NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Hangman was a peculiar choice of games considering what Washington has to accomplish tonight.
The Huskies chilled in their locker room at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium on Sunday after practice, playing the word game on a massive dry-erase board.
The No. 9 seeded Huskies face No. 1 seed Louisiana State tonight in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Listen to any "expert" and Washington (19-10) is basically an early appetizer for the Tigers (28-3) as they advance to their third consecutive Final Four. Some skip right to how LSU will fare against No. 2 seed Oklahoma in the San Antonio regional final, two games hence.
"Everybody knows we're the underdog and they're like, 'Whoa! You've got LSU,' " UW junior forward Breanne Watson said. "You kind of hear it in their voice what they're saying. But we're approaching this game like it's any other game, and we really think it's winnable. If we play hard, we have a shot."
The NCAA tournament's No. 9 seeds are 2-37 in the second round, and none of Washington's players has experience playing past the first day. Yet the Huskies have a certain brashness about them.
Whether it's enough to defeat LSU is the question.
The Tigers have two highlight players in senior guard Seimone Augustus, who averages 22.9 points, and sophomore center Sylvia Fowles, who averages a double-double in points (16.6) and rebounds (11.3). They're probably the best duo in the country, with Fowles altering offenses with her presence in the paint and Augustus hitting jump shots all over the court.
Washington vs. LSU, 6:30, ESPN2
Washington sophomore guard Dominique Banks was bobbing and weaving like a boxer in the stands Saturday as she watched Augustus in LSU's first-round win against Florida Atlantic. Banks was calculating the SEC Player of the Year's moves and tendencies and figuring how she would defend them.
But Banks didn't know she'd have the assignment until Sunday's walk-though practice. Banks gives up to 5 inches to the 6-foot-1 Augustus, yet Washington coach June Daugherty thinks Banks' speed and athleticism will be the equalizer.
"I'm glad I was watching her," said Banks. "I figured it would be either Cam [Cameo Hicks] or me switching on her, but I just have to be ready. If I don't score any points and I stop her from half the points that she's used to scoring, I'll be content with that. I'm going to play my heart out defensively. That's my focus — defense, defense, defense."
Defense was part of the Huskies' focus in its win against Minnesota, and that resulted in pulling out a four-point win in the final minute.
The other key ingredient was Washington's rebounding, including 23 on the offensive end. The number was staggering to LSU coach Pokey Chatman when she watched the game film. She had already tabbed Fowles as the person who'll make the difference in leading the Tigers back to the Final Four. This will be Fowles' first test against a Washington team that sends all five players to the boards. Banks, whose wingspan is similar to 6-foot teammate Jill Bell, ranks third on the team with 62 offensive rebounds this season.
And don't think Washington can just get the 6-6 Fowles in foul trouble to solve half of its problems. She hasn't fouled out this season and averages only 1.8 fouls per game. The Huskies need to capitalize anytime Fowles, who averages 29.3 minutes, isn't on the court because that's likely the only time when they can drive freely to the basket.
"We can't make too many mistakes," Fowles said. "My teammates need me out there, and that's my role, to be out there to help them out as much as possible and change the game a little bit. I think we're catching on to it, and when I'm not in there, they can handle their business."
The Tigers, whose only losses were to Connecticut (51-48), Florida (79-78 in overtime) and Tennessee (63-62, in the SEC tournament), has had problems with energy, though. They were flat in their opening-round game against No. 16 seed Florida Atlantic, trailing before breaking the game open on a 20-0 run.
But if LSU trails against Washington, you don't need a word game to figure out what that might would spell.
"They'll be able to capitalize on some of our mistakes as far as coming out sluggish or not executing the way we should," Augustus said. "Everybody is dangerous at this point of the season."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com