By JOHN SLEEPER
SEATTLE – So who needs offense?
Apparently, not the University of Washington women’s basketball team, at least not against Nebraska.
Using a stifling defense and a sizable rebound advantage, the Huskies (4-2) steadily wore down the Cornhuskers and pulled away at the end for a 69-57 non-conference victory before 1,423 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion Wednesday night.
Washington held Nebraska (4-3) to 32-percent shooting from the floor and held star center Casey Leonhardt to nine points and six rebounds to seal the victory.
And that was fortunate for the Huskies, who managed just 30-percent shooting from the floor.
“I just thought we outhustled them,” UW coach June Daugherty said. “Every loose ball, we came up with. Defensively, we were all over the place. That was the difference, because neither team could throw the ball into the ocean while standing right on the beach.”
Washington’s post players staged a tag-team on Leonhardt, a 6-foot-5 senior averaging 14 points and eight rebounds a game. Freshman Andrea Lalum (10 points, five rebounds), Carli Halpenny (five points, two offensive rebounds, a blocked shot) were repeat offenders in testing Leonhardt’s patience.
Indeed, this was a night for the defense. How else to explain a victory in which the Huskies’ leading scorer (Megan Franza, with 21 points) shot just 7-for-26 from the floor, including 2-for-13 from 3-point range? How else to explain that the Huskies made just one of their first 10 shots in the game, yet trailed just 6-4 four minutes into the game?
“I don’t worry about our offense,” Daugherty said. “As long as we play defense like this, good things are going to happen. The shots are going to fall.”
Washington had gritty efforts, rather than pretty ones, all around. Forward Kellie O’Neill managed 10 points, despite 4-for-14 shooting, and seven rebounds. Guard Giuliana Mendiola, a freshman, added 10 points and had a game-high 11 rebounds, five on the offensive end. Reserve forward Emily Awtrey chipped in seven points and four rebounds.
Washington put the Cornhuskers away with a 17-5 run in the last seven minutes. The Huskies’ front line formed a blockade around Nebraska’s basket and limited the Cornhuskers to one shot. Not only that, but Nebraska started getting creative with its ballhandling. After committing just six turnovers in the first half, the Cornhuskers stumbled around for 13 in the second and ruined any chance they had of pulling out a road victory.
“We had a lot of turnovers, not many rebounds and we couldn’t score,” Nebraska coach Paul Sanderford said. “Our impatience and youth really shows offensively. But I was really impressed with Washington’s effort on the boards.”
The Huskies made up for a cold-shooting first half with an overpowering rebounding performance. Despite shooting 24 percent (9-for-37) from the floor, Washington took a 32-29 lead at the half, thanks mostly to a 35-18 edge on the boards.
This occurred despite facing a Cornhusker team that had outrebounded its foes by nearly six a game. Washington’s front line did its best job of sealing Leonhardt and forward Monique Whitfield off the glass. Leonhardt played just nine minutes of the first half after picking up two quick fouls.
” (Leonhardt) was strictly an inside player,” Lalum said. “It was a good test for me to see how physical I could get. I don’t think I was intimidated at all by her.”
Thirteen of Washington’s rebounds came on the offensive end. The Huskies held the Cornhuskers to four first-half offensive rebounds.
The Huskies used a 15-3 run midway through the first half to turn a 13-8 deficit into a 23-15 lead. Leading the way was Lalum, who converted an offensive rebound and a 3-pointer for five points. Franza and O’Neill also drained 3-pointers during the streak.
Nebraska, which made just five of its last 20 shots in the last 10 minutes before intermission, cut the UW lead to two on two occasions late in the first half, thanks mostly to a streak of Husky turnovers.
Franza led the Huskies with 10 first-half points, despite shooting just 3-for-14 from the floor. O’Neill added eight.