BREAKING: Women Win To Earn First Final Four

Led by the double-double of Chantel Osahor and the steady hand of junior guard Kelsey Plum, the Washington Women took a 12-0 lead from the opening tip and defeated Stanford 85-76 to punch their first Final Four ticket in school history.

©M. Samek / SCOUT
Plum led the Huskies (26-10) with 26 points, while Osahor was immense with 24 points and 18 rebounds. Talia Walton added 12 and Alexus Atchley 11 for UW.

Lili Thompson paced four Stanford (27-8) players in double-figures with 19 points.

Washington, as they have done all NCAA Tournament long, jumped out of the gate quickly. They raced to a 12-0 lead before Thompson hit a three pointer three minutes into the game.

The Huskies never looked back, taking a 15-point lead after the first quarter, 11 point lead at half, and 12 point lead after three quarters.

Stanford's Erica McCall made a three-pointer with 7:23 left in the fourth quarter to draw Stanford to a four-point deficit, but that's as close as the Cardinal would get.  Both teams went back and forth for a minute before a Walton layin pushed UW's lead to 69-63, and then an Atchley layin right down the lane made it an eight-point advantage.

©M. Samek / SCOUT
Washington's defense stiffened up, and they held Stanford scoreless from the field until McCall made a three-pointer with 1:33 remaining. Thompson hit another three to bridge the gap to five with 68 seconds left, but from there on out the Huskies made their free throws - one from Osahor, two from Walton and  four-straight from Plum to close out the game.

"I've heard people say it before, and I've never experienced it, but I'm literally numb," Washington Head Coach Mike Neighbors said. "Could not be more proud of a group of kids. To see these guys experience this is a dream come true as a coach."

"I'm lost for words right now," added Plum. "I'm so proud of this team. No one picked us. That's the most amazing thing about it; everyone in that locker room believed, and that's all that mattered."

The Huskies will face the winner of the Syracuse-Tennessee Elite 8 game Sunday afternoon. That game will take place in Indianapolis Sunday, April 3rd. 

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Full Post-Game Quotes

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the press conference for the Washington women's basketball team. We're joined at the podium by head coach Mike Neighbors, and student-athletes Kelsey Plum, Talia Walton, and Chantel Osahor. Coach, an opening statement ...

MIKE NEIGHBORS: Thank you to Lexington, Rupp Arena felt like home all week long. It was really run with a lot of class. Everybody made us feel very welcome. And after the first game made us feel like we were the home team.

Congratulations to Stanford for making the Elite Eight. It's been a really good year for the Pac-12. To have three teams in the Elite Eight, we were guaranteed of having one in the Final Four, at least, for the first time in a long time.

Couldn't be more proud of our entire team. These three beside me that have believed for a long, long time. Talia who could have left and gone at any major school on the West Coast or probably the country when I got the job, and Chantel and Kelsey who had the opportunity down to the very end to make a change and they believed. For us to be here validates so many things for what we work on a daily basis, and we're not done yet. Just "what's next" has been our motto, and it's going to continue to be all the way through Indy.

Q. Chantel, we asked Kelsey a question the other day, but as your coach said you had the opportunity to go somewhere else. What attracted you to Washington in the first place and what made you kind of believe maybe I was capable of doing something like this here?
CHANTEL OSAHOR: Just the teammates that were here, the coaches. I went to go see Nabe, he had something to do. He came down to Arizona and I went to go talk to him, and I just felt trust. I just knew he was going to have my back on and off the court and just be there for me. I was young, and I needed to feel that trust and I felt that.

So I knew everything else would take care of itself.

MIKE NEIGHBORS: Chantel graduated from high school a year early. So she was a year younger than most people graduating in that class, that's why she's referring to when she was young.

Q. What you have achieved now with your teammates, what are your thoughts about being the MVP of this region here?
CHANTEL OSAHOR: I mean, it feels good. It's my teammates though. They had confidence in me to hit those threes and shoot the ball. They kept telling me to shoot the ball and Coach kept telling me to shoot the ball. We're all MVPs, I just got it, but we're all MVPs here.

