The Pursuit of Greatness: The 10 biggest and best shots of Kelsey Plum's storied career
- Washington's Kelsey Plum is the greatest scorer in the history of NCAA women's basketball. Teammates, opponents and others discuss how she has forever altered the game's landscape.
SEATTLE — Kelsey Plum spent most of the 2016–17 season answering questions about if, and when, she would break the NCAA all-time scoring record in women’s college basketball, a number (3,393) set by Jackie Stiles in 2001. She did that on Feb. 25 but now, another record awaits: Plum has a shot at becoming the all-time scorer in college hoops, man or woman, if she can pass Pete Maravich, who totaled 3,667 points at LSU from 1967–70 (before the 3-point line existed). That’s just 270 points, a realistic goal for the 5’ 8" senior scorer who averages 31.6 points per game. It becomes more feasible if Washington, which opens Pac-12 conference tournament play Friday night in the quarterfinals, puts together another deep postseason run. In the meantime, here’s a look back at the best, and biggest, shots of Plum’s remarkable four-year career at Washington.
Shot No. 1: Nov. 8, 2013 v. St. Mary's
Point No. 1
A McDonald’s All-American who arrived in Seattle with plenty of fanfare, Plum scored the first points of her college career when she grabbed a defensive board and raced downcourt for a layup in the opening seconds of Washington’s game against St. Mary’s. UW lost 91–81 that night as Plum finished with 23.
“I was listening on the radio while I walked into my son Daniel’s football game, holding the iPad that had my other daughter, Lauren, playing in a volleyball match at Oregon, where she was a senior setter. In college you just don’t know how it’s gonna go and I remember being surprised like wow, Kelsey’s doing it, she can score buckets at this level.” — Katie Plum, mother of Kelsey.
Shot No. 2: Feb 21, 2014 vs. Oregon
Point No. 533
The freshman phenom, who had scored 30 points or more just twice that season, came through in the clutch for Washington. With 2:15 left and Washington clinging to a six-point lead, Plum caught the ball in the corner, the drove middle with right hand and finished a pull-up jumper with her left, giving the Huskies a 101–93 advantage and helping them pull away from Oregon. Plum scored 38 in the 108–100 win that night, serving notice to the Pac-12 that she could score in every way imaginable—deep threes, midrange jumpers, free throws and layups—and would be a nightmare to guard for the next four years.
“She’s had the ability to create contact and draw a foul since the moment she stepped on campus. So often players aren’t willing to do that, cause they don’t want to get hit, don’t want to go to the ground. It’s a lot easier to shoot jump shots, but she never takes the easy road. As a freshman she could get into that zone where you can’t stop her, because she has so many counter moves and options that she gets hot. If teams focused on other players, Kelsey would just destroy them. But also, she was so good as a freshman you wondered if she’d already hit her ceiling. Well each year, she’s gotten dramatically better.” — Elise Woodward, UW player 1993–97, current Pac-12 and WNBA analyst.
Shot No. 3: Dec. 29, 2014 vs. Texas A&M
The sophomore sharpshooter had 999 points going into Huskies’ game against No. 5 Texas A&M, helped by her 45-point outburst in UW’s opening game against Oklahoma, which broke the Huskies’ 11-year old single-game scoring record. She hit 1,000—and 1,001—with a pair of free throws early in the first half (17:27 to play), on her way to 32 points in the Huskies’ upset. She became the fastest player to reach 1,000 points in Washington history.
“You know, we actually held her to just four points the year before—who knew that would be such an accomplishment! When we went to their place, she hit every tough shot, and they weren’t wide open by any means. How many kids are scorers and shooters? It’s hard to be both, but she is. What separates Plum is her basketball IQ. She knows how to come off a screen as well as John Stockton did back when he played with Karl Malone. But what I love most is her release; it’s so quick.” — Gary Blair, Texas A&M head coach, 2011 national champion.
