The Washington State women’s basketball team is hoping to repeat two of the last three years and catch fire for a deep run of redemption in the Pac-12 tournament.
The seventh-seeded Cougars (16-13) open today at 11:30 a.m. against 10th seeded Oregon (13-16) at KeyArena in Seattle.
The teams split the season series, with both losing at home in games decided by a total of four points.
Coach June Daugherty said her team always has a ceremony to celebrate the regular season and send the seniors off with a proper farewell before the tournament begins.
“The players realize how important the journey is for the seniors and they want to keep fighting for them. It’s like a third season,” Daugherty said. “It’s all fresh. Let’s go to work and see what we can do.”
Last year, the Cougars beat the Ducks 107-100 in the first round and ended former NBA and WNBA coach Paul Westhead’s tenure in Eugene.
Washington State then upset No. 20 California in the quarterfinal game before falling 70-60 to Oregon State in the semifinal. The effort earned the Cougars an invite from the WNIT, which was the first postseason game for the program since 1991.
Three years ago, the Cougs also made a run to the semifinal game before falling to Cal.
Count new Oregon coach Kelly Graves as one who doesn’t want to watch the Cougars make a similar run behind dynamic guards Lia Galdeira and Tia Presley (Gonzaga Prep).
“They’ve had some success in this tournament the last couple of years,” Graves said. “One of the reasons they have had success in the tournament is that they have two explosive scorers who can have incredible nights and beat anybody.”
Galdeira, who leads the conference in scoring with 19.4 points a game, was named earlier this week to the 15-member All-Pac-12 team. Presley was named honorable mention.
“They are going to get their points,” Graves said. “You can’t shut them out. You just want them to take a lot of shots. It’s going to be a real challenge for us, a real battle.”
The teams first met on Jan. 18. The Cougars clipped the Ducks 79-76 in Eugene after Oregon missed a last-second shot to tie.
The Ducks beat the Cougars 70-69 on Feb. 6 when the Cougs’ go-ahead shot bounced off the rim with 6 seconds left. Mariah Cooks had a career-high 19 points in that game.
“Tournament play is exciting,” Daugherty said. “A lot of times, it’s decided by great guard play.”
Oregon may be without freshman guard Lexi Bando, who missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. She was third on the team in scoring at 10.4 points a game.
“We don’t know her status,” Graves said. “Even if she’s ready to go, she hasn’t practiced. She may be rusty.”
Daugherty said that close losses to Cal, Oregon State and Stanford show that her team may yet have a run left in it.
“Our team realizes that any team can beat anyone in this league this year,” she said. “It’s up for grabs.”
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