CouGals let tourney opportunity slip away

SEATTLE – June Daugherty has never met an overstatement she did not cherish when discussing her beloved Washington State women’s basketball team. When the Cougars were preparing for the Pac-12 tournament earlier this week, Daugherty casually mentioned to reporters that the Cougars “can beat anybody in the country.”

Crusty old sports writers snickered at the coach’s remark. This crusty old sports writer, anyway. After all, the Cougars had lost seven of nine games coming into the tournament, including a humiliating 40-point home loss to the Huskies. Besides, when has Daugherty not gone overboard – however well-intentioned – when the subject is WSU women’s basketball?

Friday afternoon, the Cougars were provided a golden opportunity to fulfill their coach’s faith in them and – possibly – lock up an NCAA tournament berth. They let that golden opportunity slip away.

The Cougars missed their first nine shots from the field. They missed 10 of their first 13 free throws. They missed 13 of 14 attempts from 3-point range. Perhaps worst of all, they missed a glut of defensive assignments in the paint after halftime, helping ninth-ranked Arizona State shoot a sizzling 70.8 percent in the second half of a 67-48 triumph.

The Cougars will forever wonder “What if?” about this one. They trailed just 7-0 after going 0-for-9 from the floor in the first 7 1/2 minutes. Arizona State led only 19-16 at the half. Neither team could make baskets. The Sun Devils were begging to be knocked off before a pro-Cougars crowd estimated at 1,000.

Who knows what would have happened if not for injuries to Lia Galdeira and Tia Presley? WSU’s dynamic backcourt duo both left the court pain – Galdeira with a knee injury early in the first half, Presley with an ankle injury early in the second half. Both were quick to return, but every basket, every steal, every stop matters when you’re playing the No. 9 team in the country.

“Gutsy performance by Lia and Tia to come back out and play,” Daugherty said. “They were obviously in a lot of pain. They weren’t able to be as explosive as they usually are.”

Presley still managed to record a career-high seven steals (one off the tournament record) and a game-high 16 points. Galdeira scored 12 points, but it wasn’t easy. She went 4-for-17 from the field, including 1-for-8 on treys, and she converted only 3 of 11 free throws.

Presley and Galdeira earned credit for guts. They only wish they could have earned credit for winning.

“They’re very tough players,” WSU forward Mariah Cooks said. “Some of the toughest I’ve ever played with.”

Daugherty labeled Galdeira “a warrior.” She ranks second in WSU history with 1,679 points – Jeanne Eggart is just 288 ahead -- and Presley (1,530) passed Jenni Ruff to move into third place Friday. Galdeira is a junior, Presley a senior.

“We’re going to miss the Tia part of the ‘Tia and Lia Show,’” Daugherty said.

Presley, whose first two seasons were cut short by injury, said, “It’s been an honor to be a Coug the past four years through injuries and all the adversity my team has faced and stuff. I’m just so proud to be part of the group of girls that I got to play with, and the strides we made in Cougar basketball is amazing. To even be in the second round (of the Pac-12 tournament) competing for a chance to play in the NCAA tournament isn’t something that was in the plan when I got here.”

Asked if she believes her 17-14 team has a shot at cracking the 64-team NCAA tournament field, Daugherty said, “You always have a chance. Just because of the schedule that we played and the success we had in the preseason (nonconference games).”

The Cougars beat No. 22 Dayton and No. 10 Maryland in November, but they’re 2-7 against Top 25 teams. Daugherty is confident the Cougars will at least make a second straight appearance in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). If, that is, the NCAA doesn’t come calling for the second time in school history, and the first time since 1991.

“Everybody’s got to wait and see,” Daugherty said. “But I’m excited about the fact that no matter what, this program will be back in postseason play for the second year in a row. Last year was the first time in two decades.”

So much progress has been made. So much more progress needs to be made. So much progress could have been made Friday if the Cougars played up to their potential.

  • Arizona State outrebounded WSU 41-23, outscored the Cougars 38-28 in the paint and had a 17-5 advantage in second-chance points. ASU’s bench outscored Cougars reserves 25-4.

  • One day after scoring a career-high 34 points against Oregon, Galdeira was hounded constantly by Promise Amukamara. “Promise just does an amazing job of making them (players she guards) work for every touch, making them work for anything and everything that they do,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said.

  • The 16 points in the first half was a season low for WSU in any half this season. Both coaches complimented the defensive play of the opposition. The Cougars piled up 17 steals among 20 ASU turnovers. Washington State had 15 turnovers.

  • The Cougars have never defeated a team ranked higher than 10th in The Associated Press Top 25. Maryland was ranked eighth in the USA Today coaches poll and 10th in the AP poll when WSU beat the Terrapins this season.

  • Kelsey Moos, a cousin of Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, helped down the Cougars by scoring all eight of her points on 4-for-4 shooting in the second half. Post partner Sophie Brunner, limited to four minutes and two points in the first half due to foul trouble, scored 12 points in the second half.

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