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Cougars women take advantage of overseas connections

It’s the Balkan Bonanza, part two.

A generation ago, Washington State women’s basketball coach June Daugherty was at Boise State, coaching several players from Eastern Europe. Now those old ties are paying off for the Cougars.

Through four games – all wins – Bulgarian freshmen Borislava Hristova and Maria Kostourkova are leading WSU in scoring and rebounding, respectively.

Romanian Biaca Blanaru and Montenegrin Ivana Kmetovska also are making big contributions. Together they’re averaging 33 points and 13 rebounds and helping carry a young Cougar team.

Throw in two Australians and a Greek, that’s seven international players on the Cougar roster – which makes for a memorable plane ride.

Returning from Hawaii, where her team won the Rainbow Wahine Classic last weekend, Daugherty observed “How people on the plane saw what a great experience this is – all these different cultures.”

“It’s a neat thing,” Daugherty said.

So is winning. The Cougars are 4-0 partly because the 18-year-old Hristova, the highest-rated collegiate prospect in the world in her age group, has quickly adapted to the American college game.

The 6-foot Hristova was the MVP of the 2014 U18 European Championship for Bulgaria, averaging 28 points and 7.4 rebounds.

At WSU, she’s averaging 18.5 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 30 for 52 (.577), including 7 for 14 from beyond the arc. Hristova scored a career-high 23 points against Nevada on Friday, helping her win Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors.

“She’s a young lady who’s very passionate about basketball, who wants to win at the highest level,” Daugherty said. “She’s used to putting the team on her back.”

“She also has great spirit … that rubs off,” Daugherty said.

Perhaps Hristova was destined to play in Pullman before she was born. Daugherty, who coached at Boise State from 1989 to 1996, had several Bulgarians on her roster – thanks to connections made at the Goodwill Games near the end of the Cold War.

“We’ve maintained quite a good friendship,” said Daugherty, who added that she’s developed a network based on trust that her players will thrive on and off the court.

Said Hristova, “I chose WSU because my goal is to become a better basketball player and one day play in the WNBA and also play professionally back in Europe.”

She isn’t the only one. The 6-foot-4 Kostourkova, an ethnic Bulgarian who plays internationally for Portugal, leads the Cougars with a 6.0 rebounding average while scoring 6.8 a game.

Blanaru, a 6-5 junior post from Macedonia, is averaging four points and two boards; the 6-3 Kmetovska averages 3 points and one rebound.

WSU will host San Jose State in a matchup on Friday. The Cougars and Spartans will tip off at 7 p.m. inside Beasley Coliseum.

Freshmen making big impact at GU

It’s still November, but two freshmen are making a big impact at Gonzaga.

Forward Jill Barta and guard Laura Stockton were the difference-makers in the Bulldogs’ 62-57 win over West Virginia as each scored 14 points.

Stockton, the daughter of Hall of Famer John Stockton, made several crucial buckets, including the game-winner with less than a minute to play. She’s averaging nine points and and 3.4 assists.

Barta, whose 11.4 scoring average is second on the team only to Elle Tinkle’s 12.5, is pulling down 5.4 rebounds.

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