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Washington’s aggressive defense stifles Arizona State

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Senior guard Kelsey Plum moves the ball toward the Arizona State defense during the first half of the Washington women's basketball team's Sunday night matchup. Plum had scored 14 points by halftime against ASU.

After committing more turnovers than it forced in its 91-55 win over Arizona on Friday night at Alaska Airlines Arena, the No. 10 Washington women’s basketball team stepped up its defense in its second game of the weekend.

The Huskies (24-3, 12-2 Pac-12) beat No. 23 Arizona State 70-57 for their fourth win in a row after forcing 16 turnovers and holding the Sun Devils (16-9, 7-7 Pac-12) to just 37.7 percent shooting in the loss.

“We play defense a little differently than them,” senior guard Kelsey Plum said. “They’re more aggressive in trying to take the ball away from you and we’re more pack-lined and compact. It’s different styles and they’re both effective. I think that our post players did well tonight to push them off the block and further away from the basket. Our game plan was to make them feel a little crowded tonight and I think we did a good job of that.”

Much of the UW’s success came in the paint, where it outscored ASU by 30. After falling behind 4-0 in the opening minutes, Plum scored Washington’s first six points of the game and made back-to-back layups to give her team an early 6-4 lead. Plum’s first two baskets of the game were kickstarted by turnovers that freshman guard Aarion McDonald forced which allowed Plum to get into the lane for an open shot.

Senior forward Chantel Osahor gave the Huskies a five-point lead after she grabbed her fourth offensive board and made another layup two minutes into the second period. At the halfway point of the quarter, redshirt senior forward Katie Collier pulled down her second offensive rebound of the game and converted the follow-up basket to halt a 6-0 run from Arizona State.

A minute later, Osahor made another layup after she grabbed her own missed shot attempt and put it back up into the basket. Those two points put Osahor past the 1,000-point mark for her career, making her just the second player in program history to notch at least 1,000 points and rebounds.

After that, the UW went on a 12-3 run to close out the half. Washington led 35-22 at halftime behind solid team defense and dominance in the paint, outscoring Arizona State 17-8 near the basket. The Sun Devils were held to just 34.8 percent shooting and were outrebounded by 10. McDonald tallied a game-high three steals as the Huskies forced nine turnovers that led to 14 points while also grabbing nine offensive rebounds that led to 12 second-chance points.

Plum led all scorers at the break with 14 points while senior forward Sophie Brunner led ASU with seven first-half points.

“With a team like Arizona State, you have to match their intensity,” Osahor said. “You have to win the 50-50 balls and fight for position on every play because that’s what they’re doing.”

After Plum split a pair of free throws, she blocked a shot attempt from an Arizona State player two minutes into the third quarter before McDonald scooped up the loose ball and finished the fast break on the other end to stretch the UW’s lead to 42-27. On the ensuing play, Osahor got a steal and Plum finished the layup on the other end to keep Washington’s 15-point advantage.

After a 6-0 run from the Sun Devils, Osahor stole a pass in the backcourt and finished the layup to send the Huskies’ lead back to double digits with five minutes remaining in the frame.

After making just 4-of-21 long-range shots against the Sun Devils in Tempe, Ariz., on Jan. 15, the UW made just 3-of-14 three-point attempts on Sunday, far lower than the 10.7 that it averages per game for the season, good for second in the NCAA.

“You’re not going to make many threes against Arizona State,” head coach Mike Neighbors said. “They take that part away from you … Sure, we make a lot of threes, but that’s not necessarily our identity. We want to be a team that’s in rhythm and makes the defense wrong in many ways and I think we did that.”

Washington led 51-38 at the end of three quarters, with its aggressive defense continuing to set it apart. The Huskies’ 13 forced turnovers since the start of the game led to 20 points on the offensive end of the court while they committed just four turnovers for zero points for ASU.

“‘Grit’ is a word that’s overused in today’s society,” Neighbors said. “But I can’t think of a better word for that performance. The kids were all very, very gritty today.”

Despite not making a 3-pointer for the first time this season, Plum tallied a game-high 29 points in 40 minutes. Osahor notched her NCAA-best 22nd double-double of the season after recording 18 points and 18 rebounds to go along with a pair of blocks and three steals.

McDonald also had nine points and three steals in the win, which secured a first-round bye for the Huskies in the Pac-12 Tournament in early March.

The Sun Devils were led by Brunner’s 16 points. Freshman guard Reili Richardson also contributed 13 points in the loss.

The UW will play its next game in Los Angeles at 8 p.m. Friday against No. 15 UCLA before playing at USC at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Reach reporter Jack Russillo at Twitter: @jackrussillo

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