SEATTLE — Their 3-pointers didn’t fall. Kelsey Plum, the nation’s leading scorer, was not immune to that rare deficiency. And the Washington Huskies women’s basketball team did not look entirely like itself in its first-round NCAA Tournament game against Montana State on Saturday night.
For a quarter, anyway.
The No. 3-seeded Huskies never did figure out their outside shooting, but it didn’t matter. They still won by 28 points, Plum still led them with 29 points, and Chantel Osahor still scored 16 points and grabbed 19 rebounds as the Huskies gradually pulled away for a 91-63 victory before a partisan crowd of 8,059 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
The Huskies (28-5) host No. 6-seed Oklahoma, which defeated No. 11-seed Gonzaga 75-62, in a round-of-32 game at 6 p.m. Monday at Hec Ed.
Washington created separation slowly, trailing by a point at the end of the first quarter, then leading by 11 at halftime and 16 through three quarters before eventually pushing the margin as high as 31 points in the final period.
“We did some uncharacteristic things, and a team like that that’s coming off a championship, they exposed us every single time we made a mistake,” UW coach Mike Neighbors said of his team’s slow start. “Every single time we had a breakdown, they made us pay.”
Still, Montana State, champions of the Big Sky, managed only a 32.4 percent clip from the field and had trouble scoring if it wasn’t via the shot of senior guard Peyton Ferris, who led all scorers with 33 points, but needed 28 field-goal attempts to do it.
“We kept running different looks at her,” Neighbors said, marveling at how frequently MSU was able to get the ball to Ferris. “If we hadn’t, she could have had 50, probably.”
It was an ugly fourth quarter for the Bobcats (25-6), who scored just three points in the first five minutes of that period. The Huskies scored 18 points in that time, initiating the kind of lopsided score expected from the No. 3 vs. No. 14 matchup.
Actually, the entire second half went pretty well for the Huskies. They outscored MSU 53-36, shot 51.4 percent from the field, outrebounded the Bobcats 25-15 and made 14-of-17 from the free-throw line.
“We had to really fight to hang around in the first quarter,” Neighbors said, adding that his team might have been a little rusty after a 15-day layoff. “And then it progressively started becoming an advantage to us that we were rested.”
Freshman point guard Aarion McDonald (15 points and seven rebounds) and junior guard Natalie Romeo (11 points) joined Plum and Osahor in double figures.
Washington shot only 7-of-28 from 3-point range, and Plum made only 1-of-7 from that distance, instead attacking the rim for layups (9-for-13 on 2-point attempts) and earning her way to the free-throw line (where she shot 8-for-8).
“I just think they didn’t go in,” Plum said of the jumpers she missed, in response to a question about her “tough” shooting night, before adding: “10-for-20 usually isn’t that tough for most people.”
“She’s just tough, period,” MSU coach Tricia Binford said. “I think our gameplan going in was to try to take away the 3-point line and the foul line, and we obviously didn’t do the job on the foul line.”
The Bobcats cut UW’s lead to eight points midway through the third quarter, but Osahor scored seven consecutive points as part of a 13-2 run that put the Huskies ahead 59-40 after a Romeo 3-pointer. That, essentially, was that.
The first half, though, was an offensive struggle for both teams. And for Plum. She missed several open jump shots, going 4-for-12 from the field in the first two quarters with 12 points. But her first made 3-pointer gave the Huskies a 38-27 halftime lead despite the fact UW was shooting only 31.7 percent from the field and 4-for-22 from 3-point range.
Montana State couldn’t shoot, either, aside from senior guard Peyton Ferris, who scored 19 points in the first half. But her teammates combined to make only three field goals and score eight points before intermission, not nearly enough to actually contend with the Huskies.
“It took our best effort,” Neighbors said, “because they gave great effort.”
Snohomish alum Madeline Smith grabbed four rebounds and Meadowdale alum Margreet Barhoum added two rebounds and an assist for the Bobcats.