Washington State and Gonzaga chose to renew their women’s basketball rivalry exactly eight years after their last meeting.
What they didn’t expect was a dress rehearsal.
But instead of diminishing the regional nonconference game, the first meeting only enhanced today’s 2 p.m. matchup at McCarthey Athletic Center.
Two weeks ago the teams met on the final day of an eight-team tournament in Hawaii, with the Bulldogs pulling out a 67-65 win when Katelan Redmond made a pair of free throws with 5 seconds left.
“It was an exciting game,” WSU coach June Daugherty said. “There were 12 lead changes, six ties, kind of back and forth. We learned a lot about ourselves playing against them. The challenge is to see if we can improve and play them at a higher level with the (quick) turnaround.”
The Cougars are 2-7 while Gonzaga is 6-3 with a four-game winning streak.
“Their record doesn’t reflect it yet, but it’s definitely the best Cougar team I’ve seen,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “They have talent, depth, some individual stars. They’re still pretty young. … I anticipate a really good basketball game. I sure hope it’s not. I wish that every game, but there’s no reason to think it won’t be another good game.”
The Cougars have nine players averaging 6.8-9.8 points a game, five averaging more than four rebounds.
Washington State has a 15-3 advantage in the series that was played almost yearly from 1983-2003.
Daugherty is glad to get it going again.
“I don’t know why they didn’t play in the past,” she said. “We have a very huge and very proud alumni base in Spokane. It’s nice to bring a game to their backyard.”
It’s the kind of game her young team needs.
“I think it’s going to be an environment we’re going to see in the Pac-10,” Daugherty said. “We want them to compete against the best and only know this level of play. They understand for us to one day be the best, we have to understand what it takes to play against this type of competition. We’ve seen a lot of improvement. We’re not consistent yet. We’re going through a little bit of growing pains. At the same time, we’re not that far away.”
The Cougars started the season with veteran April Cook recovering from an injury that still limits her practice.
Freshman forwards Sage Romberg, Hanna Potter and Brandi Thomas are adjusting to the level of competition.
Daugherty said junior college point guard Rosetta Adzasu is also figuring out what she can do but gives them quickness that Graves said is a challenge to his All-American point guard, Courtney Vandersloot.
Gonzaga met WSU in Hawaii because of a disappointing loss to Mississippi in its first game but hasn’t lost since.
“We’re in a lot better place right now than we were in Hawaii,” Graves said. “We’ve upped the tempo. We’re pushing the ball a little better. Courtney’s hunting her shot a little bit more. We’ve ratcheted it up, getting something off our defense.”