SEATTLE – Washington State surprised the Pac-12 by advancing to the conference’s women’s basketball tournament semifinals last season.
The Cougars have a better seed for this year’s tournament, but their road to another semifinal is strewn with hazards.
Specifically, eighth-seeded WSU would have to defeat top-seeded and fourth-ranked Stanford (28-2) in Friday’s quarterfinals to repeat last year’s run. The Cougars (10-19) are 0-54 all time against Stanford, including last Saturday’s 72-50 loss in Pullman.
But there’s no use putting the cart in front of the horse. The Cougars must first turn their attention to ninth-seeded Arizona State (13-17), their opponent at 6 p.m. Thursday when the four-day tournament opens at KeyArena.
The Pac-12’s top four seeds, all ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, have byes until Friday while seeds 5-12 play loser-out games today.
“Four nationally ranked teams, we haven’t seen that in a long, long time in this league, and I think the other eight are pretty darned good, too,” WSU coach June Daugherty said.
WSU was the talk of last year’s tournament in Los Angeles when it entered as the 11th seed and defeated Oregon State and USC before losing to California in the semifinals.
The Cougars capped this year’s regular season by losing six of seven games, but that streak included Stanford, fifth-ranked Cal (27-2), 14th-ranked UCLA (23-6) and 18th-ranked Colorado (24-5).
“At times we played pretty well and at times there were lessons to be learned,” Daugherty said of games against ranked teams.
The Cougars are 2-0 against ASU this season, winning both games by double digits. Before the sweep, the Sun Devils had won 27 of their previous 30 games against WSU.
“Obviously, our season has been a struggle. It’s been kind of a transition year for us,” said coach Charli Turner Thorne, whose Sun Devils closed the regular season with nine losses in 11 games. “Everything’s a lesson this year for us.”
Redshirt senior forward Janae Fulcher leads ASU with 11.2 points per game. Freshman Lia Galdeira leads WSU in scoring (14.7), rebounding (5.3) and steals (2.8) per game.
The Pac-12 expects increased attendance for the event, given Seattle’s long support for women’s basketball. Each game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks and the final will be ESPN2.
“This is everything it should be for a postseason conference tournament for all 12 teams,” Daugherty said. “It’s going to be a first-class operation.”