Shot No. 4: Jan. 31, 2016 at Cal
Point No. 2,000
The junior All-American had 1,997 points going into match up with Cal in Berkeley, and nailed a 3-point attempt with 3:15 to play in the first quarter to give her the milestone. Cal went to a 2–3 zone off a made free throw, and the Huskies used quick inside-out ball movement to draw defenders before reversing the ball up top to a wide-open Plum, who buried the long-distance shot. She became the fastest player in Pac-12 history, man or woman, to score 2,000 points, doing it in just 88 games. She finished that night with 28 points in No. 25 UW’s 75–65 win.
“She’s a really savvy player, and her body control is tremendous. She’s able to slow down, catch the defense sleeping and then attack someone who’s not ready. You have to respect her three and respect her drive, and she can go both ways, which makes her even more dangerous. And man, she knows how to get her body into a defender and sell the foul.” — Mikayla Cowling, Cal guard
Shot No. 5: March 27, 2016 vs. Stanford
Points No. 2,398 and 2,399
With 30.9 seconds to play in Washington’s Elite Eight game against Stanford and the Huskies leading 81–73, Plum, who already had 22 points, stepped to the line. She hit both foul shots—plus two more with 13 seconds to go—to ice the win. Her performance that day (26 points on 8-of-19 shooting and 8-of-8 from the line, plus eight assists and five rebounds) lifted UW to its first-ever Final Four, a remarkable run for the seventh-seeded Huskies. Washington knocked off No. 10 Penn, No. 2 Maryland and No. 3 Kentucky before matching up with No. 4 Stanford in the regional final, beating the Pac-12 powerhouse 85–76.
“The reason I remember it is because we’re playing Stanford, and I flashed back to the days I was at Xavier, we were playing Stanford in the 2010 regional final and we couldn’t get it done. When Kelsey went to the line, I couldn’t watch. I turned my back to the court. But I saw on the video board that when she got the ball, she got this little smile on her face. And just to see her be able to enjoy that moment, to recognize the impact of it, it was the culmination of everything. I made eye contact with her mom in the stands, and it’s all I could do to keep it together. She took a chance coming to our program. And that moment, it felt like validation: she did make the right choice.” — Mike Neighbors, Washington women’s basketball coach.
Shot No. 6: Dec. 11, 2016 vs. Boise State
Point No. 2,738
In front of a friendly home crowd that included WNBA standout Sue Bird and USWNT member Megan Rapinoe, along with Plum’s family, the senior hit two free throws with 8:38 to play in the third quarter that gave her the Pac-12 record over former Stanford All-American Chiney Ogwumike. Plum’s record-breaking free throw gave her 2,738 points, and she finished with 44 points that night in a 92–66 win over Boise State.
“What makes Kelsey special is that she came to Washington ready to go. Records are meant to be broken, the game is meant to get better, with players scoring more and making it more entertaining. The Plum you’re seeing now, the one getting all the national recognition, she was there as a freshman. People think what she did last year was a taste of the magic but she’s been like this for four years, and shame on us for just now celebrating her. Every time someone brings up how good she is now, I tell them, ‘She’s been balling like this for four years, y’all need to do your research.’” — Chiney Ogwumike, former Stanford All-American, 2010–14.
Shot No. 7: Jan. 13, 2017 at Arizona
Point No. 3,000
Already boasting the conference scoring record, Plum traveled to Tucson with 2,971 points to her name. She scored 36 in the Huskies’ blowout 90–73 win against former UW assistant Adia Barnes, becoming just the 12th player in women’s basketball history to go over 3,000. A jumper with 9:05 to go, after a drive left and sweet spin move to shake the defender, gave Plum No. 3,000 (and 3,001) and UW a 72–52 lead. By the end of the night, Plum had 3,007 career points. She is the only player in Pac-12 history, man or woman, to score more than 3,000.
