Catch-22

She has one of those shots that cannot be taught by any coach. She has been dominating Pac-10 competition for the past four years and broken records along the way. Her three-pointers have become as synonymous with the Seattle winter almost as much as the rain, and on Saturday, Loree Payne will play her final game at Hec Ed Pavilion capping a remarkable collegiate career at Washington.

Coming out of Havre, Montana, Payne's prep career credentials speak for themselves. In 1998, she was honored as a Nike All-American. She was named Montana's 1999 USA Today Player of the Year. She started all four years at Havre High School and averaged a whopping 25.0 points per game in that span.

Want more evidence? Her prep jersey is on display at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee. Not a bad thing to have on a resume.

Every major college program including Washington, Arizona, Stanford, Duke, and Florida came knocking at her door. The University of Montana was also up there for sentimental reasons.

"I decided that I wanted to stay a little bit closer to home so I narrowed my choices down to Montana and Washington, and then it was kind of evident to me where I should go, said Payne.

"Being close to my family, who had been such a huge part of my career in high school, I just wanted them to have the opportunity to watch me play."

Payne wasted little time in getting her great career started. As a freshmen no less, she led the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game. Along with Megan Franza, the duo combined to form the highest scoring duo in Pac-10 history. Her 521 points that season shattered the previous record for a freshmen.

Sophomore year was no different. In Payne's sophomore seam the team made it to the NCAA Tournament with a date set up with Old Dominion. Just when it looked as if the Huskies were booking their flight back home, the star of ESPN's Play of the Week took an inbound-pass from Franza and hit the game winning shot at the buzzer to defeat Old Dominion, 67-65.

"Awesome," said Payne, whose face lights up at just the mere mention of the play. "It was an incredible experience. I was fortunate enough to be put in a position to knock a shot down, and fortunately it went in. It definitely sparked a fire in everyone that year to progress three more games."

The Huskies used that momentum to knock off Florida 86-75, and then proceeded to take out Oklahoma 84-67. It took SW Missouri and Jacki Stiles, the NCAA all-time leading scorer to finally knock the Huskies out of the tournament. The Huskies may have been knocked out, but they had a taste of the big time and were anxious to get back.

"Going to the Elite Eight has been the highlight of my career thus far," said Payne. "We have the potential to go further than the Elite Eight this year."

As memorable as her sophomore season was, Payne's senior season has been memorable as well. She became the all-time leading three-point shooter in school history, surpassing Franza earlier on in the season. She is sitting at 241 three-pointers, which is also good for second all-time in Pac-10 history. Payne also climbed higher in the all-time scoring list. She is just the ninth player in school history to surpass the 1,500-points plateau, and is currently sixth on the all-time list with 1,644 career points.

But throw all those stats out the window because that is not what she thinks of first when recalling her senior season.

"Everything that has happened this year thus far has not necessarily been the ‘greatest' memory, but the memory that will always affect my life," said Payne. "When I think back about basketball, I think of all the awesome games, but I'll never forget this life altering perspective check that I got my senior year."

The "life altering perspective check" happened on New Years Eve when Payne's teammate and best friend Kayla Burt nearly died in her arms after her heart stopped beating. Burt's career as a basketball player was over, but thanks to Payne and other teammates, Burt's life was saved.

Payne, along with Giuliana and Gioconda Mendiola, Nicole Castro, and Erica Schelly were honored by the American Heart Association for their heroic efforts prior to the Huskies home game against Cal.

As far as the future goes, Payne has decided to keep an open mind about it all.

"I'm just keeping my options open with a lot of different things," said Payne. "If I get drafted (by the WNBA) and get the opportunity to play, I will definitely take that. As far as after that, I'll just wait and see as to what options are out there."

For the record, Franza was the last Husky to be drafted when she was selected by the Phoenix Mercury in the fourth round. Jamie Redd is the only former Husky currently playing in the WNBA (Seattle Storm).

One thing for sure is that emotions will be running high for the seniors. Along with Payne, Emily Autrey, Cheryl Sorenson, Kellie Dalan, and Alicia Heathcote will all be honored before the game.

"It's going to be sad of course," Payne said. "But it's going to be exciting too. Not very many people get to play one game in a place like this with the awesome crowd that we have. I'm honored to have played in every single game here."

And we were honored to have her. On Saturday, Hec Ed will be the "House of Payne" for one last round.

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