Some may look at Washington State’s upcoming women’s basketball schedule and see a minefield.
Cougars coach June Daugherty sees an opportunity.
In the next eight days, WSU will play two teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and another good enough to receive votes.
As the Cougars’ sixth-year coach points out, if WSU wants to make noise at the Pac-12 tournament, which it did last season by reaching the semifinals, it must be ready to play highly ranked teams on back-to-back-to-back nights. The Pac-12 is represented in the latest poll by Stanford (No. 1), California (No. 9) and UCLA (No. 14).
“If you want to be the best, you have to play the best,” Daugherty said. “So we schedule the way we schedule.”
That schedule starts at noon Saturday in Pullman against 20th-ranked Ohio State (6-2). The Cougars (2-5) then take to the road to play eighth-ranked Louisville (9-1) on Tuesday and Syracuse (9-1) on Friday.
If that’s not enough, WSU plays at eight-time defending West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga (9-2) on Dec. 29, six days before the Pac-12 season begins.
Last season, the Cougars had narrow losses to Gonzaga and Louisville but lost by 22 points at Ohio State in the first meeting between the schools.
Ohio State has special meaning for Daugherty, who played for the Buckeyes from 1974-78 and still ranks among the top 25 in career scoring at the Columbus school.
WSU will enter this challenging stretch with two weeks’ rest, but its last two games before the respite troubled Daugherty. The Cougars were tied with UC Riverside at halftime and lost 71-65, and led Fresno State 35-31 before going flat in the second half and losing 82-59.
WSU’s highlights this season have been a 67-52 win over Brigham Young and a double-overtime loss to Minnesota. Despite Gonzaga’s eight-year run, BYU was tabbed as the conference favorite in this year’s WCC preseason poll.
Daugherty said the Cougars have played too many up-and-down games.
“We’re a talented team that’s trying to get on the same page and execute for 40 minutes,” Daugherty said.
Daugherty is confident in the Cougars’ future because of freshmen Dawnyelle Awa, Mariah Cooks, Taylor Edmondson, Lia Galdeira, Whitney Tinjum and Alexas Williamson.
Galdeira has made the early mark, leading the Cougars in scoring at 15 points per game, including 33 points to open the season against Minnesota.
“She’s a very accomplished player who knows how to win,” Daugherty said of the three-time Hawaii player of the year. “We’re getting letters from people saying, ‘I can’t believe she’s a true freshman.’ ”