Will CouGals-Ducks light up scoreboard again?

WHEN IT WAS announced that Washington State and Oregon will square off in the first round of the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament for the second straight year, the scoreboard operator at KeyArena could be excused if he booked the next flight out of town.

A year ago, the scoreboard spun at a dizzying pace when the Cougars outlasted Oregon in a memorable 108-88 shootout. Tournament records fell for total points in a game and points by one team. Washington State guards Lia Galdeira and Tia Presley both poured in 31 points.

“A great game for both schools,” WSU coach June Daugherty summed up Tuesday morning during the Pac-12 coaches teleconference.

The seventh-seeded Cougars (16-13) and 10th-seeded Ducks (13-16) still boast plenty of offensive firepower. However, players, fans and the scoreboard operator should be able to catch their breath from time to time during Thursday’s rematch (11:30 a.m., Pac-12 Networks), the opening game of the four-day tournament.

Kelly Graves, highly successful during a long stint at Gonzaga, replaced run-and-gun guru Paul Westhead as Oregon’s coach after the Ducks finished first in the nation in scoring last season … but dead last in defense. Graves quickly gave the heave-ho to high-scoring guard Chrishae Rowe and other players who did not adhere to his demands, which included a vastly different approach on defense.

“Let’s give great credit to Kelly Graves and his staff in their first year at the University of Oregon,” Daugherty said. “He and his staff have done an outstanding job. Every week you just watch them improve.”

Count Oregon forward-post Jillian Alleyne (pronounced Eh-LEEN) among the improved, even though she was already an established star. The 6-foot-3 junior leads the nation with 27 double-doubles, ranks second nationally with 15.1 rebounds per game and stands third in the conference in scoring at 18.4. She’s a key figure on defense, too.

“Kelly has just put so many good defensive principles into us,” Alleyne said after Oregon won a 70-69 thriller Feb. 6 in Pullman.

Alleyne dealt with a steady diet of double-teams in that game, but she sank 10 of 16 shots and racked up 20 points and 19 rebounds.

“I have a lot of respect for her,” WSU forward-post Mariah Cooks (pictured above) said afterwards. “She’s definitely one of the toughest posts to play against for me.”

Washington State won the other meeting with Oregon this season, but Alleyne was sensational. She buried 11 of 13 shots and produced 23 points and 16 boards in a 79-76 loss Jan. 15 in Eugene.

“She’s a phenomenal athlete and a fierce, fierce competitor,” Daugherty said. “I mean, that kid gives you every ounce on the floor when she’s on it. She plays so hard.” Alleyne’s big day in Eugene came in the Cougars’ first outing after starting post Shalie Dheensaw was lost for the year with a knee injury suffered at Oregon State. Louise Brown has started in Dheensaw’s place and experienced the usual ups and downs of a true freshman.

The Cougars, of course, rely heavily on Galdeira and Presley. Galdeira leads the Pac-12 in steals (3.3) and ranks second to Washington’s Kelsey Plum in scoring (19.7). Presley is fifth in scoring (17.1) and sixth in steals (1.9). Both players can bury jumpers from the perimeter or put the ball on the floor and drive.

Oregon coach Kelly Graves predicts Galdeira, a junior, will be a future first-round draft choice in the WNBA. Presley wants to extend her senior season as long as possible before turning pro.

“We’ve got to get a couple more wins if we want to make the (NCAA) tournament,” Presley said after scoring 28 points in Saturday’s Senior Day win over USC. “That’s been our goal, so we know what we need to do.”

Oregon has lost six straight Pac-12 tournament games since beating WSU in 2008. Of course, the Ducks had dropped 18 games in a row to Stanford before knocking off the No. 19 Cardinal on Saturday. That snapped a four-game losing skid for the Ducks, who lack depth and athleticism, but can push the ball at times and get hot from 3-point range

The WSU-Oregon winner tangles with ninth-ranked Arizona State (26-4), the No. 2 seed, at 11:30 a.m. Friday. Win that game, and the Cougars could meet third-seeded Stanford – a traditional national powerhouse that is a down a bit this year -- in Saturday’s semifinals. All tournament games will be televised on the Pac-12 Network except for Sunday’s title game on ESPN.

Washington State pushed Stanford to overtime in January, but the Cougars are a stunning 0-59 all-time against the Cardinal.

The scrappy Presley would kill for a chance to bump that mark to 1-59 and push WSU into the title game for the first time in school history. The Cougars have already knocked off two Top 25 teams in their quest to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991.

“We’re ready to fight,” Presley promised. “We’re not giving up.”

PAC-12 CONFERENCE WOMEN’S TOURNAMENT
At KeyArena, Seattle
All games televised on Pac-12 Network except title game on ESPN

THURSDAY’S GAMES
First round (with seeding)
11:30 a.m. – No. 10 Oregon (13-16) vs. No. 7 Washington State (16-13)
2 p.m. – No. 11 Arizona (10-19) vs. No. 6 UCLA (13-17)
6 p.m. – No. 9 Colorado (13-16) vs. No. 8 USC (15-14)
8:30 p.m. – No. 12 Utah (9-20) vs. No. 5 Washington (22-8)

FRIDAY’S GAMES
Quarterfinals
11:30 a.m. – Oregon-Washington State winner vs. No. 2 Arizona State (26-4)
2 p.m. – Arizona-UCLA winner vs. No. 3 Stanford (21-9)
6 p.m. – Colorado-USC winner vs. No. 1 Oregon State (26-3)
8:30 p.m. – Utah-Washington winner vs. No. 4 California (21-8)

SATURDAY’S GAMES
Semifinals, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

SUNDAY’S GAME
Championship, 6 p.m.

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