Coug women ready to open Pac-12 play

PULLMAN – With a mark of 4-7, the Cougar women's basketball team is off to what many would consider a slow start. Head coach June Daugherty would beg to differ.

The Cougs are now battle tested, taking established teams like Minnesota and South Dakota State down to the wire. Throw in impressive wins against rival Gonzaga and heavily favored and ranked Ohio State and Coug fans should have reason to be plenty excited. The women's basketball team will kick off Pac-12 play Friday in Beasley Coliseum against a formidable Arizona squad. The Cougar women will have to battle adversity all season long, embracing the underdog role if they hope to have a successful 2013 campaign. June Daugherty believes her squad is up for the challenge and ready to take the Pac-12 by storm.

"Of course we want to win it all," Daugherty said. "Realistically, though, is to be in the top five."

Entering Pac-12 play, four conference teams rank in the top 25, including Cal and Stanford which rank seventh and fourth respectably. The Cougs have already shown they have the power to knock off heavily favored teams. Daugherty believes if the team can shore up some of the mental lapses, her team can beat anybody.

"We've been inconsistent, no doubt about it," Daugherty said. "We've played tough against some really good teams. It was exciting to see the kids' faces light up at halftime of some of those games."

The Cougs are led by a young backcourt featuring sophomore point guard Tia Presley and freshman phenom Lia Galderia. The smooth shooting Galdeira is a native of Kamuela, Hawaii, but has regularly done more than ‘hang 10' on the court, scoring in double figures in eleven of her first twelve games. In fact, Galdeira broke the freshman single-game scoring record in her first game as a Coug, dropping 33 points in a losing effort against Minnesota. She currently leads the team with 14.5 points per game.

Galdeira's score-first mentality earned her the Pac-12 freshman of the week in consecutive weeks, a feat never once accomplished in Cougar Women's Basketball history. She may not be done setting records just yet. Former Coug basketballer Jenni Ruff won the award three times during the 1995-1996 season, a school record.

"Lia Galdeira is a special talent," Daugherty said. "She began her career hitting a game-tying shot against Minnesota. She's still learning the offense and having to think a lot out there, but she's growing."

But Galdeira is only one piece of this two-headed monster.

The aforementioned Presley has been one hell of a floor general, already having dished 38 assists in just eleven starts. Conversely, Presley had 39 assists all of last season in 21 games played, including 15 starts.

Presley is also second on the team in points per game with averaging 11.7 points per outing.

The Spokane native and pride of Gonzaga Prep has quietly swiped 27 steals this season and has scored in double figures in seven of her last ten contests.

"She's feisty," Daugherty said. "She's been our most consistent player, no doubt."

Presley went down at the tail-end of the 2011 season with a stubborn foot injury, but Daugherty believes Presley is poised for big things for years to come.

"How exciting is it to see a girl like Tia have so much success with only one year under her belt," Daugherty said. "She's a good one."

The Cougs have a host of role players that have contributed invaluably to the team this year, and Daugherty believes it'll be those role players and upperclassmen that will dictate the direction this team goes from here on out.

Senior Carly Noyes, now second in career blocks and fifth in career starts, is averaging 7.5 points per game, as well as leading the team with an impressive 51.3 shooting percentage on the season. With already having swatted eleven shots, she is easily on pace to become Washington State's all-time leader in rejections.

Juniors Brandi Thomas and Sage Romberg are both considered scorers, but have seen their production drop off in recent contests. Thomas is a dead-eye from the wing, and offers the ability drive to the hoop and plays a physical brand of basketball the team will need if it hopes to make a serious run at the Pac-12 this season.

Romberg is a shooter and for good reason. As a freshman, Romberg hit 43 percent of her attempts from beyond the arc. While that number has dropped in recent years, she is still a cerebral threat on the offensive end, most notably on the boards. The McKinleyville, Calif. native averages 5.0 rebounds per game. She also shoots an impressive 83 percent from the charity stripe, an important quality for a team trying to pull out a game in the waning minutes.

The Cougs have all the right pieces in place to make a serious run at challenging for a postseason berth in 2013. Only time will tell whether these pieces will jell and take flight.

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