PULLMAN – This kind of upset hadn’t happened here in more than a decade. But to hear coach June Daugherty tell it, some of the most important groundwork was laid during the last two weeks.
Road losses to UC-Riverside and Fresno State threatened to derail the Washington State women’s basketball team before it even entered the more difficult portion of its nonconference schedule.
So with more than two weeks separating that road trip from Saturday’s stunning 62-55 victory over No. 20 Ohio State, WSU’s seniors demanded better effort in practice, insisting that the Cougars were good enough to win the kind of games they’d been losing.
“They said, ‘this is not what this team is about. We’ve got to step in the gym and we’ve got to get physical, we’ve got to get way more focused and we’ve got to get on the same page,’” Daugherty said.
The page was turned before 700 fans at Beasley Coliseum, where WSU (3-5) defeated a ranked opponent for the first time since February of 2001.
This wasn’t the Cougars’ cleanest game (they committed 16 turnovers). It wasn’t their best offensive performance (they made only 3 of their 18 3-point attempts). But thanks to a varied defensive attack spurred by Tia Presley’s bothersome backcourt pressure, WSU prevented the Buckeyes from getting in rhythm.
“I think everyone’s just tired of these really close games and not coming out with the win,” said Gonzaga Prep-grad Presley, who scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and had seven assists.
WSU forced 21 turnovers, including 12 in the first half as the Cougars built a 28-23 halftime lead.
And the Buckeyes, who entered the game ranked third in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage, missed all but one of their 17 attempts from outside.
Even more surprising was the performance of star Ohio State guard Tayler Hill, who entered the game averaging 19.8 points per game but was held to 3-for-17 shooting and missed all nine of her 3-point attempts while committing seven turnovers.
“We wanted to give her a lot of different looks off the pick and roll and try to take away the baseline,” Daugherty said. “She just destroyed us off the baseline last year down in Columbus, and that was not going to happen this year.”
Hill did give OSU its largest lead at 36-32 after converting a 3-point play with 15 minutes left. But the Cougars stormed back with a 10-1 run to take back the lead, thanks in large part to a pair of baskets by Lia Galdeira sandwiched around a 3-pointer by Taylor Edmondson.
Galdeira scored 13 of her game-high 15 points in the second half, including four free throws in the final 19.7 seconds to put the game away.
The biggest shots of the game, though, may have come from WSU freshman Mariah Cooks.
First, she spun past a defender, drew a foul, made the basket and made the free throw to put the Cougars ahead 56-47 with 3:52 to play.
“That’s kind of my secret weapon, my little go-to move,” Cooks said. “They weren’t expecting it, which really helped me out. It was just there and I had to go strong with it.”
After Hill made a pair of free throws, Cooks scored again to push WSU’s lead back to nine. Ohio State cut it to three before Presley went to the line for a 1-and-1 with 34 seconds remaining.
She missed the free throw. But Sage Romberg snuck in to grab the offensive rebound – the kind of play Daugherty said her team needs more of – kicked the ball back out top, and Galdeira was fouled before making a pair of free throws to push WSU back up by five.
The Buckeyes didn’t score again.
“We have got to win the 50-50 balls, and tonight we had some incredible hustle plays,” Daugherty said. “We had hustle plays for the ages.”
The win will be just as memorable.