CouGals still feel Dheensaw's absence in post

PULLMAN — Yes, the Cougars connected on just two of their final 16 field goal attempts in Thursday's narrow women's basketball loss to UCLA -- a loss that put a serious crimp in WSU's NCAA tourney hopes. But the echoes of a knee injury that ended senior center Shalie Dheensaw's season five weeks ago rang long and loud, and no doubt will be top of mind today when the Cougs host USC at 3 p.m.

The Trojans are formidable at forward with Kaneisha Horn and Alexyz Vaioletama, their two leading scorers and rebounders.

USC is 15-13 overall and 7-10 in conference play after losing to Washington on Thursday.

The CouGals also are 15-13 overall, but a game behind the Trojans at 6-11 in the Pac-12.

Thursday's 74-69 loss to the Bruins -- the Cougars' seventh setback in their last nine games -- stemmed in part from UCLA's success attacking the post in the first half. They poured in 26 points in the paint on the Cougars in that first stanza and shot 58 percent from the field.

Still, the Cougars only trailed 49-46 at halftime, and regrouped in the second half to limit the Bruins to six points in the paint and 23 percent field goal accuracy in the second half.

But the clear reality of the night was that Dheensaw's absence, as it has been for so much of the last month-plus, was sorely felt.

WSU freshman forward Louise Brown struggled defensively, allowing the Trojans to shoot a number of high-percentage shots. Those challenges on D seemed to rattle Brown on offense as she scored just two points in her 38 minutes of action and went 0-for-9 from the field.

"Lou is a warrior," said WSU coach June Daugherty. "She just competes so hard. She doesn't get much rest right now with us having lost Nike McClure and Shalie Dheensaw in the front line for the year."

Daugherty noted that she typically goes with a guard-heavy lineup for portions of each game to give Brown a rest, but with Taylor Edmondson limited to just six minutes of playing time due to an undisclosed injury, "Lou had to go the distance, except for two minutes."

Complicating matters was 6-5 WSU freshman center Bianca Blanaru picking up her third foul with about 16 minutes left in the game and her fourth with 14:22 remaining. That put the Cougars in a tight spot, Daugherty said, and it contributed to Brown's excessive minutes.

"It's tough when Bianca picks up her third foul and you're still trying to find some size in there because they're killing us on the glass, especially in the second half," Daugherty said. "Overall, I was pleased with Ivana (Kmetovska) and Bianca, and I thought Caila (Hailey) showed great promise as a freshman."

The Bruins won the rebounding battle 53-49, including a 37-26 advantage on the defensive boards. The Cougars were out-rebounded 32-24 in the second half. Brown and Mariah Cooks led the Cougars with eight boards apiece. Blanaru had four and Kmetovska had three. Hailey scored four points and grabbed two rebounds in 10 minutes.

Tia Presley scored a game-high 25 points and Lia Galdeira added 24. Daugherty said she thought Presley played "super basketball" against the Bruins.

"We just tried to come out here and be aggressive," Presley said. "We didn't like the way that we lost last weekend against UW, so we just wanted to come out with confidence and play hard, and try not to focus too much on what happened the game before."

A sweep of the Los Angeles schools would have helped the Cougars in the conference standings. The Cougars entered Thursday one game behind both UCLA and USC. They are now in danger of falling below Colorado and Oregon, which sat one game behind the Cougars entering Thursday.

The Cougars entered the contest among the "first four out" on ESPN's women's bracketology. The loss likely means WSU will need to win the Pac-12 tournament on March 5-8 to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

  • Galdeira wore No. 23 on Thursday night to honor her injured teammate, Dheensaw.

  • Saturday will be Senior Day honoring Presley and Dheensaw. The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.

  • Receiver Vince Mayle was in attendance Thursday and featured on the Jumbotron during a Flexcam segment. The NFL hopeful didn't disappoint.

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