CouGals earn 'signature senior game' win

PULLMAN — Tia Presley spoke with conviction. Even as she watched Washington State's lead dwindle in crunch time, she remained confident that the Cougars would find a way to prevail during their final home game of the season, which they did with a 68-62 win Saturday against USC. And they did it in a most unexpected way - on the glass.

"We weren't losing this game, we weren't losing this game, nope!" Presley said, who was honored on Senior Day along with the injured Shalie Dheensaw. "From the start of this game, I said I am not going out like this. That's just not me. I wasn't even worried. At two points, I said we had to figure something out, but we're not losing."

A quick check of the stat book shows Washington State is last in the conference in rebounding margin at minus-3.5. You sure wouldn't have known it Saturday. The Cougs went nuclear on the glass against USC, outrebounding the Trojans 54-28.

Yet early on, it appeared the Cougars would have to get that Senior Day win without much from their second-leading scorer.

Presley (pictured above) did not score her first point until 5:22 remained in the first half. She made up for it over the final 25 minutes though, leading all scorers with 28 points (including nine consecutive points once her first free throw found bottom). Coach June Daugherty said that stretch at the end of the first half was a huge momentum builder for the Cougars, allowing them to turn a deficit into a 35-31 halftime lead .

"I thought it was a signature senior game for us," said Daugherty, whose team saw a double-digit point lead during the second half dwindle to two without about five minutes remaining. "It wasn't pretty basketball by any stretch of the imagination, but our kids just gutted it out."

Junior forward Mariah Cooks and junior guard Lia Galdeira each finished with double-doubles. Galdeira once again wore No. 23 to support the injured Dheensaw.

Cooks was money, snatching a game-high 18 rebounds to go along with her 13 points, while a tenacious Galdeira added 11 points and 12 rebounds.

"I just thought (Cooks) showed you guys how important her friendship is, and her sisterhood with those two, by that gutsy effort," Daugherty said.

The Cougars dominated the Trojans on the boards. WSU outrebounded USC to the tune of 54-28, and improved to 9-1 this season when they have at least the same amount of rebounds as their opponents.

The Cougars destroyed the Trojans on the offensive glass 26-8, which led to 18 second-chance points. USC only scored five points off of its second chances.

"We were monsters," Daugherty said. "We were monsters, and that team is more athletic. Our kids, today they wanted it more."

Presley scored eight of the Cougars' final 11 points in a contest where Daugherty said the team was running on fumes. The senior made eight of her 19 shots but only one of her six 3-pointers. WSU shot 36.5 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from three-point range on Saturday.

"Tia's my sister," Cooks said. "She's definitely going to be one of my bridesmaids, so seeing her do that is amazing and I'm so proud of her. She came in clutch when you needed her. That's what senior leaders do and she did that tonight."

Daugherty credited Presley and Dheensaw for helping rebuild a perennially struggling WSU women's hoops program. And it's continued to rise, Daugherty said, with newcomers such as Caila Hailey, Pinelopi Pavlopoulou and Louise Brown.

Those freshmen, Daugherty said, are continuing to improve and their progress has led to the upperclassmen trusting them enough to share the ball more. The coach added that the team's ball movement has allowed players such as Brown to shoot in rhythm, like she did on a 3-pointer that put the Cougars ahead by 11 with about 10 minutes remaining in the game.

Daugherty also gave a shout-out to junior guard Alexas Williamson, who has sat behind prolific scorers Presley and Galdeira for three years. Williamson was effective coming off the bench in the five minutes she played against the Trojans, Daugherty said.

The win improved the Cougars to 16-13 overall and 7-11 in the Pac-12 conference. The Pac-12 tournament runs March 5-8 in Seattle, where the Cougs are expected to be the No. 7 seed.

  • The Cougars overcame 22 turnovers as a team, which the Trojans turned into 22 points.

  • Presley is now No. 4 on WSU's all-time scoring list with 1,504 career points.

  • Galdeira is now No. 2 on the WSU all-time steals list with 260.

  • 827 people came to Beasley Coliseum for Senior Day and defensive line coach Joe Salave'a was one of them.

  • Daugherty said Taylor Edmondson still is injured and the team will continue to evaluate her.

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