No two games typified the all-or-nothing year the Washington State women’s basketball team had more than the series it played against Oregon, the Cougar’ ‘opening-round opponent Thursday in the Pac-12 Tournament.
At times WSU (15-15, 9-9) looked like world beaters. The Cougars toppled then-No. 10 Nebraska on the road early in the season, and then beat nationally ranked Colorado and Arizona State at home during a 5-0 run to start Pac-12 play.
But the Cougars also dropped a home game to Utah on the front end of a brutal 1-6 stretch.
Against Oregon, the Ducks handled Washington State in Eugene 82-66 on Jan. 29. And of course, WSU turned around and clipped the Ducks 108-88 on Feb. 23 in Pullman.
“During the regular season, the home team pulled away down the stretch,” WSU coach June Daugherty said. “We obviously have a lot of respect for Paul (Westhead) and his program. They play so hard. It’s definitely going to be an exciting game.”
The game now has added intrigue after Oregon officials announced Tuesday that Westhead’s contract will not be renewed after the end of the season.
The 75-year-old Westhead is the only coach to win titles in the NBA (1980 with the Los Angeles Lakers) and WNBA (2007 with the Phoenix Mercury). He’s coached men’s programs at LaSalle, George Mason and he led the glory years of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble at Loyola Marymount.
But Westhead has a losing record (65-90) since joining Oregon in 2009.
In the first matchup in January, Oregon trounced WSU on the boards 59-35. The Ducks also held leading scorer Tia Presley (Gonzaga Prep) to 14 points and Lia Galdeira to 16 points.
But in the Feb. 23 game in Pullman, the Cougars outrebounded Oregon 48-44 and the guard duo doubled its previous points. Presley scored 32 and Galderia tallied 27.
“We had a nice win here in Eugene and they played well in Pullman,” Westhead said Tuesday before news of his contract broke. “This game is probably going to come down to the last three or four possessions up two, or down two.”
Asked why her team played so differently, Daugherty said both guards were healthy late in the season. Galdeira got banged up against Colorado and missed some time.
As for Presley, this is her first Pac-12 Tournament. Season- ending injuries derailed both her freshman and sophomore years prior to postseason play.
“We felt good about our win at home … against them,” Daugherty said. “I felt like we had a better team effort all the way around. We are going to need that again.”
The Ducks are led by 5-10 freshman guard Chrishae Rowe, who averages 21.7 points a game, and 6-3 sophomore forward Jilian Alleyne (21.6).
Alleyne, who was picked to the All Pac-12 team along with Presley and Galdeira, leads the nation with 15.7 rebounds a game and 26 double-doubles.
Oregon also has 5-11 junior guard Katelyn Loper, of Post Falls. She started 24 games and averaged 13.4 points and 3.7 rebounds a game.
The winner of the game then faces No. 20 California (21-8) at 6 p.m. Friday in Seattle’s KeyArena.
Fresh off their 10th consecutive West Coast Conference championship, the Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-4) rose a spot to No. 21 in The Associated Press Top 25. They’ve always received more love in the USA Today Coaches Poll, which has them ranked No. 19.
The Zags travel to Las Vegas and will play at 6 p.m. Friday against the winner of Thursday’s first-round game between San Franciso and Loyola Marymount. Gonzaga beat both teams twice during conference play.
Having already clinched the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title, the Idaho Vandals still have two games remaining.
The Vandals (20-9, 13-1) play at 6 p.m. Thursday at home against Chicago State. Idaho then plays its finale at 2 p.m. Saturday, which will also be senior day against University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The WAC Tournament starts March 12 in Las Vegas.
Eastern hits road
Eastern Washington (15-12, 11-7) also has two more conference games to complete. Both games will be on the road, where the Eagles have struggled this year.
Eastern plays at 6 p.m. Thursday at Idaho State and Saturday at 1 p.m. at Weber State. The Eagles won both previous games against those teams, but are 3-9 away from home.
At fourth place in the conference, Eastern has already clinched a spot in the Big Sky Tournament, which starts March 13.