SEATTLE — A 15-day layoff since losing in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament left Washington a little rusty.
Washington coach Mike Neighbors knew it was coming and Montana State was more than willing to give the Huskies a bit of a scare — for a while.
“I was rusty. I called a couple of plays that were just kind of made up. They were the wrong calls. We did some uncharacteristic things and a team like that, that is coming off a championship exposed us every single time we made a mistake,” Neighbors said.
Fortunately for the Huskies, the mistakes were few and lasted all of one quarter.
Kelsey Plum scored 17 of her 29 points in the second half, Chantel Osahor had her 28th double-double of the season with 16 points and 19 rebounds, and No. 3 seed Washington pulled away in the second half for a 91-63 win over 14th-seeded Montana State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
Plum, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history, didn’t quite match the output of her last game on the Huskies home court when she scored a school record 57 points to become the premier scorer in NCAA history. Against the Bobcats, Plum settled for going to the rim, hitting 10 of 20 shots, but just one 3-pointer. Plum is now 21 points shy of breaking Jackie Stiles’ record of 1,062 points in a single season.
“We hit some shots in the second half that we weren’t hitting in the first and we just kind of started getting on a roll from there,” Plum said.
Perhaps more impressive than Plum was the performance of Montana State’s Peyton Ferris, who tied her career-high with 33 points in her final college game and kept the Bobcats (25-7) hanging around into the third quarter before Washington pulled away.
Ferris fouled out with 2:39 remaining and was given a standing ovation from the Washington crowd.
“You go out and play hard and you keep going at it. We played good, kept it close and then they went on a run and we never fully got back in it,” Ferris said.
Montana State was making just its second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. And it took a little longer than expected for the Huskies (28-5) to finally put away the champions of the Big Sky Conference.
Montana State actually led 17-16 after one quarter when Delany Junkermier tossed in a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Ferris outplayed Plum for most of the half, finishing with 19 of Montana State’s 27 points and the Bobcats stayed nearly even in rebounding and 3-point shooting.
And Montana State still trailed by 11 at halftime.
The Bobcats pulled within 40-34 in the opening moments of the second half before the Huskies slowly started pulling away. Osahor scored seven straight points, including her first 3-pointer, and a 3 from Natalie Romeo pushed Washington’s lead to 59-40. The lead grew to as many as 31 in the fourth quarter.
It was a decisive first statement by Washington coming off an unexpected Final Four run a season ago. The Huskies are among the popular choices to come out of the Oklahoma City Regional this time around despite having not played since losing to Oregon in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
“I thought we attacked that the first quarter and then Washington brought it,” Montana State coach Tricia Binford said. “It was a lot of fun.”