Cougals' season ends with a thud

WASHINGTON STATE'S women's basketball season which started out with huge expectations ended in a thud symbolic of the way the season went for the Cougars: close but not close enough.

On Wednesday, playing in front of paltry home crowd hurt by the fact students are on spring break, the Cougars lost in the opening round of the Women's NIT for the second-straight season to a foe from the Big Sky. Last year it was Montana. This time it was neighboring Eastern Washington.

With two seconds remaining, the Eagles' Jade Redmon hit a driving layup that nipped the front of the rim and flopped over to give her team a 67-65 victory.

The Cougars had three trips to the free-throw line in final two-plus-minutes that could have provided them the critical margin down the stretch but could manage just 3 of 6. For the night, the Cougs hit 61 percent of their FTs (11 of 18) to EWU's 8 of 11.

The real tale of the tape, however, was from 3-point land. WSU connected on but 2 of 17 attempts from downtown while Eastern nailed 7 of 18. Lia Galdeira (pictured above), WSU's leading scorer on the night with 31 points, hit both of the Cougars' treys on her nine downtown attempts.

WSU was considered one of the "first four teams out" of the NCAA tournament and an unofficial top seed for the WNIT. But the Eagles, who came into the contest with a 20-11 record after finishing the season tied for third in the Big Sky, clearly weren't impressed. They led by as much as 14 at one point in the first half and 39-34 at halftime. After the Cougars rallied to take the lead, the Eagles hit one crucial shot after another down the stretch.

One silver lining for the Cougars is that they finished the season at 17-16, giving head coach June Daugherty her first winning campaign in eight seasons on the Palouse and WSU its first in decades. Last year the CouGals finished 17-17.

This season, which started with huge promise fueled by four returning starters and an early win over national power Maryland, began to fray with a woeful start to the Pac-12 season and tight losses to conference heavyweights Oregon State and Stanford. A season-ending knee injury to senior center Shalie Dheensaw at Corvallis on Jan. 16 seemed to put an exclamation mark on the turn south but the Cougs rallied for three straight wins before dropping seven of their next nine and then rallying to close out 4-3 before earning a second consecutive WNIT bid.

Besides Galdeira's 31 points and 6 steals, the Cougars were led Wednesday by junior Mariah Cooks with 15 points and 10 rebounds and senior Tia Presley with 11 points.

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