LEXINGTON, Ky. — Chantel Osahor and Kelsey Plum always believed they could help make Washington a championship-caliber program.
They signed with the Huskies as out-of-state recruits even though Washington had never reached the Final Four and hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2006. Their faith was rewarded Sunday when the junior tandem led the seventh-seeded Huskies to an 85-76 victory over No. 4 seed Stanford in the NCAA Lexington Regional women’s basketball final.
“I don’t think it’s really hit us,” said Osahor, wearing a piece of the Rupp Arena net tied to her Final Four hat. “I mean, we’re in the Final Four. That’s a huge accomplishment. I think we’ve got to look back and appreciate it and soak it in because it’s an opportunity a lot of people don’t get.”
Osahor, selected the 4regional’s most valuable player, matched a career high with 24 points and had 18 rebounds. Plum, who began the day as the third-leading scorer in Division I, had 26 points and eight assists.
Their efforts made Washington the first team seeded seventh or lower to reach a Final Four since Minnesota got there in 2004. Washington (26-10) will face Syracuse or Tennessee in a semifinal April 3 in Indianapolis.
“We’re not done yet,” Washington coach Mike Neighbors said. “’What’s Next?’ has been our motto. It’s going to continue to be all the way through Indy.”
This marked the first regional final between two Pac-12 schools since Stanford beat Southern California 82-62 on its way to winning the national championship in 1992, when the conference was still known as the Pac-10.
Washington scored the game’s first 12 points, had a 22-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and stayed ahead the rest of the way.
Stanford (27-8) pulled to 78-73 on Lili Thompson’s 3-pointer with 1:07 left. An offensive foul on Plum allowed Stanford to get the ball back, but Thompson missed a 3-pointer with a minute remaining.
Washington went 7 of 8 on free throws in the final minute.
“We dug ourselves too big a hole in the first quarter,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We just for some reason did not come out with the intensity and aggressiveness that we needed to. But I’m proud of our team. We had a great season.”
Thompson scored 19 points for Stanford (27-8), which was seeking its 13th Final Four appearance overall and seventh in the last nine seasons. Erica McCall added 17 points — all in the second half — and 15 rebounds.
This was the third meeting of the season between these two conference foes. Stanford won 69-53 at home on Jan. 29. Washington beat the Cardinal 73-65 on March 4 in the Pac-12 Tournament at Seattle.
Osahor, who had shot a combined 3 of 13 and had averaged just 4.5 points in those two previous games, was a model of efficiency Sunday.
Osahor’s physical presence early in the game also helped Washington hold McCall scoreless in the first half.
“Osahor was really the difference,” VanDerveer said.
Stanford cut Washington’s lead to 67-63 with 7:19 left after Karlie Samuelson, Thompson, Marta Sniezek and McCall hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions.
The Cardinal had the ball with a chance to cut further into the lead when Plum made a steal and drove to the basket. Although Plum missed her layup, Talia Walton delivered a putback that made it 69-63 with 6:23 remaining.
Stanford made one more charge in the closing minutes, but Plum wouldn’t allow Washington to fold. She scored 19 points in the second half to help Washington earn that Final Four bid she always believed was a realistic goal.
“I definitely thought it was possible,” Plum said. “I think with the right pieces and the right circumstance, anything is possible. We say that today, but credit our team for really believing it. I don’t think anyone else outside our locker room believed that this could happen. And that’s OK, because inside the locker room, that’s what counts.”