Herald staff and news services
SEATTLE – Midway through their Pacific-10 Conference schedule the University of Washington women’s basketball was mired in a three-way tie for fifth place with just a slim chance of making the NCAA tournament.
That picture has changed dramatically as the Huskies have reeled off a season-best five straight wins, including a 68-50 pummeling of Arizona State on Saturday. The victory moved Washington into second place in the Pac-10, a half-game ahead of the Sun Devils, and set up a showdown Thursday with first-place Stanford. The Cardinal, ranked No. 2 in the nation, clinched at least a share of the league title by beating Oregon St. on Saturday and can claim the title outright by beating the Huskies. The game is in Stanford, Calif.
“We knew this team was capable of making a huge run in conference,” said Loree Payne, who led Washington with 20 points against ASU. “I’m excited to take the momentum we’ve built down there (to Stanford) and give them our best shot.”
Giuliana Mendiola added 15 points, five rebounds and seven assists while Kellie O’Neill, who attended Meadowdale High School, scored 10 and grabbed seven rebounds for the Huskies.
“Our team is extremely confident right now and playing very well,” UW coach June Daugherty said.
The Huskies won Saturday in large part because of their tenacious defense, Daugherty said.
“We have worked really hard on our defensive pressure and forcing them to rush shots with the shot clock winding down,” she explained. “It made a huge difference for us.”
The impact of that defense is best illustrated by the Huskies’ effort against Arizona State’s Amanda Levens, the second-leading scorer in the conference. Washington held Levens to two points on Saturday. She made just one of her 12 shots from the field and missed both of her free throw attempts. A month ago, she burned the Huskies for 20 points ASU’s 66-61 win in Tempe, Ariz.
“We tried to get out on their shooters, especially on Levens,” Mendiola said. “The last time we played them she killed us. This time, we tried to force her to do things she didn’t want to do and we did a pretty good job of that.”
The Huskies never gave Levens a chance, ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “As soon as she puts the ball on the floor she’s got two people on her,” Turner Thorne.
ASU, which managed just 30 percent shooting from the field, did get decent offensive performances out of Cian Carvalho, who scored 15 points, Betsy Boardman, who had 12 and Melody Johnson, who recorded her fifth double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“Washington is a ‘score-more’ basketball team and we’re more of a defensive team,” Carvalho said. “We just didn’t get that done today.”
A good part of the reason why the Sun Devils defense didn’t get the job done Saturday was Washington’s offensive plan. The Huskies moved the ball around better than they did the first time the teams met, and that worked to tire the Sun Devils, Daugherty said.
“ASU is good defensive team and they work very, very hard,” Daugherty said. “We tried to wear them out, and it got us open looks.”
There were six lead changes and five ties in the first half before the Huskies took command. O’Neill scored five points and Payne four as Washington broke the game’s final tie with an 11-0 run late in the first half. Payne hit a 3-pointer just 19 seconds into the second half to spark a 5-0 Washington run. The Huskies led by double-digits the rest of the way.