It’s tough, Mike Neighbors says, to coach great ones. Intimidating, even. And he would know.
On Saturday afternoon, in front of 6,675 adoring Washington fans, Neighbors’s first—and greatest—recruit, Kelsey Plum, a 5’9”, left-handed guard known for her work ethic and grit instead of natural athleticism, broke the all-time NCAA women’s scoring record when she hit a funky floater in the lane with 4:04 to play, her 54th and 55th points of the game.
"“I’m very grateful for Seattle, this amazing university and my teammates were feeding me the ball," Plum told Pac-12 Network. "I just kept being aggressive and good things happened. … Luckily, shots fell early and I was able to be comfortable. Something like this doesn’t happen. It takes a village, it takes so many people being in my corner. I’m very humbled.”
She finished with 57 points in Washington’s 84-77 win over Utah, giving her 3,397 in her career, four more than Jackie Stiles’s old mark. She shot 19-28 from the field in a dominant performance, finishing the first half with 22 points as the Huskies led 40-35.
“It’s scary to coach the great ones,” Neighbors said one day before Plum broke the record. “They drive you and they’re demanding. It’s great and I love it, but it was scary as a first-year head coach—we were freshmen together, and now it’s like we’re seniors together.”
Neighbors says Plum has never been concerned about personal records; her question in picking Washington was, could the Huskies win?
“During recruiting, I promised a lot of things: That we were going to challenge her every day, that it was going to be hard. And I told her, if she would come here, if she would say yes, we could get the other pieces.”
Plum was the fastest player to 1,000 points in Washington history, hitting that milestone as a sophomore. As a junior she became the fastest player in Pac-12 history to hit 2,000 points, a record she reached on Jan. 31, 2016 at Cal. But her all-out assault on the scoring record books really started last postseason, when the Huskies put together a surprise run to the Final Four, the first in Washington history. Those extra games gave Plum a shot at passing the numbers Stiles put up over a four-year career at what was then known as Southwest Missouri State.
Early in her senior season, Plum became the Pac-12 all-time scoring leader for women or men, passing former Stanford player Chiney Ogwumike when she hit two free throws in the third quarter of a win over Boise State on December 11, 2016. The following month, Plum became the 12th NCAA Division I women’s player to crack the 3,000-point plateau.
The congratulations came pouring in quickly after she passed Stiles, and from a wide variety of admirers:
Her efficiency this season has been astonishing: Plum shoots 53.7% from the field (332-of-618), 43.6% from three (103-of-236) and 88.7% (212-of-239) from the line. She chips in 5.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Plum has started every game of her career, 135 in total.
“She is doing this in an era when analytics have never been stronger,” says Pac-12 analyst Mary Murphy. “Every single opposing coach can break down every screen that gets set for her, when she goes right vs. when she goes left, when she takes a three—and look what she does, every night. And she’s doing it in the best conference in the nation.
“People play basketball for a lot of reasons. Kelsey plays because she just loves it. She’s kind of a throwback, and that makes her cool.”