For as much success as 18th-ranked Gonzaga has had against Pac-12 neighbor Washington State, the Cougars have been a tough out in Pullman.
The Bulldogs broke a fourth-quarter tie before pulling away from WSU 64-56 in 2017, their previous meeting at Beasley Coliseum.
WSU clipped Gonzaga 54-48 at the same venue in 2015, part of the Cougars’ best start since 1989.
When the programs meet again on Sunday in Pullman, Gonzaga (8-1), which has won nine of its past 11 against WSU (5-3), expects another firm test.
Cougars star Borislava Hristova – a versatile, 6-foot fifth-year senior expected to hear her name in the the 2020 WNBA draft – is a major emphasis for the West Coast Conference power.
This will be Hristova’s fifth meeting with Gonzaga; she averaged 16.3 points and five rebounds against the Bulldogs in the three games she was healthy.
The three-time All-Pac-12 selection and two-time Cheryl Miller Award candidate – given to the best small forward in collegiate women’s basketball – broke her foot 8 minutes into a 2016 game at Gonzaga, ending her sophomore season.
Hristova was later granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA, giving her a fifth year at WSU. She’s 110 points from breaking the school’s all-time scoring record (1,967 points).
“That extra year really helped me develop as a player,” Hristova said.
Because of Hristova’s injury at Gonzaga, second-year WSU coach Kamie Ethridge got an extra year of the talented Bulgarian.
“(Hristova) is a great offensive player, but we put the challenge to her this year to be a better defensive player, and in so many ways, that entails rebounding,” Ethridge said Wednesday after Hristova totaled 27 points and 10 rebounds in a 85-56 rout of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“She made a big commitment (in the offseason) and she is improving.”
Gonzaga will also key on WSU guard Chanelle Molina (15.6 ppg), who is shooting 42.9% from 3-point range.
Both programs recently played in tropical Thanksgiving weekend tournaments and had contrasting results.
The Bulldogs, the WCC preseason favorite, beat Dayton, Middle Tennessee and Purdue, all by double digits, to win the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida.
WSU, picked 10th in Pac-12 preseason polls after winning nine games last season, went 0-3 at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.
The Cougars suffered double-digit losses to then-second-ranked Baylor, fifth-ranked South Carolina and 14th-ranked Indiana.
Gonzaga, led by junior forward Jill Townsend (12.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg), is WSU’s fourth ranked opponent in five games.
The Bulldogs’ previous ranked foe was No. 3 Stanford on Nov. 17, a team the Bulldogs pushed to overtime on the road before falling 76-70. The Cardinal have since jumped to No. 1 in the Associated Press rankings.
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