WSU women's hoops: Hopeless or nearing turn?

PULLMAN -- June Daugherty knows what you're thinking. She doesn't like it, but she understands your reasoning. The Washington State women's basketball team is 3-13 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-10, so it seems only natural for outsiders to expect the Cougars to yet again disappear quietly into a 15th straight losing season.

However, it's worth noting that WSU's young team has played only five home games -- three of them with students on holiday breaks -- and the Sagarin computer rankings list the Cougars' schedule as the ninth toughest in the nation through Tuesday.

"We could have easily scheduled a lot lighter and had a bunch of wins going into the (Pac-10) season," said June Daugherty, who owns a 27-79 record in four seasons as coach at Washington State, including an 11-19 (4-14 conference) mark last season. "But that's not what this program is about and not the direction this program is about.

"It's about playing the best to be the best. Our players are starting to understand that."

The Cougars, who have played three Top 25 teams, snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 58-50 triumph at last-place Oregon State last Saturday. Two nights earlier, WSU gave Oregon (currently tied for fifth place) a good run before bowing 77-72 in Eugene.

"Those (non-conference) games got us ready for right now," junior guard April Cook said.

"It really adds to our confidence to get a (Pac-10) win, and the fact that we played well helps our confidence, too," frosh swingman Sage Romberg said. "We hit shots finally."

The Cougars rank ninth in the Pac-10 with frosty 38 percent shooting from the field and 26.3 shooting from 3-point range. Combine that with last-place rankings in points allowed (73.6 per game), turnovers (19.9) and rebounding margin (minus-3.9), and bad shooting is often fatal.

"I think we have been getting good shots," Romberg said. "We're starting to knock them down."

"Our execution is definitely improving on the offensive end of things," Daugherty said. "We're trying to get the ball inside more, and our front line is responding."

Carly Noyes, a sophomore center from Moses Lake, leads the Cougars with just 9.2 points per game. Romberg, who led the Cougars at Oregon State with a season-high 21 points, is second in scoring at 8.8 and first in rebounding at 5.4.

No Cougars rank in the top 20 in the Pac-10 in scoring or rebounding. The 6-foot-1 Romberg and fellow freshman Hana Potter (6.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg), a 6-2 forward from Minnesota, have started most of the season along with junior college transfer Rosetta Adzasu (6.3 ppg and team highs of 3.9 assists and 3.9 turnovers).

Cook has started ahead of Adzasu at point guard the past three games. Cook, a natural "2" guard, is playing with two herniated discs in her lower back. The two-time all-conference honorable mention pick is shooting just 27.5 percent and has seen her scoring average drop from 14.0 last season to 6.2.

"She gives us a calming presence on both ends of the floor," Daugherty said.

Cook said her back is "getting a lot better," but Daugherty said, "She's fighting through a lot of pain. She's doing a tremendous amount of rehab."

The 6-5 Noyes, who led the Pac-10 as a freshman with 1.9 blocked shots per game last season, ranks third this year at 1.6. She's averaging just 3.9 rebounds, which Daugherty blames partly on the need for Noyes to move away from the basket to stop inside penetration more than coaches want Noyes to have to do.

The Cougars are counting heavily on young players, but they could use improved play from junior guard Jazmine Perkins. She leads the team in field goal attempts (142) and 3-point tries (73), but she's shooting just 33.8 percent from the field -- 23.3 on 3's -- and her scoring average has dropped from 13.8 last season to 8.7.

Perkins buried 6 of 14 3-pointers and scored 24 points at Oregon. Daugherty wants more shots out of Romberg, a promising Californian who shoots 42.7 percent from the floor and 35.6 percent on 3's.

"She's a lefty, she's multi-talented, (but) she thinks pass too much over shot," Daugherty said. "She's such a good shooter. She's learning that her teammates really need her to look for more open shots and be aggressive, much like she was at Oregon State.

"The Cougars, averaging just 536 fans at home, expect far bigger crowds for two challenging games this weekend.

California (10-4, 2-1) comes to town Friday for a 5:30 p.m. contest that will be televised on FSN. Adults receive $2 off reserved seats, and WSU faculty and staff attend for free, courtesy of the Washington State Employees Credit Union.The Bears have won 11 straight against WSU, but that's nothing compared to the 50-0 all-time series record that fourth-ranked Stanford (12-2, 3-0) brings to Friel Court at 1 p.m. Sunday.

That game will not be televised, but it's the first of five pay-to-view women's basketball webcasts on Fans 12 and under receive free popcorn at the door.

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