LOS ANGELES – On paper, this was not an impossible task. But it was certainly unprecedented by definition.
Beating Oregon State? Nah. The Washington State women’s basketball team had been there before, an overtime victory in Corvallis on Dec. 31 already in hand.
But to do it here, at the Galen Center, in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament? That’s quite literally a first.
The 11th-seeded Cougars never trailed in the opening round of a tournament in which they’d never won, until Wednesday night when a fast start propelled them to a 65-56 win over No. 6 seed Oregon State.
“It’s been a long time coming,” coach June Daugherty said afterward.
It’s the Cougars’ (12-19) first Pac-12 tournament victory in 11 tries. They’ll try for No. 2 tonight at 7:15 against No. 3 seed USC (18-11).
And who knows? They might have a chance to knock the Trojans off if they start that game the same way they did this one. Brandi Thomas made three jumpers and a 3-pointer in the opening minutes as part of a 15-0 run, and WSU led 17-2 after Sage Romberg’s bucket with 12:51 to play in the first half.
“I think what we did was we saved them up all year,” Daugherty joked of her team’s barrage of jumpers, many of them from close range between the holes in OSU’s matchup zone defense.
Oregon State (19-10) chipped away at the deficit gradually. Ali Gibson scored nine of OSU’s first 15 points, and two free throws by Alyssa Martin cut the Cougars’ lead to 22-17 with 6:01 to play in the half. Beavers guard Earlysia Marchbanks scored eight points in the final 3:05 of the half to keep the Beavers within five at the break.
Thomas led WSU with 17 points.
She also gave the Cougars the final separation they needed from a Beavers team that trimmed their second-half deficit as close as one point. After Gibson completed a three-point play to cut WSU’s lead to 51-47 with 4:47 to play, Thomas rebounded a missed WSU jumper, went back up and scored through contact.
After a fist-pump and a matching reaction from much of the Cougars’ bench, Thomas sank the free throw, putting WSU ahead 54-47 with 4:22 to play. Oregon State never came closer.
“That was big, definitely,” said Thomas, a converted forward who has lived in the gym the past year perfecting her jump shot. “That brought a lot of energy to not only myself but my teammates on the floor, also. We just kept reminding ourselves of what we had to do – calm down a little bit and play strong defense.”
They did that all night, limiting OSU to 38.9 percent shooting from the field while forcing 16 turnovers. Gibson scored a game-high 19 points, but made just 7 of 21 from the field and 2 of 12 from 3-point range.
Carly Noyes, a junior forward, added 10 points for WSU.
“I think it’s huge for us,” Noyes said of snapping WSU’s tournament winless streak. “Our whole focus is just taking it one game at a time, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Sometimes, winning that one game is cause enough for celebration.