever they meet again because that's going to be a dandy."