During the timeout that preceded her record-breaking basket Saturday at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Washington point guard Kelsey Plum noticed she was on the video board. She draped a towel over her face.
“I was thinking,” Plum would say later, “I didn’t look that cute.”
The rest of us were thinking she looked amazing.
A senior from San Diego, Plum began the afternoon needing 54 points to surpass Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles as women’s college basketball’s all-time scoring leader. Plum ended up with a career-high 57, the kind of tour-de-force performance that witnesses will never forget.
And what made it especially compelling was that Plum wasn’t scoring for the sake of scoring. Senior center Chantel Osahor had picked up her fifth foul, and Utah was giving her teammates unanticipated trouble.
“We needed every one of those baskets,” coach Mike Neighbors said after the Huskies held on for an 84-77 victory. “Some nights we don’t need 57 points. Some nights we need Kelsey’s leadership. Other nights we might her passing or rebounding, or a defensive stop.”
Had Washington blown out the Utes, fans don’t see Plum’s scoop shot make history because she doesn’t take it. She’s on the bench.
“If the game would have been over and all of a sudden I’m calling plays, that’s not how this record’s supposed to be broken. This record supposed to be broken in honor of the people who set them in the past. There was going to be no ‘Rudy’ moment where everyone walks in and says, Coach, I’m not shooting because I want Kelsey to break the record.’ That was never on the table.
“The record wouldn’t have meant much to her if we had done something gimmicky. We would have been doing a disservice to the history of those players who are on that list.”
Consistent with somebody who spent the day draining every variety of shot — hard drives, soft jumpers, mid-range bankers — Plum appeared, well, drained as she talked with reporters.
“In the most respectful way possible, I’m glad it’s over,” she said of breaking the career mark Stiles set 16 years ago. “It got to the point it was almost disheartening, in a way, because people expect so much. I understand, and I’m grateful for it.
“We’re going to talk about it, but now that it’s behind us, I’m grateful for that, too.”
Some of Plum’s misgivings about the attention her accomplishments have brought is that sports and record books typically are divided into two sections, for teams and individuals. So dedicated is Plum to the team concept, owning such a gaudy individual record can be awkward.
“You don’t do something like this by yourself,” she continued. “I hopefully can make that very clear to you. This is an individual record, but it’s broken by a village of people. It’s broken by every teammate I’ve ever had, every coach I’ve ever played for. Every trainer. Every doctor. My parents, my sisters, my brother, the university.”
And yet, of the teammates, coaches, medical staffers and and loved ones on hand for the Huskies’ senior day celebration, only Plum had achieved that elusive, inexplicable zone where every shot has a chance to go in.
“Utah knew what we were doing,” said Neighbors. “They knew we were going to set a ball screen and at some point in time Kelsey was going to drive to the basket — and they still couldn’t stop it. When you can do that, you’re in that zone I’ve heard people talk about.
“I’ve never been in it. I’ve never been in a zone in anything but darts, and that doesn’t have quite the same feeling. So I have no idea what she felt like. All I know is that we weren’t going to call a play that was going to go anywhere without her getting a chance to make a decision.”
Now that Plum occupies a prominent place in the record book, she and the Huskies will turn their attention toward the Pac-12 tournament, scheduled to begin Thursday at Key Arena. A few days later, a destination awaits in the NCAA tournament.
It’s as if Plum has gotten the fanfare out the way, and now she can refocus on basketball. But as anxious as she is to move on, Kelsey Plum will always be able to recall that winter afternoon spent in a zone her coach can only imagine.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath