Kelsey Plum to Face a Familiar Foe in Oregon, This Time Wearing Red, White and Blue
The former Washington Husky turned USA national team guard was a frequent tormentor of the Ducks in her college days.
During her four-year college career at the University of Washington, Kelsey Plum traipsed up and down the West Coast, dominating Pacific-12 Conference opponents.
When it was all said and done, Plum had scored more points than any other women’s basketball player in NCAA history with 3,527, including a single-season NCAA-record 1,109 in 2016-17 as a senior.
Needless to say, she was not a very welcome figure whenever she stepped onto the court during Pac-12 road games.
But after two seasons playing in the WNBA, Plum figures to have a friendlier reception as a member of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team when she faces the University of Oregon on Saturday. It is the fourth and final exhibition as the team prepares for the FIBA
Americas Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Bahía Blanca, Argentina, beginning Nov. 14. The U.S., which has won the last six Olympic gold medals, already has qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games but still must participate in the qualifying process.
“Obviously the Ducks and the Huskies are archnemeses,” Plum said. “People on the outside think Oregon-Oregon State are rivals — and that is true, but I think it is even more so Washington and Oregon.”
One aspect that makes playing Oregon a bit more personal is that one of her two older sisters, Lauren, played volleyball for the Ducks.
“I played against some of the girls when I was in school,” Kelsey Plum said. “I'm friends with some of them. So, it should be fun to go back, and I think there's some people coming to the game that I know, so they'll be excited. It should be a fun game for sure.”
Plum has been practicing with the team only since Wednesday, missing the first two exhibitions against two other Pac-12 schools, Stanford University and Oregon State University. But, she had a good reason to not be with the team. Plum was the maid of honor for Brianna Ruiz, her best friend and a former teammate at Washington who married Braden Bishop, a baseball player who made his major-league debut with the Seattle Mariners this year.
“It was just a beautiful couple of days,” Plum said.
Her mind jumped right back to basketball following the wedding. She watched the USA vs. Oregon State game — an 81–58 U.S. win — trying to see how she would fit into the system she learned last year as a member of the USA World Cup Team that won the gold medal.
“Just watching the flow of the game, the plays, stuff like that,” said Plum, saw action in Thursday’s exhibition game against Texas A&M University. “And, you know, you just pick up a little bit, because it's kind of about chemistry and getting a feel for (the players). I played with (those) people before.”
Coming in late and joining a loaded roster that includes Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles, among others, Plum knows she has to dig in to find her role on this team. Unlike at Washington — where she was the focal point of the offense — the 5-foot-8 guard will have to rely on her other skills to garner playing time.
“For me, I'm just super excited,” said Plum, who averaged 2.7 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in helping the USA go 6-0 at the 2018 World Cup. “Obviously, my role is different. I think it's defensively, a lot of energy and intensity, and then running the floor and just being able to make plays and create for my teammates. I'm really excited about that. And anytime you put on the red, white and blue, it's an honor, and so I take it very seriously.”
Playing with the USA National Team requires Plum to transition into a role player and she is ready for the challenge.
“You have to do what you're good at, but you (also) have to know your role, and you have to know your window and what to do and when to do it,” she said.
The talent level on this team also helps elevate her game.
“I mean, I think it kind of speaks for itself,” Plum said of the skills of her teammates. “You look to your right and it is a WNBA MVP, an Olympian, a leading scorer. Everyone has accolades that are unbelievable. So, any option is probably the right option.”