Huskies Glide Past North Texas, 82-61, in WNIT First Round

March 14, 2002

By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) - Whether it's the women's NIT or the NCAA tournament, Washington's Loree Payne takes the postseason seriously.

'There are two teams that come out of the season with wins, that's it,' Payne said. 'We want to be one of them. There's the NIT champion and the NCAA champion.'

Payne scored 14 points and had four rebounds as the Huskies took the first step necessary to win the women's NIT, defeating North Texas 82-61 Thursday night in the tournament's first round. Emily Autrey added 12 points and six rebounds for the Huskies. This wasn't Washington's preferred playoff scenario, but Thursday's win could be the start of another successful postseason run.

The Huskies (18-11), who reached the NCAA tournament's final eight last year, will play at home again at 1 p.m. Sunday against Southern Cal. The Trojans were a 72-53 winner over San Francisco on Wednesday. Washington swept USC in two games this season.

Huskies coach June Daugherty has stressed that a strong showing in this tournament could put her team in good position to be an NCAA tournament contender again next year.

Washington finished second in the Pac-10 but lost to Oregon in the inaugural conference tournament.

'The experience of the postseason is so special, no matter what tournament you're in,' Daugherty said. 'You either do it or you go home for spring break.'

North Texas struggled to find any offensive rhythm against Washington, and committed 25 turnovers. The Lady Eagles finished the season 21-9, with their 21 victories a school record.

Jalie Mitchell, North Texas' leading scorer at 19.6 points per game, took only six shots in the first half and didn't score a point until making a free throw about 10 minutes into the game. She finished with a team-high 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting.

'I'm just proud we played a much better second half,' Mitchell said. 'We didn't lay down and die, and we fought.'

Washington flustered the Lady Eagles' guards all game.

'One thing is just their size,' North Texas coach Tina Slinker said. 'And not being able to score with your four and five (post) players, it kind of takes you out of sync.' Sarah Keeler added nine points off the bench for the Huskies, including five in a row during a crucial stretch in the second half when North Texas began to make a run. Keeler and Payne made back-to-back 3-pointers that extended Washington's lead to 20 with 10 minutes left and put the game out of reach.

Kristen O'Neill had nine points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Huskies, who shot 38 percent and held a 49-44 rebounding advantage.

'We know that rebounding is always going to be key for us,' Autrey said. 'This year we have been up and down in our rebounding, so we knew we needed to focus in a little bit more on that.'

Washington sisters Giuliana and Gioconda Mendiola were held out the first half for violating a team policy. Giuliana, the team's starting point guard and second-leading scorer at 12.2 points per game, was replaced in the lineup by freshman Kayla Burt, marking Burt's first start of the season. Giuliana Mendiola scored 10 points in the second half.

The Huskies used an 18-3 run to end the first half and take a 42-17 halftime lead. North Texas shot 7-for-30 in the first half and made 18 of its turnovers before the break. Washington last appeared in the WNIT in 1999, beating Portland in the first round before losing at New Mexico.

North Texas made the WNIT for the second consecutive year and won 12 of its last 15 games.

Daugherty is looking for her 100th win at Washington on Sunday. The Huskies have gone into overtime in their past three meetings with USC in Seattle.

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