USA TODAY Sports

Huskies can't get past Syracuse; Final Four run ends

The Syracuse Orange jumped out to an early lead, took a 12-point advantage to the half, and eventually ran away from the Washington Huskies 80-59, as the Huskies' remarkable Final Four run, and their most successful season in team history, ended Sunday night in Indianapolis.

Talia Walton, who at one point had scored 15 of Washington's first 18 points, finished the night leading all scorers with 29.  Walton was 10-15 from the field, including 8-9 from three-point range, the most ever makes by a player in a national championship semifinal. 

Kelsey Plum was the only other UW player in double-figures with 17. 

Chantel Osahor, who was averaging a double-double in tournament play, held up her end on the glass with 14 rebounds, but couldn't find her shooting touch. The junior from Phoenix was 1-6 from the field, all three-point attempts. 

Alexis Peterson led Syracuse with 18 points. Brittney Sykes added 17, Brianna Butler 12, and Cornelia Fondren 10. 

Washington, who stood a 0.2 percent chance of even making it to the Final Four before the tournament began, had no answers for Syracuse's pressure defense. They forced 18 UW turnovers, which they were able to turn into 20 points. 

The Orange also dominated Washington on the boards, 46-28, including 17-4 on the offensive end. Syracuse turned those 17 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points. 

Both teams bombed away from three-point range, taking 58 combined shots from distance. The Huskies kept themselves in the game, shooting 44 percent from deep (11-25), but the Orange shot eight more threes and 19 more shots overall than the Huskies. 

Down 43-31 at the half, Washington tried to narrow the gap but the Orange went on a quick 7-2 run to push their advantage. A three-pointer by Peterson with 1:50 to play in the third quarter saw SU's lead grow all the way to 24. The Huskies finished the quarter on a 5-0 run but the damage had been done. 

The Huskies were able to cut the lead to 13 after a Kelli Kingma three with 5:37 to play, but back-to-back threes by Sykes and Butler proved to be double daggers to Washington's heart. 

In fact, Kingma's triple was the last points the Huskies would score all game, as Syracuse finished the game with an 8-0 run. 

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QUOTES

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by University of Washington head Coach Mike Neighbors and student-athletes Kelsey Plum and Talia Walton. Coach, an opening statement.

COACH NEIGHBORS: We ran into the hottest team in the tournament. Congratulations to Syracuse. They continue to play like they have been for the last month and a half of the season. Incredibly, incredibly hard to defend and incredibly hard to function against offensively.

I think we've been playing as well offensively as anybody in the country for the last month. They really put a lot of stress on us, made it really hard.

I was proud of our fight. Our kids, they stuck together and battled, and I couldn't be more proud of the group that I get to travel with tomorrow back to Seattle, back to the University of Washington, done so much for us and the city of Seattle who has really rallied around us on this run.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Kelsey, how disruptive were they, I mean, obviously it looked really disruptive, but how uncomfortable did they make you guys from the get-go?
KELSEY PLUM: Syracuse, their pressure is very good, they do a very good job of trapping ball screens and rotating on the pass and they're very athletic. So they touch a lot of passes. They did a great job tonight. And I didn't do a very good job of handling that pressure.

Q. Talia, talk us through your performance. I know it's certainly not the result that you wanted, but, I mean, just talk us through tonight. You seemed to have a hot hand for most of the game.
TALIA WALTON: I just wanted to come out and play like it was my last game, obviously hoping that it wasn't. But just knowing that it could potentially be my last game and I wanted to do what I could to give my team the best chance to win.

My teammates did a great job of finding me, kept my hand hot. And so a lot of credit goes to them. I just wanted to do what I could to give my team the best chance.

Q. Kelsey, when you've come up against adversity in the past, how have you used it? How have you let it fuel you, and have you thought about sort of how you're going to process this to help you get back to your next year?
KELSEY PLUM: You know, it's kind of tough after a loss like this. You kind of have to take a moment to reflect on just the season and the game. And Coach said if you don't give yourself a pat on the back and just kind of recognize what kind of a season that I had individually and the team had, you know, your brain doesn't function as well if you don't appreciate it.

And so I think before starting to worry about next season, I'm going to just look back and say how proud I am of my team and just how we fought throughout the tournament and all the people that we surprised being here. So I'll worry about next season like in a month.

Q. You answered a little bit right now, Kelsey, but I know right now you're disappointed, but when you look back on this run you made, is there anything but joy associated with it?
KELSEY PLUM: Yeah, obviously it's been quite a ride. A lot of people are asking us, oh, if you guys were to write a book or make a movie about this it would be a top seller. So we might think about that. But it's just been so much fun.

For me, personally, it's like I said, to end my career going out with this group of girls, man, they've challenged me, made me so much better as a person, as a player, as a leader, everything. It's something I'll never be able to repay to them. But it's been fun.

