Plum jumped right in at Washington

Washington's Kelsey Plum is one of the nation's top freshmen this season. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Kelsey Plum's first impression on college basketball was a pretty good one.

The San Diego native was flying back from Lithuania last summer after spending a few weeks with USA Basketball's U19 team, which was playing in the world championship tournament.

But instead of going home, sleeping off her jet lag for a few days and re-packing her bags, she flew straight to Seattle. A teammate at the University of Washington picked her up at the airport and they were in the gym by the end of the day.

"Sums it up right there," Washington coach Mike Neighbors said.

Plum couldn't wait to get started.

"I knew if I didn't go right away, I would miss summer school and I wanted the opportunity to get into class right away," Plum said. "I didn't want to come up to Seattle in the fall and have that be the first time I walked into a class or out on to the basketball court. I think that puts me behind."

Being behind is something Plum has not had to worry about this season.

The hot-shooting, left-handed guard has been out front for a Huskies team that is finally finding the footing that Pac-12 watchers have been waiting for all season.

Headed into Thursday night's rematch against No. 5 Stanford -- the Huskies upset the Cardinal in Seattle less than three weeks ago -- Plum is taking her place among the nation's top freshmen. She ranks second in the country among freshmen scorers -- behind Pac-12 compatriot Chrishae Rowe of Oregon -- and last weekend, she broke Washington's single-game freshman scoring record with 38 points against Oregon. That performance also catapulted her to the school's freshman single-season scoring record.

Not coincidentally, Washington (16-11, 9-7) has won six of its past eight games to move into a tie for fifth place in the Pac-12 standings. The Huskies would probably need an upset win this weekend over either Stanford or Cal and a strong run in next week's conference tournament to have an outside shot at NCAA tournament consideration.

Plum is playing like she's ready to go.

"She's always asking me, 'What more can I do?' " Neighbors said.

He has given Plum plenty, including asking her to serve as a team captain.

"I'm not sure any freshman is really ready for that, but she's handled it with a lot maturity," Neighbors said. "She had a great family who prepared her for college life and college basketball. She understands the expectations."

Plum, who has been named the Pac-12 freshman of the week seven times this season, ranks fourth in the conference in scoring at 20.8 points a game. She has made it to the free throw line more than any player in the league (153-of-182) and has hit 65 3-pointers, third-most in the Pac-12.

"She's never hit a freshman wall," Neighbors said. "If she did, she plowed right through it."

Washington opened the season with high expectations thanks to four returning starters and the addition of Plum, from San Diego, who was ranked among the top prep recruits in the country. The Huskies were picked to finish in the top four in the Pac-12, but struggled early with injuries. Losses to Portland and Oregon had people questioning. But the upset of Stanford put the Huskies -- and Plum, who had 23 points in that game -- on the national map.

Plum is fine with being the underdog. She prefers it that way and never questioned the direction her team was headed. She's embracing the things she can control.

"I can control my work ethic and my attitude and my preparation," she said. "So I keep putting up shots and working on my skills and my ballhandling. I have to get better at sharing the ball and getting people involved. It's a process."

Plum has scored at least 30 points in four games this season -- three of those in the Pac-12 schedule.

Neighbors thinks his team is actually better when Plum scores a little less.

"If she's getting 30 or 38 points, our balance isn't as good," he said. "We are at our best when she scores when we need her and distributes when we need her."

Plum's high school coach, Terri Bamford of La Jolla Country Day, knew that the latest star player to come through her program -- Candice Wiggins is the school's best-known product -- would be ready for college basketball.

"[Plum] was always at her best in the biggest games for us and she's off the charts on work ethic," Bamford said. "But I had no idea she'd be able to do this. She's just fearless."

Plum doesn't have time to be afraid. She's carrying too much responsibility for a program that would like to go beyond being an up-and-comer. And soon.

"You can't have bad days, you can't have attitude problems, you can't not work hard," Plum said. "I'm a freshman, I'm still new to all of this. But the biggest thing is to stay humble, to stay hungry and not get complacent."