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Jan. 28, 2023

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Embracing the Challenge: UW, OSU seek Final Four return

No. 3 seed UW, No. 2 seed OSU aim for Final Four return

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Washington's Kelsey Plum, right, is greeted by Heather Corral, a Prairie High grad, after Plum set the new all-time career NCAA scoring record of 3,397 points on Feb.
Washington's Kelsey Plum, right, is greeted by Heather Corral, a Prairie High grad, after Plum set the new all-time career NCAA scoring record of 3,397 points on Feb. 25 in Seattle. Photo Gallery

Mike Neighbors knows no other way to describe it.

Over the past year, the words magical run have often been used, by him and by many others to articulate his Washington women’s basketball team’s march to the 2016 Final Four.

“People use that and they think it’s clich? or it’s coach-speak,” said Neighbors, the Huskies’ fourth-year coach. “But if you’ve ever been a part of one of those, you really can’t come up with a better word for it.”

A return to the Final Four isn’t out of the question for the Huskies this month. Monday, the Huskies learned that journey starts in Seattle.

Washington is the No. 3 seed in the Oklahoma City region. The Huskies will host No. 14 seed Montana State (25-6) Saturday at Alaska Airlines Arena.

The winner between Washington and Montana State will face the winner of No. 6 seed Oklahoma and No. 11 seed Gonzaga on Monday.

With star guard Kelsey Plum — named the ESPNW national player of the year — the Huskies have been ranked in the top 10 for most of the season.

Three times over those two magical weeks last March, the seventh-seeded Huskies traveled back and forth from Seattle to the Eastern Time Zone — first to Maryland, then to Kentucky and then to Indianapolis for the program’s first Final Four appearance. Along the way, they knocked off three higher-seeded teams in one of the most improbable runs in the history of the NCAA women’s tournament.

“Our goal all year long was to just do everything we did last year — just a little bit better. Every facet of it,” Neighbors said. “Because we did get a taste of how close you can come doing it that way.”

Oregon State will also try to repeat its run to the Final Four. The Beavers are a No. 2 seed in the Stockton, Calif., region and will host No. 15 seed Long Beach State on Friday. The winner faces No. 7 seed Creighton or No. 10 seed Toledo on Sunday in Corvallis, Ore.

Oregon State (29-4) will head to the tournament after winning the Pac-12 regular season title for the third-straight season. OSU is currently ranked No. 8 in both the AP and Coaches’ Poll.

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