An unenviable challenge awaited then-Purdue coach Kristy Curry in the 2001 Final Four. Slow someone who had scored more points than any player in the history of NCAA Division I women's basketball at that time. Stop the unstoppable. Stop Jackie Stiles.
"She was so good off the dribble, the one-dribble pull-up, and she was really patient waiting on screens and countering what the defense took away," recalled Curry, now Alabama's coach. "It was hard to practice for her, hard to get someone to simulate how well she got open."
Stiles scored 22 points for Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) in that national semifinal. That was still an unqualified success for the Boilermakers, who eliminated Stiles and went on to play for a title.
Oregon State coach Scott Rueck has tried for the past four seasons to slow the person who last month supplanted Stiles as women's college basketball's leading scorer. Stop the unstoppable. Stop Kelsey Plum. The Beavers had more success than most against espnW's national player of the year. But not total success.
"She handles it so well, and uses change of speed and gets every ounce of athleticism out of her body," Rueck said. "You have to match that intensity. That's her; she's just a very intense competitor. Watch it game after game. She breaks you down, she wears you down."
It wasn't Brittney Griner or Elena Delle Donne, each in her own way athletically unprecedented, who supplanted Stiles, though each came close. Instead, it was the same sort of medium-sized guard with a midrange game. Stiles was Jimmy Chitwood for women's basketball, a small-town, self-effacing star. That will never go out of style. It was her and it was genuine. But Plum is genuine, too.
It isn't her game that marks the growth of a sport. It's Plum. It's the little bit of swagger, the mean mugging when she gets fouled and hits the shot anyway. It's the charisma in such confidence, the ability to draw admirers from young girls to NBA stars such as James Harden.
Plum enters the NCAA tournament -- third-seeded Washington hosts No. 14 seed Montana State in the first round Saturday (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) -- with 3,431 career points. Her 1,013 points this season are just 49 short of Stiles' single-season Division I women's record of 1,062.
It figured that Stiles was among those who recognized Plum's ability to score. Then an assistant coach at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, Stiles tried to sell the local high schooler on following a similar mid-major route. Plum took the calls because of who made them. But it was only a courtesy. She had her sights set on bigger stages.
"It was something special, just the way she could score in every which way," Stiles said. "I said, 'I want to help you break my record,' and I meant it. I felt like she could be somebody who could do it, and I hadn't ever seen that up until that point. ... I knew at that point she could even be a lot better than me. I hoped that I would get to be an influence in her career, but even though that didn't work out, I've definitely loved following her from afar."
Stiles saw a kindred spirit. When injuries eventually forced her into retirement early in a promising professional career, Stiles found herself unmoored without basketball. Only then did she realize how much of her identity was tied to the sport. It channeled her competitiveness, it gave her an outlet when a younger sister, Carlie, died suddenly before her first birthday. All of it is what pushed Stiles to take 1,000 shots a day, the Bunyanesque routine that shaped her midrange game and might have also played a role in breaking down her body.
"I hated to lose more than I liked to win," Stiles said. "I wanted to do whatever it took to be successful."
"I knew at that point she could even be a lot better than me. I hoped that I would get to be an influence in her career, but even though that didn't work out, I've definitely loved following her from afar."Jackie Stiles, on recruiting Kelsey Plum
Plum, too, is the first to arrive and the last to leave the gym. It caused friction early in her time at Washington, teammates casting a skeptical eye at the newcomer so eager to stay. Once they accepted it was genuine, it was her coaches trying to get her to dial it back to spare her body.
"Part of her confidence is from the hours she's in the gym," Washington coach Mike Neighbors said. "I try to get her to take breaks and she says, 'Coach, you don't understand, that's where my confidence comes from.'"
But it's there, in how that confidence manifests itself, that Plum and Stiles diverge. Maybe it's as simple as sibling dynamics. Stiles was the oldest child, part sister and part nanny with working parents. Plum is the second-youngest of four, older only than a brother who is considerably bigger than her. It almost demanded she adopt a presence bigger than herself to keep up with a family of athletes. Her sisters chose volleyball, so she chose basketball.
"I still walk around like I've got to prove everything all the time," Plum told The Seattle Times last March, shortly before she proved quite a lot in helping the Huskies reach the Final Four.
Stiles, too, thrived with something to prove. She loved being the underdog from tiny Claflin, Kansas. She played her best when she was mad, something that wasn't lost on college coach Cheryl Burnett, who knew how to push her star's buttons. But you never would have known it watching Stiles on court. All of that she kept inside, the daughter of a basketball coach who preached a poker face.
"He would always point out Barry Sanders," Stiles said of her dad. "[Sanders] would score a touchdown and he wouldn't celebrate, he'd just hand the football back to the official. He always told me, 'Know you're the best but never shout it out.' That was what he taught me at a very young age, to be confident but humble. I always just let my game do the talking."
Allison Pohlman (née Starr), a former Northern Iowa star who had the unfortunate fate of any defender playing in the Missouri Valley Conference for much of the time Stiles dominated the league, remembers it the same way.
"She didn't necessarily have to exude confidence because everybody knew that she was going to be the one," said Pohlman, now an associate head coach at Drake.
But there is also a fine line between shouting it out and speaking up for yourself.
Plum couldn't be quiet when she and her dad would venture to pick-up games near their Southern California home when she was growing up. The only times she wouldn't talk then were the instances in which she was too mad at him for taking a Kobe Bryant-like fadeaway jumper to try to win games she had put their teams in position to win. She had to speak up for herself if she wanted to see the ball. If she wanted her chance.
Be confident, be bold, be yourself. It is what is ever more possible in 2017.