Q. Kelsey or Talia, what was the mindset going into the game? Because you guys came out on a 12-0 run, Chantel hit a couple threes. Was there anything special that maybe you guys thought, all right, we're ready to go and we're going to start fast?
TALIA WALTON: I wouldn't say there was anything special. To us it's just another game. If we start thinking about Final Four or this or that, that's when the jitters can set in and you don't execute. But to us it was just another game. In our mind what we've done all year is just believe. We came to this, and I don't think anybody picked us to win, and that's been the thing through the whole tournament. We just believed in ourselves and know what we're capable of, our confidence, there is no rip to it.

Q. What does this feel like right now?
CHANTEL OSAHOR: I don't think it's really hit us. We're in the Final Four. We've got to look back and appreciate it and soak it in because it's an opportunity that a lot of people don't get. It's an opportunity that a lot of people never get. To be in this position, I mean, I've got to thank God for it. I mean, we're not done, obviously, but it's a good feeling.

TALIA WALTON: We are definitely going to, like Coach told me, enjoy this. Come Monday we'll be one of only four teams left in the country playing women's basketball. So you've got to soak it all in. We can't, I mean, obviously we're going to look forward to Indianapolis when that time comes. But right now we're going to truly enjoy this blessing.

MIKE NEIGHBORS: I've heard people say a lot of times it's surreal and it's numbing, but it really is. I thought they were kind of full of it. But the first thing that hit me was like Talia said, there's four teams left after today or tomorrow, I think. We'll get a chance to watch two of them.

I follow the history of this game an awful lot. Like Talia said, I don't know what the percentage of ESPN brackets are that had us in the Final Four, but I'm going to say there's probably zero, correct? And that's when it, to me, kind of hits at what we've been able to accomplish.

We will enjoy this thing until we get back to Seattle, and I'm going to let them have a day when they get back to Seattle as well. We'll be able to get to work on the plane, but I want these guys to soak this thing in. It is so rare, and I want them to remember all these things 25, 30 years from now, not just not enjoy the journey.

Q. Lexington has obviously been very, very good to Coach Neighbors. He talked about some of the history behind the area. You're playing in historic Rupp Arena. It's such a big stage for a chance to go to the Final Four. Are you or any of the team aware of Rupp Arena and the history behind it?
KELSEY PLUM: Actually before the game I was talking to one of the ushers. He's an older gentleman, and he was talking about some of the games they played in Rupp Arena with the men and they've sold out. I mean, you've got to get in line for tickets and they're crazy. He was just telling me about some of the history, so I was a little enlightened before the game.

But I think for our team, as cool as the stage is, we were focused on the game. And I feel like if you get caught up in the moment and you're grateful to be here and you're star struck or whatever the case may be, you can lose focus. I was really proud of the way -- we did take pictures walking in and we were in awe, "oh, ah," but then we focused in and got the job done.

TALIA WALTON: Yeah, to piggyback off what Kelsey said, not just Rupp Arena but Lexington as a community. The first night we got here we went out to eat and we had people coming up to our table wishing us good luck, and "welcome to Kentucky" and all types of stuff. The people here make this a basketball place. Like it's phenomenal. And we're really thankful for all the support that we got.

Q. Coach mentioned and both you guys mentioned how much support you got. You guys are wearing purple, which is not exactly blue, but do you think playing in Rupp Arena the kind of support you got from the locals here?
KELSEY PLUM: I think we kind of won over some of the locals in that Kentucky game. I think at the end of the game they respected us and liked the way we played. It helps that our coach is dating someone that lives in Kentucky. So I think those fans were very gracious after that Kentucky game and they said, "Great job. We really enjoyed watching you." And I think that carried over to today. There were a lot of just really nice people that said, "Hey, we're wishing you guys the best."

Purple is kind of a shade of blue.

Q. Chantel, the two previous games with Stanford I know you had a ton of rebounds against them in the Pac-12 Tournament, but you hadn't scored very much or shot particularly well against Stanford those first two games. What was the difference today? Because clearly you were kind of a model of efficiency today.
CHANTEL OSAHOR: Confidence in myself, teammates having confidence in me, the confidence riding from the other game. I mean, I shot it pretty well against Kentucky, and I wanted to bring that to this game and thankfully I did.

