June Daugherty: 'Better fasten your seatbelt'

THE BASKETBALL spotlight at Washington State zeroed in on the women's team after last week's sweep of the Washington Huskies, and ever-enthusiastic coach June Daugherty is delighted to bask in the spotlight after so many years in the shadows.

"We're a pretty good team when we play as hard as we're playing right now," Daugherty said Monday on the weekly Cougars radio show out of Spokane. "We can pretty much beat anybody, anytime, anyhow."

Daugherty, who "promised" prior to the season that the long-suffering Cougars would qualify for post-season action, has plenty of reason to be jacked up about her troops heading into Friday's home game with 21st-ranked Colorado (7 p.m., no TV).

For starters, WSU (10-6 overall) is 4-0 in the Pac-12 Conference for the first time. Also, the Cougars are 2-1 against Top 25 teams this season. And let's not forget putting an end to that 36-game losing streak to Washington.

The Cougars are tied for first place with fourth-ranked Stanford and 15th-ranked California. All four of WSU's conference wins have been decided by nine points or less, an encouraging sign for a program that has struggled to win close games in recent years.

"This league – you better fasten your seat belt," Daugherty said. "It's going to be topsy-turvy the entire season."

The Cougars have outscored rivals by just 10 points after 16 games, and they rank in the middle or lower in most team statistics in the Pac-12. However, WSU individuals can be spotted throughout the list of league leaders.

Junior guard Tia Presley ranks fourth in scoring at 19.9, and sophomore guard Lia Galdeira is seventh in scoring at 18.7 and third in steals at 2.5. Sophomore point guard Dawnyelle Awa is sixth in assist-turnover ratio at 1.75. Senior forward-guard Sage Romberg stands seventh in 3-point field-goal shooting percentage at 41.2. Much-improved junior center Shalie Dheensaw is 11th in rebounding at 8.0.

Galdeira scored 28 points in last Tuesday's home win over Washington, when the Cougars overcame the foul problems and limited minutes of Presley. In Saturday's triumph in Seattle, Presley poured in 29 points – 22 in the first half – after Galdeira sat with two early fouls.

"I don't like either one of them sitting next to me very long on the bench – no offense to them," Daugherty joked. "They're such talented players and scorers.

"But the equalizer, if you look back at those two games, was the tremendous play of our front line. Shalie Dheenshaw having double-doubles back to back. She's playing well. Sage Romberg has been our most consistent player all year."

Daugherty said WSU's forwards and centers have regularly practiced twice-a-day since Christmas because "they weren't satisfied" with their earlier play. Daugherty said she's grateful for their dedication and improvement, two key factors in the team's overall success.

"We're playing a very high level of basketball," Daugherty said. "We're improving each outing."

Daugherty hopes that leads to a bump in attendance now that students have returned from holiday break. The Cougars rank ninth in the Pac-12 with 1,123 fans per game, and that number (for tickets distributed) is significantly higher than the actual number of fannies in seats.

The second annual "Dads & Daughters Date Night" promotion should boost the crowd for Friday's game against Colorado (11-4, 1-3). Utah (7-8, 0-4) comes to town Sunday for a noon contest that will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Daugherty always appreciates the loud-and-lively ZZU Cru student section.

"All the other coaches in the Pac-12 are so jealous, so envious of the ZZU Cru," said Daugherty, who maintains the ZZU Cru is "by far the best" group of student fans in Pac-12 women's basketball.

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