Q. Talia, you had the lead a few times. And you would get it close and they would come back down, hit a couple of big shots. How tough was that mentally, especially that one late in the game, got it to 13 and they hit a couple of 3s?
TALIA WALTON: That's something normally we do to teams. They get it close, and then we hit the dagger. We do this or that. I'm not going to say it sucks, but it's something we'll grow from. They're a phenomenal team, have phenomenal players and just play so well. And they try to get the best shot every time. So a lot of credit goes to their offense for sure. Yeah. Just played great.

Q. Kelsey, you played them early in the year. So you knew what to expect. Did they come at you in waves with their depth? I know you know they're deep. What's it like to have player after player come off the bench and hit a big shot or makes a steal? And you're in the middle of it, you're handling the ball. What's it like when you're facing that depth?
KELSEY PLUM: They do a really good job of rotating in fresh legs, and everyone plays super hard on their team. Credit their coaching staff for having a great plan. And they hit shots tonight, hit big shots. And then put a lot of pressure on us. So we were kind of -- I struggled getting us into offense and gotta credit them. They had a great game plan, and they executed it.

Q. Talia, the question after this is can Syracuse give Connecticut a game? The team you just played tonight, can they give Connecticut a game?
TALIA WALTON: If they play as hard as they did and play together and do what they did tonight, I'm sure they can. Connecticut is a phenomenal team. They have a lot of experience here, and Syracuse doesn't. But you couldn't tell they didn't have experience by that game tonight.

So after every game I told them go get it and give them their best shot because that's all you have to do.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies. Questions for Coach.

Q. You know they're going to take 3s. You've played them before. How do they get such good looks, and what was key tonight, not only taking them out of 3s but hitting a lot?
COACH NEIGHBORS: We were concerned about the number that they were going to attempt. They brought us out of our zone early by making shots. Ran us out of our zone, which is our bread and butter. They were hot down the stretch. Not doing anything they haven't been for the last month.

You can prepare for it, you can watch it on film, you can try to simulate it all you want. But when they can spread you and stretch you that far out on the floor, it makes it incredibly hard to defend. Then we get spread out and we can't rebound as well. They have 17 second-chance points and 20 points off turnovers. That's 37 points that are effort and hustle and them doing what they do.

So I felt like they really did what they do better than we do what we do. And I think that's the difference in the game.

Q. You alluded to it, but how tough is it to prepare for what they do?
COACH NEIGHBORS: It's next to impossible because you can't simulate it. We've been here for three days. Coach Valley and Adia Barnes were great players back in the day, but they can't get out there and assimilate it any more than that. I certainly can't. We were trying to do it just by how we went at it, anybody that was in our practices saw us working on faking passes and making passes and cutting.

You can go at it as hard as you want to in practice, but you can't simulate stuff like that. We don't have anybody in our league that presses for 40 minutes and puts such stress on you for 40 minutes. The only game we had to draw from it was that game back in November, which they dominated equally, except for about one quarter, which we were really good in down there.

And I felt like tonight they just, every quarter, like you said, every time we would get it close, they would get an offensive rebound, kick out three, and those are just really hard to recover from.

Q. You had a long chat, it seemed, time-wise with Q at the end of the game there. 10 seconds left, you were already talking at half court. What were you guys saying? And, secondly, just put in perspective what this season, the run you guys have been on, it's been a long time since you've seen that?
COACH NEIGHBORS: I've got a lot of respect for the way Q does it and how he's done it. I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to talk about it. I hate the fly-by handshakes that happen sometimes. I wanted to make sure he understood how much respect our staff and our team have for what they've done.

Secondly, the second part of your question, I'm sad right now but inside I'm almost going to be jubilant about 20 minutes because it's been so much fun watching these kids enjoy this ride. It hurts right now because we have a few seniors that it is their last game. But the fact that nobody that's ever worn a Washington Huskies uniform has been to this place. The support we've gotten -- you saw our crowd. Our administration got out here. To come that far. We've been in this time zone -- I think we're going to have to start paying taxes over here. We've been here so much.

So the outpouring will come. These kids, like Kelsey was saying, they'll get to celebrate this. It won't be tonight. But we'll have a lot -- I told them: This is the kind of thing they bring you back when you're 60 and 70 years old and celebrate. So this is a lifelong thing. It's what the student-athlete experience should be like. And we're really grateful that we got a chance to experience it.

Q. Coach, you've been pretty much riding your starting five for most of the tournament. But you went to your bench pretty early this game. Can you talk about what you were seeing from Syracuse that caused that?
COACH NEIGHBORS: We just wanted to get every kid a chance to kind of experience it quick. I didn't want to wait as long as we normally do. So I went to Kelli and Moosey early, just to let them catch their breath and get it because, again, you can't prepare. We haven't played in front of 15,000 people before in this type of environment. So I wanted to make sure they got an early start.

