JUNE DAUGHERTY (WSU Photo)

As Cougs prep for WNIT Sweet 16 game, June Daugherty says winning vibe has transformed team

PULLMAN -- With her team two days away from a home-court WNIT Sweet 16 battle with UC Davis, Washington State women’s basketball coach June Daugherty said she and her troops don’t want to hear talk about how great they are going to be next season.

“This group is tired of hearing about next year,” Daugherty told reporters Tuesday.

This is the here and now — a world in which the Cougars have won four of their last five games. The list includes nail biting, back-to-back road efforts at BYU and Wyoming in the first two rounds of the WNIT and a thriller over Colorado in the first round of the Pac-12 Tourney.

“We keep hearing 'well this will be a good team next year', but for the girls in the locker room, they want to win (now).

“They’re confident and leaving everything out there,” Daugherty said of her team. “We love playing hard for our fans and we can’t wait to see a potentially historic crowd for women’s basketball in Beasley Thursday.”

The Cougs (14-19) will tip off Thursday at 7 p.m. against the No. 1 team from the Big West, the 25-7 Aggies of UC Davis. The game will be streamed at wsucougars.com.

Based on Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings, the Cougars project as an 8-point favorite — with three of those points coming from the home-court advantage.

As for all the bright forecasts about next season, the outlook stems from the fact these surging Cougars are playing, as they have for much of the season, without three starters and a promising backup freshman. Borislava Hristova, Louise Brown, Chanelle Molina and Cameron Fernandez each was felled by injury this season and all will be back in 2017-18.

The four are progressing well and on track to be back in action next season, Daugherty said. She envisions redshirt years being granted to Hristova and Brown, who went down early in the campaign. In addition, WSU will apply for a redshirt for Fernandez, who was injured later in the season but had only played in six games.

The Cougars graduate just one player — senior forward Ivana Kmetovska (8.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg) — from this year’s team.

ONE OF THE KEYS FOR THE Cougars keeping their proverbial heads above water in the wake of the injuries has been the versatile play of 5-10 junior guard Caila Hailey out of Inglewood, Calif.

“She’s played the 3, 4 and sometimes the 5," said Daugherty. "Caila has been such a vocal player for us too.”

Widely considered one of the best defenders in the Pac-12 (as evidenced by her 13 steals in the last five games), Hailey has turned up the offense of late.

In the Cougars’ four victories in this stretch run, she hit 17 points twice and 12 and 10 in the other two. That compares to her season average of 8.1 points per game.

Point guard Pinelopi Pavlopoulou has played outstanding basketball in the post-season, added Daugherty, noting that the junior playmaker from Athens, Greece, is doing so with a heavy heart.

“Pinelopi lost her grandfather over spring break and we offered her the opportunity to go home and be with her family. It was an emphatic ‘no’,” Daugherty said.

Pavlopoulou scored a team-high 20 points in Saturday’s 68-67 overtime win at Wyoming. She hit a jumper in the waning moments of regulation to send the game to OT and then put the Cougs ahead for good on another jumper near the beginning of the extra period.

“Every scouting report she has read and re-read, “Daugherty said. “She’s always to practice early and the last to leave — she doesn’t cut corners and she doesn’t hold back.”

Looking to Thursday’s game, Daugherty said, “We were excited to win on the road but it’s so fantastic to be home and it’s an exciting time for all of us and the fans.”

UC Davis runs the Princeton offense, which is heavy on motion, picks and back-door cuts. They do it as well as anyone, said Daugherty, noting that “they’re very good in transition and I can tell that they all have the green light to shoot 3s.”

They are led by sophomore Morgan Bertsch, a 6-4 forward who can run the floor and hit from all angles.

“Hopefully we can disrupt her and extend those passing lanes, she does a great job of running the floor so we’ve got to get back and quick,” Daugherty said.

The five days between games is a luxury given the whirlwind of the last two weeks.

“This is the most preparation we’ve had with these quick turnarounds in post-season play, we’re so glad that we have had the time to go through the film and get the floor time this week,” Daugherty said.

“After the Wyoming game - again winning in over time, short bench, so much foul trouble, 7,200 feet of elevation, a day-and-a-half to fly from Provo, Utah, to get there and just do a shoot around basically and watch some film… Walking into the locker room after the win, that locker room was different,” Daugherty said.

Daugherty also noted it had been a long time since she’d walked off a court with tears in her eyes.

“People had played their hearts out for each other and there was just a different vibe, a different look. No matter what happens from Thursday night on, the program changed that night on that floor,” she said.

NOTABLE:

With two recruits inked during the early LOI signing period in November, the Cougars’ roster for next season is set, so no players will be taken in the regular signing period that begins April 12, Daugherty said.

The two incoming players are 5-10 guard Celena Molina (Chanelle’s sister)  out of Konawaena High and 6-3 center Taryn Shelley out of Josh Hawkinson’s alma mater, Shorewood High. Molina was named All-State by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Shelley was named all-area by the Everett Herald after averaging 16 points, 15.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game this season.

Their two scholarship slots come from Kmetovska, who is graduating, and Bianca Blanaru, who transferred to Georgia last summer. 


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