Women’s basketball fans laughed at June Daugherty when she predicted prior to the season that her long-suffering Washington State Cougars would play in the post-season this year. Not only had the Cougars not advanced to the post-season since 1991, but they had not finished with a winning record since 1995-96.
The Cougars might have blown their shot at the NCAA tournament by losing 70-60 to Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals Saturday night, but Daugherty said she’s not conceding anything yet. Besides, the Women’s National Invitation Tournament is a definite possibility.
“We’ll play in the post-season somewhere,” Daugherty promised.
The Cougars, outstanding in their first two tournament games, were thoroughly outplayed by the young Beavers. Third-seeded Oregon State (23-9) takes on No. 5 seed USC (21-2) in the title game at 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. The Trojans shocked seven-time defending champion Stanford 72-68 in the other semifinal.
Daugherty certainly hopes WSU star Lia Galdeira will be available for post-season play. Galdeira took a hard fall early in the semifinal and played with her left wrist heavily taped.
Daugherty was expecting Galdeira to have an X-ray after the game.
“Gutsy kid,” Daugherty said. “She’s a warrior . . . you could tell she was in a lot of pain.”
Galdeira still had 16 points and set the tournament scoring record of 75 points. However, she hit just 7 of 20 shots.
The Cougars scored a record 258 points in the tournament, but they had to rally late to prevent a rout Saturday before a pro-Cougars crowd of 6,073 (second in tournament history).
After scoring 107 and 91 points in their first two games at KeyArena, Saturday the Cougars were held to 20 points and 26.7 percent shooting in the first half. WSU finished at 32.5 percent.
“We started nervous,” WSU center Shalie Dheensaw said. “Shots weren’t falling. Hats off to Oregon State. They were hitting their shots.”
“Washington State is such an explosive offensive scoring team,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “I thought we did a great job defending them.”
Junior wing Ali Gibson – one of just two upperclass players on the Beavers – and freshman Sydney Wiese both sank five shots from 3-point range. The Beavers, who rank among the top 3-point teams in the nation, wound up hitting 45.5 percent on treys and 44.4 percent overall. Wiese finished with 20 points, and Gibson had 16.
The third-seeded Beavers (23-9), who have won 11 in a row, led from the first basket. The seventh-seeded Cougars trailed 33-20 before they made adjustments at the half.
“We wanted to get the tempo back up,” Daugherty said. “We felt like we got lulled to sleep with the different defenses that Oregon State was playing. Obviously, our shots weren’t falling.”
Junior guard Tia Presley led the Cougars with 18 points and nine rebounds. The 6-foot-4 Dheensaw struggled mightly against 6-6 Ruth Hamblin. Dheensaw missed all seven of her shots, scored one point and had no rebounds. Hambling, the Pac-12’s all-time leading shot blocker, had seven blocks, 11 points and nine rebounds.
The Cougars fell behind by 22 before making a late charge.“There’s no quit in this group,” Daugherty said.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Daugherty said. “I thought they had a great tournament.”
USC pulled off the upset against fourth-ranked Stanford despite the 30 points, 21 rebounds and five blocked shots of Cardinal star Chiney Ogwumike. The senior forward, already the all-time leading rebounder in Pac-12 history, tied the Pac-12 career record of 2,629 points, set by Stanford’s Candace Wiggins from 2005-08.