CouGals dispatch Zags, set sights higher

SPOKANE – The Washington State Cougars were gathered outside their dressing room when coach June Daugherty noticed that Tia Presley was nowhere to be found. “Is Tia here?” Daugherty asked. “Tia’s on TV,” came the reply.

“Figures,” cracked assistant coach Brian Holsinger.

Presley, as colorful and chatty as she is talented, has never met a camera or microphone she did not love. The senior guard from Spokane drew the media spotlight yet again Tuesday night after she scored 18 of her game-high 21 points in the second half to lead WSU to a comeback, 59-58 win at Gonzaga.

“She was sick all day … she’s such a warrior,” Daugherty said.

Presley (pictured above) left most of the 5,363 spectators feeling ill after she drove to the lane and scored with 35 seconds left at Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center. Presley’s basket gave WSU the lead for the first time in the second half of a sloppy game married by 44 turnovers and 41 fouls.

“Not the prettiest game I’ve ever seen or coached,” Daugherty observed.

“We just fought through adversity the whole game,” Presley said. “It just shows the toughness of our team.”

Speaking of toughness: Lia Galdeira, who struggled with her shot all night, collapsed in pain with 6.9 seconds left after making her fifth steal of the game and being fouled. She limped to the bench during a timeout, limped back onto the court to sink two free throws to basically clinch the game, then limped back to the bench after another timeout.

Daugherty asked Galdeira if she wanted to shoot the free throws.


PRESLEY HITS THE AIRWAVES AFTER 21-POINT NIGHT

“I saw a ‘thumb up’ and a wink,” the coach said. “You go with your horse. I’m definitely proud of her.”

Daugherty had cause to be proud of many of her players on this night. The Cougars trailed most of the way and won despite shooting 36.4 percent from the floor, making 20 turnovers and drawing 22 fouls. Somehow, the Cougars snapped Gonzaga’s 27-game, regular-season home winning steak.

“I think it shows we have the heart of a champion,” Daugherty said. “We’re going to trust each other, keep playing hard and find a way to win.

“In the past, we didn’t always have that. Now we have it.”

Presley seconds the motion.

“This team is just tough and has showed a lot of character,” Presley said. “This year, we’ve played in a bunch of these ‘scrap’ games where it looks like it’s going to be ugly most of the time.

“Last year, these games were turning into losses, so this year, we just find a way to just battle through.”

Presley enjoyed an outstanding high school career at Gonzaga Prep, located a couple long 3-pointers from McCarthey. Kelly Graves, the longtime Gonzaga coach who is now in his first year at Oregon, did not recruit Presley.

“His loss, not mine,” the fiery Presley once said.

Presley has established herself as one of the greatest players in WSU women’s basketball history. She refused to gloat when asked if a win over Gonzaga is more satisfying than most for her.

“This question is asked so much,” Presley said with a smile. “To me, every win is a big win. It’s not about beating Kelly or beating Gonzaga. We have bigger goals than that.”

Specifically, the Cougars -- who finished 17-17 last season after losing to Montana in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) -- want to qualify for the NCAA tournament for just the second time in school history. The Cougars made it to the Big Dance in 1991; Gonzaga has made it six straight years.

A win over the Bulldogs should boost WSU’s confidence, although the current Gonzaga team is a far cry from the powerhouse GU squads of recent years. Gonzaga was ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 earlier this season, but that was based on history more than current production. The Bulldogs received no votes in this week’s Top 25 poll; WSU received seven votes to rank 31st.

“They’re a very good team,” Daugherty said. “They’re very well coached. They’ve got great size. I think their guard play is improving every game for them.”

Perhaps, but Gonzaga’s backcourt is no match for Presley and Galdeira. The latter scored only nine points Tuesday on 2-for-15 shooting and ran into foul trouble in the second half after Presley sat out much of the first half with two fouls.

Galdeira’s ankle hopefully will benefit from an 11-day break in the schedule. The Cougars play Montana State in Pullman on Dec. 20, visit Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles on Dec. 22, then open Pac-12 Conference play Jan. 3 at Arizona.

  • Center Shalie Dheensaw had 10 points, making her the only Cougar besides Presley in double figures. Dheensaw also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.

  • Washington State out-rebounded Gonzaga 34-32. The Bulldogs came into the game ranked among the nation’s best with an average rebounding advantage of 12.1 per game. The Cougars, who have good size like the Bulldogs, were minus-0.6.

  • Forward Sunny Greinacher led Gonzaga with 18 points, but she scored just four points after halftime and missed two free throws with 1:01 to go. Gonzaga ranked high nationally with 78.4 percent free-throw shooting coming into the game. The Bulldogs sank 13 of 19 free throws (68.4 percent) Tuesday.

  • The Cougars, who have won three in a row for the first time this season, have won the past two games at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs won in Pullman last year. WSU leads the all-time series 19-7 (Gonzaga was an NAIA school years ago), but Gonzaga won four straight before losing at home in 2012.

  • Daugherty and Presley said the Cougars enjoyed playing in front of a large crowd on the road. “I love coming back here,” Presley said. “They have a great fan base.” Daugherty added, “Their fans are awesome. Hats off to them. Hats off to the Cougars that came tonight, too.”


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