Mathilde's knee is really hurting her and she's not 100 percent. So I thought Kelli gave us 22 really, really good minutes tonight, and that's obviously something we can use to build on for the future. But that was the reason we went a little earlier than normal.

Q. Early on in the game Syracuse shot 2 for 10 from the field, and then the last five minutes of the first half they just caught fire. They went 8 for 10. And then you guys end up missing your first five shots. That almost seemed to set the tone for the game. Your thoughts on that.
COACH NEIGHBORS: That was a big run. That's obviously where they stretched it. He made a little adjustment. I thought we had a great game plan the way we were going to guard things. Like I said in the pregame, this guy can really coach. They made a little adjustment. They started to get it to the high post, then it was just eight points in a row. And when you get a team that is this hot this late in the year, that fuels that energy and it's really hard to stem the flow.

Q. How big of a deal was it them holding Plum to a game like she had today?
COACH NEIGHBORS: I don't think it was the difference, because she was finding Talia. She made her first eight 3s, right, am I wrong? She missed her last one. Again, Kelsey was making the right reads. Getting the ball to Talia when she needed it. Obviously we need her to score some, but we don't have to have her score every night to be a really, really effective team.

I felt like the thing that they did best was they really, really made it hard on her for 40 minutes. And I don't have a really -- I didn't have a really good -- I wasn't much help to her tonight, because we kept putting it in her hands and I knew she was tired and I knew she had been stressed like she hadn't been stressed all year. So a lot of the shooting was because I couldn't give her a break and I couldn't move her off the ball.

I thought Chantel did a really good job in the middle part of the game kind of being our point guard, breaking the press. But she played 38 minutes tonight as well. So fatigue certainly factored in. That's part of their formula. I hoped that adrenalin would kick in, and it didn't.

Q. I know you're a stats guy, big guy on improvement. What lessons are you going to take into the next season and the following season, what you've learned here and all season?
COACH NEIGHBORS: We'll take some days in our offseason and simulate pressure like this. I didn't do that last year, and that's my fault. We should have had some days when we had time and we had our guys practice in there. Even though an upcoming opponent didn't do it. We should have worked on this.

And now we know. Now we know that there's going to be a team. This is obviously going to be the book on us, and people will watch this film and try to maybe emulate this to beat us. So we'll use that to improve in the offseason when we get back to work. We'll get a summer tour this summer with our freshmen coming in. We won't be unprepared again.

Q. What do you hope Talia Walton did for her pro stock in this tournament run?
COACH NEIGHBORS: I hope she did what we've known all along; that this kid can play as long as she wants to. She's so versatile. She's done a number of things that we've asked her to do that are just not ordinary. Change positions, work on your handles, post up, do this, do that.

You know, I think we draft 36 players in the WNBA draft. If there's 36 better than her, then I'm missing out. And I hope everybody got a chance to see that on the national stage these last couple of weeks against Penn, Maryland, Kentucky and Stanford. We've seen it for five years. That happens in our gym all the time. I hope people take a critical eye and understand -- she's great up here y'all. She's really, really good. She gets the game. And she's smart. And she's a great teammate.

If I ever coach a team, I want her or kids like her on my team. So I hope everybody sees that and understands the value that she can bring teams here to the WNBA and professionally worldwide.

Q. We spoke about Kelsey's evolution up until now. I'm just curious what you see as sort of the next evolution for her next season, number one. Number two, what do you think an experience like this can and will do in terms of power and what she does next?
COACH NEIGHBORS: If we don't let her celebrate it, she'll tear herself apart. She is that type of kid that is just a competitor and she's going to shoulder the blame, she's going to look at plays. And if we don't help her get through that part and let her brain enjoy it like she's talked about -- obviously we talk about that all the time, because she brought it up up here. We've gotta do that for her, because how much we count on her to have the ball in her hands, it's asking an awful lot. And I know that. And it's a high stage to be able to do what she's done consistently for this entire year is pretty staggering.

The second part of your question is I think the evolution for her, she'll move off the ball a little bit next year. We've got a couple of point guards, true point guards coming in, she'll be able to move off the ball. If we had those kids tonight, we could have moved her off the ball for eight or ten minutes, then she would have been less tired and probably would have made a few of those shots.

She hasn't missed a layup like that all year like she did late in the game. That's because we've been asking her to break the press against one of the best pressing teams in women's college basketball. That's all we've been doing.

I think she'll use it to drive herself, but we've got to make sure that she does sit back and understand what type of a season she was able to help us have and how impactful her play was on the success of our team.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

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