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Senior Dawnyelle Awa and her Cougars look to make some noise in Pac-12 tourney

If Washington State is going to hold it together during this week’s Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament, the Cougars will look to point guard Dawnyelle Awa.

“She’s been the glue of this program,” said WSU coach June Daugherty, whose team faces USC in a first-round game Thursday night at Key Arena. “I don’t think people appreciated how much she’s meant to this program.”

Awa, a senior from Kealakekua, Hawaii, has been a starter since midway through her freshman year; Thursday’s game will mark her 109th consecutive start. Beyond averaging six points and three assists this year, she’s held WSU together through an up-and-down season.

Awa leads the team in assists (88) and steals (50) this season and currently sits sixth in school history with 352 career assists.

“She’s somebody who’s not a real vocal leader, but when she speaks, everybody listens,” Daugherty said.

That leadership has come in handy during the stretch run of her career; the Cougars are only 14-15 overall and 5-13 in the Pac-12, but have won two of their last three games.

“We are confident we can come out with a win,” said Awa, whose family flew from Hawaii for last week’s Senior Day festivities as well as the Pac-12 tournament.

“That’s such a blessing to have my family here,” Awa said.

The ninth-seeded Cougars’ confidence is bolstered by a 73-61 home win over USC as well as a two-point loss two weeks ago in Los Angeles.

“We’re playing some good basketball right now,” said Daugherty, who also watched her club erase a five-point deficit with 57 seconds left to win a one-point game last week at Arizona.

“I like the matchup with USC, but I think we can beat anybody in the field,” Daugherty said.

The Cougars are led by freshman Borislava Hristova, an all-conference selection who averages 16.1 points and 3.4 rebounds. USC (18-12 overall, 6-12 in the Pac-12) counters with a balanced lineup that includes four players averaging double figures.

The winner will face top-seeded Oregon State in a quarterfinal game on Friday at 6 p.m.

OSU and second-seeded Arizona State were the class of the league for most of the season. The Beavers withstood guard Sydney Wiese being sidelined for eight games due to injury and were buoyed by Pac-12 player of the year Jamie Weisner of Clarkston, but their two losses – at UCLA and at Stanford last week – were both blowouts.

Led by their defense, the Sun Devils had won 22 of 23 and had not given up more than 70 points in a Pac-12 game before losing a shot at the outright conference title in the 74-61 loss at UCLA on Sunday.

Fifth-seeded UW faces Colorado

Led by conference scoring leader Kelsey Plum, Washington will be the No. 5 seed at the Pac-12 Tournament and open with 12th-seeded Colorado on Thursday at 8:30 p.m.

At 20-9 overall and 11-7 in the conference, the Huskies are a sure bet to make the NCAA field. A deep run this week will improve their seeding.

As they have all year, the Huskies will rely on junior guard Plum, whose 26.5 points a game leads the Pac-12 and is ranked third in the nation. Plum is second on the UW all-time list with 2,208 points.

The Huskies are 9-8 all-time against Colorado, but have won the last six meetings. Just last week, the Huskies defeated Colorado on senior day, 68-47.

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