CouGals steal win from Utah

IT TOOK AWHILE, but the offense eventually started to roll for Washington State's women's basketball team Friday, thanks to late steals and easy points in transition. That helped the Cougs, who trailed most of the game, rally for a 63-54 home win over Utah. The victory marked the Cougars' second straight after a woeful start to Pac-12 play and improved their record to 12-6 and 3-4.

After a first half in which the Cougars shot 31.3 percent from the field, the Utes (6-12, 0-6) opened up a seven-point lead that seemed destined to grow. But WSU overcame its shooting woes by playing solid defense and speeding the game up when Utah wanted to slow it down. The Cougars also were careful with the basketball, only committing six turnovers.

"To me, it was more important that we forced them into 19 turnovers," WSU coach June Daugherty said. "That was the ballgame, and that's a team that doesn't turn the ball over. They're a very ball-secure team normally, and they like to slow it down, work the shot clock down, so that was part of why we wanted to speed it up." Utah came into the game averaging 14 turnovers per contest.

Those turnovers came in a spurt at the end of the game when the Cougars racked up six steals in the final five minutes of the game. Tia Presley (pictured above) made all four of her steals in that span, and Lia Galdeira made the other two. Galdeira finished with four steals, as well.

Presley and Galdeira's steals led to eight easy points for the Cougars, who finished with 14 points off of turnovers compared to Utah's four points. By the end of the night, Presley had amassed a team-high 17 points, while Galdeira added 14. But Presley took a little while to heat up, scoring her first points with less than five minutes to play in the first half. The Cougars took their first lead of the night with 6:36 remaining in the game.

"We knew if we wanted to win this game we were going to have to get stops and that’s what we’ve been talking about in all of our timeouts," Presley said. "Our main focus was pressuring the ball and trying to get steals and make their players feel uncomfortable and in the last couple of minutes we did that and that’s what was able to seal the deal."

Daugherty said the team ultimately played for Shalie Dheensaw, who went down for the season with a knee injury at Oregon State a week ago. True freshman Louise Brown made her second career start, and contributed 10 points and five rebounds, shooting 4 of 6 from the floor and 2 of 3 from beyond the three-point arc. Brown is beginning to acclimate to her new role.

"Obviously, I can shoot the ball but it's more of a confidence thing for me, so they're just trying to get me to practice a little more outside of our practice time, so then I'm able to come into the game and have confidence to shoot," Brown said. "Some of them are finally starting to drop. I still have a long way to go."

Daugherty likes what she has seen from Brown.

"I'm really proud of Louise," she said. "She's playing hard, she's playing a lot of minutes. She's so long and is doing a great job defensively and rebounding-wise. She is taking it to heart that she's got to step up a little bit more and produce a little bit more, but I think she has to realize she's got teammates. She doesn't need to do it by herself."

To backfill for Dheensaw's absence, Brown played 26 minutes -- six more than her average -- while Mariah Cooks played 30 -- 12 more than her average -- and lightly-used Ivan Kmetovska and Bianca Blanaru 10 and seven minutes, respectively.

Shooting woes plagued both teams during a scoreless stretch midway through the second half that lasted for almost four minutes. At that point, the Cougars had drawn within two points. That scoreless stretch was in the middle of a span in which the Cougars did not hit a jump shot for about seven straight minutes.

"It wasn't pretty, no doubt about it, it wasn't pretty," Daugherty said. "We were out of rhythm a little bit, with the changes with Dheensaw being out for the season. I'm really proud of our kids. I thought we toughed it up. We just sat down and said, 'We're going to find a way. We're going to do it on the defensive end.' It takes guts, it takes courage to do that, and our kids definitely rose up and got it done."

NEXT UP: The Cougs host Colorado this Sunday at 1 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks). The Buffs (9-9 and 2-5) lost a narrow one to UW on Friday.

  • The Cougars, who were outrebounded 38-29, improved to 6-6 this season when their opponents produces more rebounds. When the Cougars are even or ahead in the rebounding battle, they are 6-0 this season.

  • The Cougars won for only the second time against Utah in games played in Pullman.

  • The final attendance for the game was counted at 874.

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