“I think the thing I love the most is that she’s not the most amazing athlete, but she has a bigger heart than anyone I know. She’s a competitor who really works at her craft. Usually college women don’t understand that work ethic; it’s what separates Kelsey from others. If you can get one player like her on your team every 10 years, those are the type of kids who change the culture.” — Adia Barnes, former UW assistant, current Arizona head coach and all-time leading scorer in Arizona women’s basketball history
Shot No. 8: Jan. 15, 2017 at Arizona State
Point No. 3,040
Plum passed four of the greatest scorers in women’s basketball history during UW’s 65–54 win at Arizona State, the first time the Husky seniors won in Tempe. She hung 34 on the Sun Devils that night, outscoring Cheryl Miller (3,018), Chamique Holdsclaw (3,025), Maya Moore (3,036) and Elena Delle Donne (3,039). A layup from Plum with 2:22 to go tied her with Delle Donne, and two free throws with 29 seconds left gave her 3,040 and 3,041.
“That was the most satisfying road win I can remember in a long time, and Kelsey took over in the second half. In a limited possession game, to have one player overpower a team that’s known for defense, especially when everyone in the arena knows she’s going to try to put the ball in the basket, it’s just amazing. When I saw on paper how many people she was going to pass that day, knowing that she had already eclipsed 3,000 in conference play, that’s when I really started to shake my head.” — Steve Sandmeyer, UW radio play-by-play since 1999-2000
Shot No. 9: Jan. 29, 2017 vs. Stanford
Point No. 3,113
Before the tremendous Stanford comeback and before Plum fouled out, there was a sellout. Ten thousand people—including Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, singer Ciara—packed into Alaska Airlines Arena to watch a Top 10 showdown, the first ever sellout in UW women’s basketball history. It looked like it was going to be a blowout, too, specifically when Plum got hot in the second quarter, scoring 18 consecutive points. With 5:43 to go, Plum used a ball screen from Chantel Oshahor to pull up for 3, which prompted legendary Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer to call a timeout to stop the bleeding. As Plum trotted back to the bench, UW students bowed to the queen. Plum scored 44 that night before fouling out in the closing seconds. Without Plum, UW couldn’t hold on, falling 72–68.
“We have a chemistry where we just read each other. I joke with her all the time about two things: First, I tell everyone at the mall that yes, this is Kelsey Plum, and they better hurry up and get their autographs because they’re going to be worth a lot of money soon. And then I always say to her, what would you do if I didn’t set screens for you all day? It’s awesome that her hard work is getting noticed. People say they know she’s in the gym all the time, but you don’t really get it until you’ve witnessed it. Sometimes, like that night against Stanford, it’s just easy for her.” — Chantel Oshahor, UW forward
Shot No. 10: Feb. 25, 2017 vs. Utah
Point No. 3,395
With the crowd of 6,675 counting down as she approached the record and her teammates whispering in her ear how many more points she needed, Plum became the all-time scoring leader in women’s NCAA basketball with 4:06 to play against Utah when she hit a runner from the left side just outside the paint. That basket gave her 3,395 career points, two better than former Southwest Missouri State standout Jackie Stiles. She finished with a single game school record 57 to put her career number at 3,397 and counting.
Plum and Stiles are similar in more than just their shared ability to get buckets: They are both 5’ 8" guards known more for their tireless work ethic than overwhelming athleticism, players who have to work meticulously at their craft to score in a variety of ways. And now, they sit at Nos. 1 and 2 on the scoring list.
“I didn't get the game on my TV, but I was following it closely on ESPN. Right when I saw that shot, it actually reminded me of how Allen Iverson used to shoot in the lane, those leaning floaters. It takes a lot of strength to control your body in the air the way that she does, and still be going full speed; it’s a gift not many players, male or female, have. It’s very cool to break the record with a shot as difficult as that. She was actually the first recruiting call I ever made. I told her, ‘Hey, you probably don’t know me, but I’m the all-time leading scorer and I want to help you break my record.’ So I just want to say, I predicted this. I do feel connected to it. I wonder, if by putting that bug in her ear five years ago, it gave her the belief that she could do it.” — Jackie Stiles, Missouri State assistant coach, 2001 Wade Trophy winner and second all-time leading scorer in college women’s basketball.