MIKE NEIGHBORS: I called a lot more plays for her tonight too. I was really bad, because the first time we played Stanford I had a terrible offensive game plan and defensive game plan, so we saw a good opportunity and we just kept calling plays for her. Kelsey called a couple and Talia called a couple, too, down the stretch. So that was another reason that I think she hasn't scored in the past, we didn't get her enough touches.

Q. Kelsey, how fun was it to see Kelli Kingma get in there and hit those two big threes in the corner in the first half? And really emphasize what you guys have been saying all week, just total team effort?
KELSEY PLUM: I think everyone on our bench, everyone in our crowd, everyone not Kelli was even more excited than Kelli was, right? And those were two big shots. She did not hesitate. She knocked them down.

You know, it's really hard to go in the game and get a ball and even when you're open make the shot. It's extremely difficult. I think it could be more difficult than when you have somebody in front of you. So credit Kelli. She came in against Kentucky and hit another big shot as well. So people were ready to play, and that was huge for us.

TALIA WALTON: I'd like to add to that. Kelli is a strong person of faith and she's really inspired me. Like I said, people ask us about our bench and whatnot, any of them could have checked out. How many people want to come to practice every day, put in the work and sometimes not get in, sometimes get in, whatever the case may be. But she's continued to work hard, continued to just wait for her moment, and when she came in, she shined. That's exactly what happened. That could be a message to all of us, if you just continue to persevere and keep the faith, anything's possible.

She's such an amazing person.

MIKE NEIGHBORS: We don't only play five players because they're the only players we have. We do it because it's become our identity. The way that the flow goes. So it could be Kelli tonight, it could be Deja in the Final Four, who knows? Had Hannah Johnson not gotten hurt, it could be any of those kids.

So we have a quality bench. We have only decided to shorten that bench and play it like we do because of the flow we get into and the rhythm we get into, and the way these guys have conditioned their bodies. We started to get in a little foul trouble there tonight. But when you play 40 minutes at that level, you're going to have (inaudible).

Q. Stanford hit those four straight threes to start the fourth quarter, I think they cut it to 4. What is the message, what is the mindset and feeling at that point? I think you had a couple quick drives, couple quick baskets. At that point did you feel like maybe you had to try to take over at that point?
KELSEY PLUM: Well, we knew Stanford was going to come out and punch us back, they were going to make some adjustments. They started Alanna Smith, a post player that can shoot the three and makes it more difficult in our zone.

I knew for me personally I needed to be super aggressive in transition, and try to, like I said, make the defense wrong. Chantel got some big rebounds and I was able to run and we were able to make some shots. And that kind of pulled the game back out. And we were able to kind of control the tempo from there.

But credit to them, they shot it well. They hit some big, timely shots as well. They're a very good team, and we knew that they were going to punch us.

MIKE NEIGHBORS: Chantel wants to be a coach, and I think she made her first really good coaching decision tonight. She said, "Are we going to stay in this two or are we going to guard her man?" It was a good idea, and she brought it up. So her first coaching decision was about 4 1/2 minutes to go, and that was big.

Q. There's a possibility now you can have two teams from in the Final Four from the Pac-12, one won't be Stanford. Particularly Stanford being the standard bearer in this conference for so long, you're able to have two teams and one of the teams not being the one everybody thinks.
MIKE NEIGHBORS: Stanford is still a standard bearer for us. It's a tribute to what they have done there, for the rest of our coaches to use them as that standard to raise our level. The administrations in our conference have made an effort to give us everything we need to be competitive.

Stanford has not fallen off, we've just raised. I'm telling you, I think we see that by them being here. It would be great if Oregon State can do what we are all confident they can do and join us in the Final Four. But already, I think the Pac-12 has validated what we've been saying since Christmas in trying to spread the word that, I know you've heard it before, but the Pac-12's really good. I think we've said that in the past, and it's sometimes hard to validate. But three teams in the Elite Eight, four teams in the Sweet 16, and now at least one in the Final Four I think, at least if we're not in the argument, we should be.

