Washington enters the Top 25 by not practicing too much

Mike Neighbors knows the secret to Washington's success - don't practice too much.

Ever since he took over as head coach three seasons ago, Neighbors has only practiced hard one day a week once the difficult Pac-12 slate starts in January. It began out of necessity his first year as he only had six healthy players. He's kept using that plan and it's paid off as the Huskies entered The Associated Press women's basketball poll Monday for the first time in nearly 13 years.

''Practices started getting better when we first did it and kids started buying into it,'' Neighbors said. ''We stumbled onto something completely accidentally. Our players think it's part of the formula for our success and we stuck with it.''

Neighbors said he talked to a few of his coaching friends before implementing the plan and their response was ''he'd probably get fired,'' he said laughing.

So far so good. He's still got a job and the Huskies are in the poll at No. 25.

Washington usually plays Pac-12 games on Friday and Sunday so Neighbors gives his team off on Monday. They do individual skill work on Tuesday, have a regular hard practice Wednesday and then spend Thursday talking about their opponents for the weekend. Saturday is a day to get their legs back and focus on Sunday's opponent.

''It's a really long year and I think if you're focused in what you're doing, if you keep things simple, and you got a good group that works hard you can be very organized,'' Neighbors said.

Junior Kelsey Plum, who leads the nation in scoring at 27.2 points, at first was skeptical of the plan which was implemented her freshman year.

''Now that I'm older and a little wiser, I love it, I get to work out on my own throughout the week,'' Plum said. ''I get to work on what I need to work on personally and it keeps my legs fresh for games.''

Washington (15-4) has been on quite a run lately, knocking off UCLA and USC - the Huskies' first weekend sweep of ranked teams since 2001. Neighbors' squad is ranked for the first time since 2003. They are sitting in third in the Pac-12, two games behind No. 8 Arizona State.

The Huskies, who have won four straight games, are one victory short of matching last season's team that won 16 of its first 20 games.

To achieve that mark, Washington will have to figure out a way to beat No. 16 Stanford on Friday night. The Huskies haven't won there since 1999, one of only four victories ever on the road against the Cardinal for the school.

''They're coming off a loss and I'm sure they'll have 100 percent focus,'' said Neighbors, who has been the head coach for three years at Washington. ''Stanford's used to playing ranked teams, it won't add anything to them that we are ranked.''

After Friday's game, the Huskies will face California on Sunday. They've only swept that trip once and that came back in 1987.

''It's going to be huge,'' Plum said. ''We're excited for it though. Stanford came off a very tough loss to UCLA. Give Tara VanDerveer four days to prepare for anyone and she'll come up with a great plan. We're very excited. What an opportunity is how I think of it. That's how our team thinks of it.''

Plum already has a win over Stanford when she was a freshman. The Huskies upset the third-ranked Cardinal, and Neighbors remembers in the postgame press conference that Plum let ''the cat out of the bag'' about not practicing much. He said it was supposed to be a secret.

Now the whole nation is aware of what Washington is doing.

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