Washington wins Pac-12 Tournament opener vs. Utah, bolsters NCAA resume
SEATTLE – Senior guard Jazmine Davis scored 29 points to lead fifth-seeded Washington back from a six-point halftime deficit in a 75-64 win over 12th-seeded Utah Thursday night at KeyArena in the first round of the 2015 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The Huskies trailed 34-28 at the break, but Davis, an All-Pac-12 First Teamer and the program’s all-time leading scorer, began the opening minutes of the second half with six consecutive points to spark a 13-2 UW run.
“I just wanted to do whatever I could,” Davis said. “It got to a point where we needed energy and we needed it from somewhere. We all respond to each other really well. I’m just glad that I was able to lead them and they trust me to bring that.”
Utah cut the Huskies’ lead to 64-61 with about three minutes remaining, but followed by turning it over on back-to-back possessions, while UW leading scorer Kelsey Plum hit a lay-up and a pair of free throws on the other end to seal it. Plum than provided the dagger with a little more than a minute left by draining a three-pointer to give the Huskies a 71-61 lead.
Thursday’s win avenged a UW loss to Utah in February and in the first round of last year’s conference tournament. It also advanced the Huskies (23-8, 11-7) to Friday’s Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals, where they’ll play fourth-seeded California. Tip-off is 8:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks.
This marks the first time since 1994-95 UW has won at least 23 games.
If it weren’t cemented already, the Huskies are now essentially a lock to make the NCAA Woman’s Tournament for the first time since 2007.
“It is a relief,” admitted Washington coach Mike Neighbors. “It’s hard to play in Seattle for your tournament because you have a lot of expectations. We had a great crowd. That was tremendous.”
The estimated 3,654 in attendance, most wearing purple, watched UW forward Aminah Williams add seven points and 11 rebounds on a night Plum matched her Pac-12-leading scoring average by dropping 23.
Plum credited Davis for getting the Huskies rolling in the second half. Of the senior’s 29 points, 18 came after the break.
“It was Jazmine Davis from the tip-off,” Plum said. “She really got us going… I think that gave us a lot of energy. I think when that gets going, the defensive end gets going, and we were able to get in transition. It opened up the can for everybody else.”
Meanwhile, Utah’s season is over after they challenged the favored Huskies until the final minutes.
The Utes (9-21, 3-15 Pac-12) shot out to a 7-0 lead before the Huskies were forced to burn a timeout less than three minutes into the game. Williams momentarily stopped the run with a three-pointer, but Utah carried a 9-3 advantage into the first media timeout after junior guard Danielle Rodriguez retorted with a lay-up.
Washington took its first lead at the 10:30 mark in the first half when Williams scored to make it 16-14. Both teams continued to jockey back-and-forth with the Huskies holding a slight advantage. But Utah guard Paige Crozon hit a three a few minutes later to give the Utes the lead back at 23-22, and they used the boost to carry a 34-28 lead into halftime.
Utah finished the regular season ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense but showed considerable improvement Thursday. The Utes used their methodical motion offense to their advantage, working the ball inside-out to knock down five first-half threes, with three coming via senior guard Cheyenne Wilson. However, they went 0-for-7 from beyond-the-arc in the second half en route to their fourth consecutive loss.
Utah was plagued by injuries this season, but coach Anthony Levrets found positives with the way the Utes finished.
“Obviously, the result is disappointing,” Levrets said. “I’m not going to let some numbers on the scoreboard define who we are. We’ll hopefully get everybody back and healthy and move forward.”
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