The Cougars showed some competitive flashes last season but when all was said and done the bottom line was familiar. They were 8-22 overall and 3-15 in Pac-10 play, marking WSU’s 15th straight losing season and 19th consecutive bottom-half finish in the conference.
Daugherty is succinct when asked to compare the 2010-11 Cougars with last year’s crew.
“More athletic. More long. More versatile. Way more competitive,” the coach said.
Of course, it’s important to remember that Daugherty is so relentlessly optimistic, she expects long-term peace in the Middle East to develop any day now.
So the question was also put to junior Rosie Tarnowski as well.
“We’re more mature this year,” Tarnowski said. “Youth cannot be an excuse anymore for our program because we have a lot of upperclassmen this year.”
The Cougars have eight upperclassmen, including seniors Katie Madison and Katie Calderwood -- which is two more seniors than the team had last season. However, junior guard April Cook, who led WSU with 14 points per game last season and made honorable mention All-Pac-10, practiced (besides shooting) for the first time all semester on Tuesday due to a disc problem in her back.
Daugherty said Cook will not play in Sunday’s 1 p.m. exhibition game with Lewis-Clark State and is doubtful for the season opener Nov. 12 at Saint Mary’s in Moraga, Calif.
The Cougars certainly hope Cook is ready for the home opener Nov. 22 against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are ranked 23rd in the USA Today/ESPN preseason poll.
WSU started all freshmen and sophomores last season, which helps explain why the Cougars lost 11 games by seven or fewer points.
The Cougars finished ninth in the Pac-10 and lost in the first round of the conference tournament. This season, Pac-10 coaches pick the Cougars to tie Washington for eighth place.
“I think it’ll be a lot higher,” Daugherty said.
“It’s good to have teams underestimate you,” Tarnowski said with a wicked grin.
“We’ve got some seasoned veterans, finally, who understand the system and have really improved individually in the off-season,” Daugherty said.
The Cougars lost starting point guard KiKi Moore when she transferred to Fresno State to be closer to home. Four starters return, and everyone seems to love new point guard Rosetta Adzasu, a junior transfer from Yakima Valley Community College.
“I’ve never seen anyone as fast as her,” Tarnowski said. “She’s going to be tough.”
“She has just embraced the mission to come in here and have a championship program and win the Pac-10,” Daugherty said. “She’s won everywhere she’s been. She’s very competitive.”
WSU and plenty of other Division I schools recruited Adzasu out of West Linn (Ore.) High School, but the Africa native -- who spent part of her childhood in Italy -- did not understand what was required academically to play in Division I. She starred on the national junior college champions of Central Arizona two years ago, then transferred to Yakima Valley for various reasons and led the Yaks to the Northwest JC title game.
“She’s a very talented athlete,” Daugherty said.
“She’s a great. vocal leader, which is something we’ve been wanting in a point guard,” Tarnowski said.
Moore led the Pac-10 in steals with a 3.3 per game average, and she was second on the Cougars in scoring with 12 points a game. However, the freshman often played out of control and led the Pac-10 in turnovers with an average of 4.9 per game.
The Cougars hope a steadier hand at the point will help them improve on their ghastly shooting. They shot just 35 percent from the floor last season, including 26 percent on 3-pointers.
“I think our shooting percentage will definitely go up this year,” Tarnowski said. “We’re shooting the ball really well in practices and drills.”
Daugherty said the improved athleticism and versatility of her team -- which will again emphasize full-court pressure defense and up-tempo offense -- allows for all sorts of lineup possibilities.
On Sunday, Daugherty plans to start Adzasu (generously listed at 5-foot-5), 6-5 sophomore center Carly Noyes, 6-1 freshman power forward Brandi Thomas, 6-1 freshman small forward Sage Romberg and 5-10 junior shooting guard Jazmine Perkins.
Noyes averaged 6.6 points, a team-high 5.0 rebounds and a conference-leading 1.9 blocked shots last season and made the media’s Pac-10 All-Defensive Team. She led the Cougars with 46.5 percent shooting from the field.
The 6-1 Tarnowski (4.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 28 percent shooting), who said she likes her move from power forward to wing, the 5-8 Cook (36 percent shooting) and Perkins (10.9 ppg, 33 percent shooting) join Noyes as returning starters.
Redshirt freshman Ireti Amojo is an athletic, 5-10 guard-forward. Hana Potter, a 6-2 freshman, will help down low. Track hurdler Devin Brooks is contributing as a walk-on point guard.
“This group is further ahead of any team that we’ve had here so far,” Daugherty said as she embarks on her fourth season at Washington State. “Some of it is that we started earlier with practice (due to NCAA rule changes), but they’ve got a high basketball IQ.
“They’re very competitive. We’re excited about what we’re seeing. This is the first time we’ve had depth, so we’re able to rotate kids in at a lot of positions.”