No shortage of height in WSU's women's hoops

WASHINGTON STATE's women's basketball team returns four starters, including all-Pac-12 performers Tia Presley and Lia Galdeira, from last season's best-in-two-decades squad, but get this: the Cougars also feature seven players who stand between 6-1 and 6-5. Coach June Daugherty said this week she's feeling good about her club's ability to dunk but feeling small when she's on the court at practice.

Four of Daugherty's seven true freshmen are among the vertically inclined:
6-5 Bianca Blanaru of Romania; 6-3 Nike McClure of Tenino, Wash.; 6-2 Lousie Brown of Australia; and 6-2 Ashley Bolston of Medford, Ore.

They join WSU's returning Six-Foot-Plus Club of 6-4 senior center Shalie Dheensaw; 6-1 junior forward Mariah Cooks; and 6-3 sophomore Ivana Kmetovska.

At Pac-12 Media Day on Wednesday, Daugherty said Dheensaw and Cooks had exceptional off seasons and that Kmetovska caught her attention as well.

Dheensaw started all 34 games for the Cougars last year and was the team's leading rebounder and shot blocker. She also averaged 7.3 points per game. Cooks came off the bench to average more than 16 minutes, 6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Kmetovska played in just 12 games in 2013-14, averaging three minutes per outing, but Daugherty thinks she could be a significant contributor this season.

Regardless of height, the key to the Cougars' season looks to be integrating the seven freshmen with the eight returning vets.

“We just have to keep building our team chemistry. We have four returning starters and that’s a really good start, but we also have seven new freshmen, so we need to get them on pace with the rest of the girls,” said Presley, a senior guard who joined Daugherty in San Francisco for the conference's media day.

Presley, pictured above, added, “If we can find a way to get the team chemistry with all 15 of us, with the new girls and the returners, I think we’ll have a really good season.”

Last season the Cougars finished 17-17 (9-9) and earned a berth in the WNIT. Three players from that squad have graduated: 34-game starter Sage Romberg and heady role players Brandi Thomas and Hana Potter.

“I’m very fired up, I tell you what," Daugherty said in San Francisco. "We’ve gone through some practices, gone through some scrimmage situations. We’ve got several new faces but Tia and the upperclassmen are really doing a great job of leading this group, so we’ve got the chance to be really special, and we’re very excited about that.”

With all the new faces in the program, it will be critical to "stay together as a team through adversity, through all the bumps, the highs and the lows,” Daugherty said.

She said two areas of emphasis this season are 1) solidifying the front line, where she believes the team will be more physical and skilled than a year ago, and 2) improving on defense, where the Cougars ranked second-to-last in the Pac-12 after allowing an average of 75.9 points per game -- or 1.6 points more than the Cougar offense averaged.

Daugherty said her players have bought into their roles on defense, and the combination of improvement in those two areas points to this being a special season.

The defensive shortcomings last season took some luster away from the third-highest scoring offense in the Pac-12.

Daugherty's two leading scorers from last season -- Presley (19.0 points per game) and junior Galdeira (18.5) -- as well as assists leader Dawnyelle Awa are back.

“It seems crazy that two dynamic scorers can play together and on the same team but we found a way to make it work,” Presley said of her tag-team with Galdeira. “When she’s playing really well, I feed off of it, and I think the same when I’m playing well, she does the same thing, so it’s been great playing with Lia.”

NOTABLE:
  • In the preseason poll of conference coaches released on Wednesday, the Cougars tallied 56 points, which slotted them in 8th place. Three teams received votes for first place -- Stanford, Cal and Oregon State -- with the Card coming out No. 1 with 116 points, just edging out the Bears at 111. Oregon State was 3rd, followed by UCLA 4th, Washington 5th, USC 6th, ASU 7th, WSU 8th, Oregon 9th, Colorado 10th, Utah 11th and Arizona 12th.

  • The Cougars open the season Nov. 2 with an exhibition game in Pullman against Central Methodist and then commence the regular portion of the schedule on Nov. 14 against Dayton. That will be the first of four straight home games before hitting the road to Hampton (Virginia) on Nov. 25 and the San Juan Classic on Nov. 28 and 29, where they will take on Michigan and Maryland.

  • Daugherty is entering her eighth season as head coach of the Cougars and 26th as a college head coach. Prior to WSU she spent 11 seasons at Washington and seven at Boise State.

  • Last season the Cougars posted four wins over ranked teams, including one on the road against No. 10 Nebraska. In addition, their nine conference wins was the most by a Cougar squad since 1994-95.

    THE TALLEST COUG: 6-5 FRESHMAN BIANCA BLANARU OUT OF TIMISOARA, ROMANIA.


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