Q. Not to insinuate, but I assume with the 12-0 run to start the game you were probably happy with the preparation. But you can talk about preparation, but what did you think of the focus from there on? It seemed like especially offensively you kept going, and going, and going.
MIKE NEIGHBORS: Well, we've always felt like we have an advantage when we run, and you've got to get stops to do that, so the defense led to the offense. But we are fresh. We started in January only practicing one day a week. Taking a second full day off. Really working on our bodies. Making sure on the days in between games, we played Friday, Sunday, that we didn't tax their bodies too much, and now we're fresh. So the day in between, we came in, spread out around Rupp Arena. You were talking about the historic part of it, I told the kids to go sit at the top, find a corner and enjoy this place. Because y'all will realize 20 years from now how legendary it is.

So we watched film on their own. Just kind of spread around, had a really light day on Saturday, but our focus was really good for about 40 minutes. When I got them, I said, this is where we really need to go and focus, it was as good as it's ever been. We were on point, they had good questions. We went through the defensive adjustments they make every game, and we put a few tweaks into our offense that we wanted to run early.

It's the first time all year Alexus has actually brought the ball up the court and attacked on the first play; we haven't done that all year long. We thought they're probably over there preparing, but I can guarantee they haven't prepared for this. So she drove that thing and laid it in, and from that point on, that's when those kids looked around and thought, here we go. I thought the start was tremendous.

It was so tremendous that when we finally had a bad possession, and I think it was 16 or 17 possessions in, we stood around and ended up getting a shot clock, they were mad at each other. I was like, "Y'all, calm down." But they were at that level of focus.

They calmed me down. I've got a lot of friends here that kept me calm throughout the week, and then my daughter drove up from Arkansas throughout the night after she got off work. Couldn't be more proud. The proudest moment for dad was she didn't try to get out of work, but she got off and drove through the night with some friends and surprised me this morning.

So everybody here kept us calm, like it was at home, and the team's focus comes from these guys over here. If I start letting it get away from myself, they bring it right back in.

Q. Coach, obviously you guys have always believed that's been the message, the motto from the get-go. But still a three-game tear like this, Maryland, Kentucky, Stanford, top-13 teams and to just hammer them, are you a little surprised, I know you think you're good, but to be playing that good and that consistently?
MIKE NEIGHBORS: Yes, and no. I mean, I certainly knew we were capable of it. You just don't know how a group of kids are going to react in the environments we've been in, tremendous environments. We've talked a lot about it at the beginning of the year that we've had the right pieces. But sometimes the right pieces don't end up making a puzzle. I think this group really fits together and forms a good puzzle.

So I'm not surprised at the way we've done it. I'm surprised with maybe the manner in which a lot of people have said, wow, y'all are fun to watch or, man, you made it look easy. Certainly it's not felt easy, but it's the calmest I've been all year long, I think. On the side you guys see me more than that. But they have done all the things they need to do to go out there with a little bit of quiet cockiness. There is a quiet calm about them. There is not a cockiness in any of our groups, but there is a quiet swagger to them, and I think you have to have that. Our group developed it about halfway through the year and has just kept building on it.

Q. You're going to soak this in and take some time off, of course, but is there any preference or what do you know about the pending opponents that you might face?
MIKE NEIGHBORS: Yeah, we played Syracuse in the tournament this year in Las Vegas. They're a potential match-up along with Tennessee, who I know very well. One of my staff member's sister is on the team. I've watched the SEC a lot. We have no preference. Obviously whoever gets there is going to be playing great.

We'll enjoy it. We're going back to Seattle. We did that for Maryland. We went from Maryland home, and then we came back. So we'll go back to Seattle. I think it's really important that our kids experience the excitement -- as good a city as Lexington is, Seattle is a great sports city. I'm sure the welcome home's going to be great. Our kids need to experience that, sleep in their own bed, let us do a little work, and we'll start our trek to Indy, probably toward the end of the week.


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