UW Women top Wildcats

Sparked by superb bench play from freshman center Sarah Keeler and hot shooting from Loree Payne, the Washington women proved to be too much for the Arizona Wildcats Thursday night, winning 77-73 in front of 2,988 fans at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

Four Huskies finished in double-figures scoring, led by the 22 of Loree Payne. Emily Autrey poured in 14, last week's Pacific-10 Player of the Week Giuliana Mendiola scored 14, and Andrea Lalum added 10 points to go with her 13 rebounds. Lalum's double double was her fourth of the season as she became the first Husky to reach 10 rebounds in a game since the team played host to Michigan back on December 9th.

Washington (14-8, 9-4 Pac-10) never trailed in the second half, but had to fend off a late charge by the pesky Wildcats in the final minutes. With backup center Keeler already fouled out of the game, Lalum, the team's starter in the middle, also fouled out with 1:43 remaining with Washington up 73-65.

That's when Arizona made things interesting. LaKeisha Taylor knocked down two free throws to draw the 'Cats to within six, and the visitors from the desert weren't done there. Freshman sensation Dee-Dee Wheeler got the benefit of a shooter's roll from three-point range to bring it to 73-70 with 54 ticks left on the game clock. Needing a score, Washington went to Emily Autrey and the forward from Kennewick, Wash. got loose through the lane for a layin, extending the Husky advantage to five. Without hesitation, Arizona pushed the ball back upcourt and got it back in the hands of Wheeler, who again found her stroke from long range with 30 seconds left, silencing the Washington fans.

The Huskies hit two of their last four free throw attempts down the stretch and Arizona's two late desperation heaves from three-point land clanged off the iron as Washington prevailed for its fourth consecutive victory.

"Arizona is a great team," said a relieved Loree Payne after the game. "We expected (the comeback). We knew they'd go on a run and I think we handled it well."

Coming out of halftime with an 11-point lead, the Huskies knew they weren't going to be able to coast to the final buzzer. They were right. Arizona (11-12, 7-7 Pac-10) went to its star, 6-4 senior Elizabeth Pickney, and she delivered in grand fashion. Pickney, who finished the first half with just six points, scored 11 before six minutes had elapsed in the second half, helping the Wildcats to close the gap to six at 47-41.

"She's very good," said Washington Head Coach June Daugherty of Pickney. "There's a good chance she'll be playing plenty of basketball at the next level. She's very, very tough. We've seen that from her for the last four years."

Never able to really make a run until the final minute of play, Arizona struggled to find answers on the offensive end of the court, failing to get contribution from anyone other than Pickney. Washington took advantage. Getting 10 consecutive points from Giuliana Mendiola and Autrey, the Huskies pushed the lead back up to as much as 13 as little more than five minutes remained in the game.

That's when Taylor, Arizona's center, stepped it up. The 6-4 senior rattled off eight of the team's next 11 points to get the Wildcats in position to make the late rally. Taylor finished with 16 on the night.

Pickney led UA with 22 points, while Wheeler rounded out the Wildcat's double-digit scorers with 17.

It was evident from the opening tip that it was going to be a hard-fought game. Arizona stuck with Washington stride for stride for the first 10 minutes of the game. In fact, the Wildcats at one point claimed a 7-2 lead before the Huskies quickly battled back. Loree Payne scored five points in a row, and made a perfect pass the next time down the court to Emily Autrey under the bucket for two more. Following an Arizona layin, Kellie O'Neill nailed a 15-footer to draw even at nine.

Both teams traded baskets over the next 4:43, and neither was able to seize control of the game. With Washington ahead 15-13, Wheeler stole the ball from Kayla Burt at the top of the key and went the length of the court for a layin to draw again tie up the score at 15 with 10:11 remaining in the half. From that moment on it was all Huskies as the home team raced ahead, riding the backs of Payne and Keeler for the next 10 minutes. Washington outscored Arizona 24-13 the rest of the way until halftime to claim a 39-28 lead as the teams headed into their respective locker rooms for intermission.

"People are stepping it up," said Daugherty. "Keeler came in and took over."

Payne finished the half with 11 points, while Keeler poured in nine on 4-4 shooting from the field.

Game Notes:

Up Next: Washington plays host to the Arizona State Sun Devils for an early afternoon game on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Having not played at home since January 19th, the Huskies were back in the friendly confines tonight without the benefit of many fans in the seats. Where tonight's attendance of 2,988 may be a terrific number for other Pac-10 teams, Washington has been accustomed to having more fannies in the seats this season. Coming into the game, UW was ranked third in the conference with an average home attendance of 3,341.

Gio Time: When Gioconda Mendiola entered the game with 5:08 left in the contest, her three brothers sitting at halfcourt with the rest of the Mendiola family stood up and gave her a thunderous ovation while the rest of the crowd remained all-but-silent. It was quite a funny sight to behold.

Mrs. Windex: Arizona center LaKeisha Taylor, a 6-4 senior from Houston, Texas, had a memorable evening on the glass. By the time the final horn sounded, Taylor pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds. Her previous best was 13.

Da Raida in Attendance: Like so many times in the four years he went to the University of Washington, Marques Tuiasosopo took in the women's game tonight. The 2001 2nd Round draft choice of the NFL's Oakland Raiders sat at halfcourt with the Mendiola family.

Husky Stats:

Points: Payne 22, Autrey 15, Giu. Mendiola 14, Lalum 10, Keeler 9, Burt 3, Kri. O'Neill 2, Kel. O'Neill 2
Rebounds: Lalum 13, Giu. Mendiola 5, Autrey 5, Kri. O'Neill 3, Payne 3, Burt 3, Keeler 2, Kel. O'Neill, Sorenson
Assists: Kel. O'Neill 6, Payne 4, Giu. Mendiola 3, Lalum 2, Sorenson, Autrey, Kel. O'Neill, Gio. Mendiola, Burt, Keeler
Steals: Lalum 2, Payne, Giu. Mendiola, Kri. O'Neill, Burt
Blocks: Autrey, Lalum, Keeler

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