The Washington State women’s basketball team didn’t pick up as many W’s in the preseason as the coach had hoped and it won’t get any easier when the Pac-10 season opens next week. USC (7-3 with a win over Gonzaga) comes calling on New Year’s Eve, and ninth-ranked UCLA (10-0), off to its best start in three decades, visits two days later.
“We have taken on a very ambitious and competitive preseason schedule,” said Daugherty. “It’s been good for us taking on good competition. We’re learning and improving at a very rapid rate.”
That hasn’t translated into wins. The Cougars are 2-9 going into Tuesday night’s game at San Diego State.
“It can be frustrating or it can serve as a great motivator,” Daugherty said. “For the most part … it has served as a great motivator. They understand to get there they must practice at a much, much higher level.”
The Cougars have often started three freshmen and a transfer and veteran April Cook has just returned from an injury.
“She’s not there yet but she’s getting back, getting into a rhythm,” the coach said. “It’s not just her scoring and her ability to defend, early on we missed her leadership.”
That made the schedule, with plenty of opponents coming off postseason appearances, even more difficult.
“We’re playing great competition and our players are responding to that challenge,” Daugherty said. “I see a vast amount of improvement. I feel good about where this team is headed.”
She expects to start counting the W’s soon.
“It’s too early to look for that mark but when get deep into conference that’s when start to look for those kind of results,” she said.
Challenge for Stanford?
Even though two recent road losses to ranked teams stalled Stanford and coach Tara VanDerveer’s quest for 800 wins, any discussion about the league starts with the Cardinal.
Stanford has won the league 10 straight years.
However, UCLA has muscled into the spotlight under third-year coach Nikki Caldwell.
“We are extremely excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish in a short period of time,” Caldwell said. “But none of our players have ever been in this situation.
“I want them to understand … don’t think you’ve arrived. We need to be hungry and humble at the same time.”
Arizona is also getting noticed with a 7-2 record, which third-year coach Niya Butts credits to improved play in the backcourt.
As for Washington, a 5-3 record is pretty impressive considering the injuries. Center Regina Rogers played half a game because of a hamstring injury, point guard Sarah Morton had a bad ankle sprain before the first game and forward Mollie Williams is slowed by a balky knee.
“With five juniors, one senior and the rest freshmen it’s been a learning process early in the season,” coach Tia Jackson said. “I’m proud (with the record). … Once we get a healthy roster … we’ll be in a better place.”
Jennifer Azzi played a big part in VanDerveer’s success and now the former Cardinal leader is going to be linked back to the program – the first-year San Francisco coach faces Stanford tonight.
With VanDerveer’s feelings about her former players, it’s unlikely this probable 800th win is going to feel as good as it would have if the Cardinal had won at No. 16 DePaul or No. 5 Tennessee, losses which dropped the Cardinal form third to eighth in the AP poll.
“It’s not about winning as much as I think of the players I’ve had the opportunity to coach, the outstanding young women through 25 years at Stanford, five years at Ohio State and two years at Idaho,” she said. “They’re great people and as they get older they become great friends.”
When mentioning some of the great wins en route to 800, though, VanDerveer brought up one from Spokane.
“There are so many games I remember,” VanDerveer said. “I don’t know if there is a top one or two or three, but some really stand out.”
A 98-87 regional championship win in Spokane over Maryland got the Cardinal back to the Final Four, the first of three straight trips, with Candice Wiggins scoring 41 points for Stanford and Kristi Tolliver 35 for Maryland.
Daugherty has been connected to VanDerveer for a long time – they played against each other “long ago” in the Big 10, when Daugherty was at Ohio State and VanDerveer was at Indiana. They have coached together and been rivals in the Pac-10 for almost 20 seasons.
“She has a brilliant basketball mind,” Daugherty said. “One thing maybe people don’t understand is the fact that she is such a hard worker. This is somebody who 24/7 is thinking basketball. She’s innovative. She’s always trying to do something for the game.”
Senior Lyndi Seidensticker (Lewis and Clark) had her first double-double, a game-high 17-points and first 10-rebound game, as Montana State beat Cal State Bakersfield 75-61 Monday night. … Freshman Kate Loper (Post Falls) had a career high 21 points as sophomore whipped Albany 90-60 on Monday for the Pride’s seventh-straight win. … Jenna Galloway (Ferris) has the highest shooting percent of a Big Sky Conference senior at 49.5. … Eastern Washington senior Tatjana Sparavalo leads the Sky in 3-point shooting, 46.5.