O'Neill's tip-in sinks ‘Cats

The Husky women's basketball team faced rare home adversity tonight as the #18 ranked Arizona Wildcats came into Seattle at 10-3 and 4-1 in the Pac-10. The Huskies came into the game unranked at 11-2 overall and 3-1 in conference play. The 5,458 in attendance tonight were given a treat as Washington pulled out a come from behind victory 60-59 at Hec-Edmunson Pavilion.

The Huskies struggled with turnovers right off the bat. Andrea Lalum won the tip to Giuliana Mendiola but she tossed it away looking for Loree Payne. Turnovers and the post play of Shawntinice Polk put the Huskies in an early 19-10 hole, which included the Wildcats starting the game on a 7-0 run.

The 6'5" Polk was the main source of Arizona's offense as the Huskies worked to find the right defensive match up to combat her size. Polk was fronted for most of the first half, but Arizona did a good job finding their center with lob passes from the top of the key. "They were so effective going over the top that we thought we would get some size in there," said Husky head coach June Daugherty. Daugherty combated Polk's play with 6'4" Andrea Lalum as well as 6'4" Sarah Keeler. Polk scored 8 early points to help the Wildcats out to a 21-12 lead before Washington was able to put together a run.

Fueled by a frenzied Band of America Arena crowd the Huskies scored the next nine points to pull even at 21-21 paced by the play of Kristin O'Neill who made her first four shots. O'Neill finished the first half with nine points to lead the Huskies. But the Wildcat's Dee-Dee Wheeler found her stroke from behind the arc to push Arizona back out ahead. Wheeler scored eight points in the last five minutes of the first half to help the Wildcats out to an eleven point halftime lead at 38-27.

A lucky Husky fan won $10,000 dollars in the Husky high rollers contest at half time, which brought a roar from the crowd. The dog races that followed kept the enthusiasm at a high level. The Huskies did their best to feed off the energy of the crowd to start the half. Another Kristin O'Neill three pointer cut the Arizona lead to nine, but the Huskies were unable to cut into the lead any further for the next six minutes. Both sides went cold until there were under thirteen minutes to play. In the first 7 minutes of the second stanza the Wildcats had only scored four points to the Huskies' ten.

At the under twelve TV timeout the Huskies had cut the lead to three on a two fast breaks led by Giuliana Mendiola. First she found Emily Autrey behind the Arizona defense and on the ensuing possession she took it to the rim herself, getting fouled in the process. Giu made both free throws to make it 41-44 and continued to spark the Huskies with a three pointer following an Aimee Grzyb left handed lay-in. The three pointer made it a 44-46 game. The two point margin was the closest the Huskies had been since they briefly held the lead at 24-23 in the first half.

It was a back and forth affair from that moment on. The Wildcats couldn't separate themselves from the Huskies by more than a five point margin. The lively pro-Husky crowd went nuts when Kristin O'Neill hit a right wing three to tie the game at 54-54 with 2:46 left and again when Giuliana Mendiola hit from the left baseline to tie at 56-all. It looked like the Huskies would take the lead when Kristin O'Neill went to the line at 1:16 remaining after she was fouled by Polk, but O'Neill missed both of her free throws and gave UA the chance to take the lead.

With the crowd at its feet, the Huskies put together a good defensive effort on the ensuing possession but Aimee Grzyb drained a desperation three pointer from well beyond the arc as the shot clock expired to put Arizona up three at 59-56. It was Grzyb's fifth three pointer of the night as she finished with 19 points for the Wildcats, second only to Polk's 20.

Time ticked away for the Huskies on their next possession. It took Washington over 15 seconds to activate their half court offense, but junior captain Giuliana Mendiola took matters into her own hands and forced the issue with Polk and garnered Polk's fifth foul. Giu went to the line to shoot two with 23.1 seconds remaining in regulation. She calmly drained the first. Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini called time in effort to ice the shooter, but Giu was not fazed. She made her second free throw to bring the Huskies within one with 23.1 to play.

The Huskies were forced to foul the Wildcats. Emily Autrey was called for reaching in on Dee-Dee Wheeler with 18.5 to play. Wheeler went to the line for a one and one and promptly missed the front end. The rebound caromed off several hands but ended up with Arizona. Kristin O'Neill, who was all over the court chased down Aimee Grzyb to once again put the Wildcats on the line with only 14.4 to play. It was the Huskies' ninth team foul so once again Arizona was shooting the one and one. Grzyb missed the front end as well.

The Huskies headed up the floor without a timeout and the clock ticking away. Giuliana Mendiola drove down the left side of the lane with 5 seconds remaining and threw up a lay-up that looked like it would rattle it. The ball came off the rim, but into the hands of Kristin O'Neill. O'Neill laid in the put back to give the Huskies their first lead and only lead of the second half at 60-59 with only 2.7 to play. Arizona's last second heave fell short and the pandemonium ensued. Washington's bench emptied onto the floor to surround O'Neill and emotional leader Kayla Burt and the crowd stood for a long, loud ovation.

O'Neill's tip culminated a career night for the sophomore from Edmonds. Her 17 points and nine rebounds both led the Huskies. She was seven of eight from the field including three for three from outside, though she did go 0 for 5 from the free throw line. Each three pointer was a huge momentum gainer for the Huskies. The Huskies needed every shot out of O'Neill as the rest of the team only shot 13 of 47 from the field. "It was the tip-in of the year," said Coach Daugherty. "She played a great overall game."

With a 12-2 record and a win over the #18 team in the country one would think that the Huskies would make an appearance in the next polls, but it doesn't concern Daugherty at all. She feels there are other things to worry about. "You know, two years ago we were never ranked and we ended up in the elite 8, I'm not so sure how I feel about the polls," June said. "The important thing is that we keep playing hard and win for Kayla."

Next Up: The Huskies will go to the Bay Area next Thursday and Saturday to face Cal and #5 Stanford in more Pac-10 action. Their next home game will be Thursday January 23rd against the Oregon Ducks at 7pm.

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