NOTEBOOK: Cougar women's hoops

TIA PRESLEY

WASHINGTON STATE women's basketball coach June Daugherty can give the most rabid WSU booster a run for the money when it comes to talking endlessly about the Cougars. But Daugherty took the high road and clammed up Wednesday when asked about a heated post-game exchange with Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves.

"Nothin' goin' on there," said June Daugherty, her voice taking on an uncharacteristically flat tone.

Nothing at all, Coach?

"Nothin' goin' on there," Daugherty repeated. "We won. We got it done. We've moved on to the Pac-12."

If actions do indeed speak louder than words, the Cougars made a loud statement about the state of women's basketball in the Inland Northwest last Friday when they rallied from 14 down to beat Gonzaga 57-51 before a sellout crowd of 6,000 in Spokane.

Combined with a 62-55 home win two weeks earlier over then-No. 20 Ohio State, the Cougars (4-7) carry some momentum into Friday night's Pac-12 Conference opener with Arizona (8-3). Arizona State (8-4) follows the Wildcats into town Sunday afternoon. Neither game will be televised.

With four teams ranked in the Top 20, the Pac-12 is loaded yet again in women's basketball. The Cougars haven't finished in the top half of the conference since coming in fourth in the Pac-10 in 1990-91, but Daugherty says that might change this year.

"I think a realistic goal is to be in the top five if we can continue to improve," Daugherty said.

One of WSU's most pressing needs is to improve against, uh, the press.

"We have struggled, definitely, against full-court pressure," Daugherty said.

Arizona loves to press. That could pose problems for a Cougars squad that ranks 10th or lower in most Pac-12 offensive statistics, including points per game (60.2), field-goal shooting percentage (36.6) and 3-point shooting percentage (26.0).

The Cougars do lead the league with one of the better 3-point shooting percentage defense marks in the country (23.8). Arizona figures to test the Cougars' perimeter defense, since the Wildcats lead the Pac-12 in 3-point shooting percentage at 35.3.

Freshman wing Lia Galdeira continues to lead the Cougars in scoring (14.5), rebounding (5.3) and steals (2.9) per game. She ranks in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in scoring and steals, but none of the Cougars are in the top 20 in rebounding, and it's obviously a concern when a 5-foot-11 freshman wing is a team's leading rebounder.

"Lia Galdeira is a great talent," Daugherty said. "I mean, she opened her career at Minnesota with 33 points (a WSU freshman record)."

Prior to the season, Daugherty labeled WSU's freshmen "as good as any freshman class in the country." Thanks largely to Galdeira, the coach is not backing down from that remark.

"There's a reason why she was named three-time Hawaii player of the year and (was a) three-time state champion," Daugherty said. "This kid is enormously talented and very athletic."

Sophomore point guard Tia Presley is second on the Cougars in scoring (11.7) and steals (2.5), and she's third in rebounding (4.2).

"She's been our most consistent player, no doubt about it," Daugherty said.

Presley was the all-time leading scorer in the Greater Spokane League at Gonzaga Prep, and her scoring exploits and scrappy play did not make her a lot of friends at rival schools. GU fans gave her an earful when she returned home last week, but she responded with game highs of 15 points and four steals.

"Tia is a very competitive individual," Daugherty said. "She's not going to back down from anybody, anytime."

Daugherty says the Cougars need better scoring, defense and rebounding out of the front line. She was pleased when freshman forward Mariah Cooks delivered a season-best 12 points off the bench at Gonzaga.

"She's tough," Daugherty said. "She's a very strong individual, and she's fearless."

Carly Noyes, WSU's tallest player at 6-5, is averaging just 3.0 rebounds per game for the second straight year. She's a four-starter who rarely goes to the free-throw line … which might not be such a bad thing, since she's a 38 percent career shooter at the line.

Noyes is the Pac-12's active leader with 137 career blocked shots. Holly Zapel holds the WSU record of 147.

Daugherty says she's glad the Cougars again played a challenging nonconference schedule – "Play the best to be the best" – and she hopes that pays off for a team that consists mostly of underclassmen.

"We've been inconsistent, no doubt about it," she said. "But when you have six freshmen and three sophomores, that's two-thirds of your team. There's a little bit of room for some growing pains, I guess. But I'm really excited and proud of our team."

Daugherty said the Cougars continue to reap benefits from their surprising semifinals run at last year's Pac-12 tournament. The Cougars picked up their first two wins in tournament history.

"It served as a great motivator," Daugherty said. "We had our best spring of conditioning and basketball, and our best summer. I felt like our upperclassmen in particular came back way more skilled, and in way better shape. Way more tougher about everything they were doing in the gym."

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