These WSU women are head turning

BOISE – As a Cougar living in Boise, the mere notion of any WSU team coming to town quickens the pulse. When the crimson and gray are actually on the ground here in Bronco country, you make the most of it. So it was, Thursday, that I was on hand not just for the WSU women's basketball team's victory over BSU, but the Cougs' practice session earlier in the day, too. And let me tell you something.

This is no longer a team hoping to win. These Cougars expect to win. This is a program with a bright future.

The contrast between Thursday and the last time the Cougs played here, last December, is stark. A year ago, the Cougs jumped out to a 16-point lead mid-way through the second half but couldn't hang on in the face of a furious BSU comeback and lost by 7.

DAUGHERTY RALLIES THE TROOPS.

Last night, the Cougs also built a big lead and BSU again staged a strong comeback. But this time, there was a certain aura, a humble swagger, if you will, among the Cougar women that said, "We'll take care of this."

They did, too, winning 85-76. In the process, the Cougs scored more points than any WSU women's team since 2001, and they ended BSU's 19-game home winning streak.

It was clear during yesterday's practice that the WSU coaching staff is hell bent on two things: 1) Becoming an outstanding defensive team; and 2) Blending the seven rookies with the veterans.

COMMENTARY

From assistant coaches Mike Daugherty and Mo Hines mixing it up with the players on the court, to June Daugherty and assistant coach Brian Holsinger directing action, it was evident that the coaches and players are on the same page. The result is a team with a belief in itself and the game-plan for getting where they want to go.

Against BSU, the Cougs started out sluggish and fell behind by six. Two freshmen, though, gave the Cougs a jump-start. Guard April Cook and forward Rosie Tarnowski pumped in nine and seven first-half points, respectively, to propel WSU to a 39-31 halftime lead.

Cook finished the game with a team-high 18 points, plus 3 assists and 3 steals. Tarnowski finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds. Those two really turned the heads of the 100 or so WSU fans who were at the game. So so did fellow freshman Jazmine Perkins, who scored 15 points, dished off 5 assists, grabbed 4 rebounds and nabbed 2 steals. Each of the three were on the floor for between 28 and 32 minutes. In short, we're talking about three stellar fixtures on the Cougar landscape for the next four years.

MOLZEN, left, AND DANIELLE LENOIR

And of course, two wily old seniors, Katie Appleton and Heather Molzen, were their usual reliable selves. Appleton had 16 and 4 rebounds, Molzen 11 points and 9 reounds. But what was most impressive was the way they stood up in the face of the Broncs' second-half comeback, which saw the WSU lead cut from 18 to five. Appleton responded by hitting a three pointer and 8 of 9 foul shots, while Molzen poured in 9 of her 11 total points. You talk about "glue guys" on a team – they are it.

Purely as an arm-chair coach, one quick observation of my day with the Cougs is that Cook has the potential to become a major star. I can see WSU records for scoring and steals falling in her wake. Twice in the game she made highly athletic moves -- WNBA kinds of athletic moves -- to the basket and on every shot she created space by her quick, high-rising jumper. Tarnowski is also quick, and very smooth around the basket.

This brand of basketball couldn't even be compared to the slow, lumbering pace of Cougar teams past. These kids get up and down the floor. Each player showed a level of athleticism and basketball smarts beyond their years. This is a new era for Cougar women's basketball.

When I spoke to Coach Daugherty after the game the first words out of her mouth were, "these young kids are going to give me gray hair," referring to the Broncos whittling down the Cougs' big lead in the second half.

If all the outcomes are like Thursday night's, then I say the more June's hair looks like Barbara Bush's, the better.

NOTABLE NOTES:
* During opening introductions, Coach Daugherty was given a warm welcome by the BSU faithful. Twelve years removed from the last game she coached for the Broncs, it's clear she left behind a sterling reputation and a lot of friends. A close friend of mine who has not missed a BSU home game in many years says June's name is still synonymous with BSU basketball.

* My 5-year-old daughter Noelle and I had the chance to visit with June and the team after their practice session. I can't tell you how impressed I was with June's genuine warmth and caring. Noelle has a heart condition. June took her hand and introduced her to each player. Noelle never even looked back to see where I was. When I asked her later how she became so bold, she responded, "Because Coach June has a special heart like me." She felt an instant bond with June.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joel Hilty-Jones is a 1998 WSU graduate who was born, raised and married in Pullman and plans someday way down the road to die there, too. He and his wife Jennifer live in Middleton, Idaho, and operate an organic market called Hilty Sprouts.

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