Cook takes aim in front of Kelley (12) and Thomas.
PULLMAN – June Daugherty, a perpetual ray of sunshine when it comes to Washington State women’s basketball, may have outdone herself this time. “I think we’re going to definitely be a (Pac-12) contender this year if we can stay healthy,” the coach declared. “Why not?”
Cynics would call that a loaded question if there was ever was one. After all, the Cougars have suffered through 15 straight losing seasons. Last year, they finished 8-23 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-10, and no player averaged more than 9.5 points per game.
But Daugherty is spinning nothing but superlatives headed into her fifth season at the helm.
The coach points out that her team has five seniors, four returning starters and 11 returning letter winners. The top seven scorers are back, and last year’s Cougars scored more points (63 per game), shot better from the field (38.1 percent) and won more conference games than any WSU team since 2000-01.
“Having five seniors in the program certainly helps,” Daugherty said. “They’ve been phenomenal leaders.”
Daugherty said senior guards Rosie Adzasu, Jazmine Perkins and April Cook have looked sharp in practice.
Last season, Adzasu often struggled as a junior college transfer playing point guard in a conference Daugherty proudly describes as “the highest level of women’s basketball in the country.” Adzasu started 14 games, but only her exceptional quickness and hard work enabled her to average 5.9 points, 3.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
“She’s become a much better offensive threat … she’s making better decisions,” Daugherty said.
Perkins, another bundle of energy at both ends of the floor, averaged 9.3 points last season. The 5-foot-10 guard led the team with 5.3 rebounds, but she also led the team with 4.5 turnovers.
“I think she’s really poised for a big senior year,” Daugherty said. “She’s really improved her rebounding. She’s gotten quicker.”
Cook, who led the Cougars with 14 points per game two years ago, slipped to 6.4 last season while fighting back trouble all year.
“April’s really been a warrior in the off-season,” Daugherty said. “She put a lot of time into her rehab … she’s way more healthy, way more explosive than she was last season.”
Sage Romberg, who led WSU with 9.5 points per game as a freshman last year, played all over the floor. Daugherty now has her penciled in at power forward, but the 6-1 Romberg has free reign to slip outside, since she shot a team-high 40.6 percent on 3-pointers (fifth in the Pac-10).
Daugherty wants the 6-1 Romberg to take charge on offense. Romberg made the Pac-10 All-Freshmen team and was honorable mention all-league.
“Sage needs to take over with her skills … she’s very talented,” Daugherty said.
Junior Carly Noyes (7.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and sophomore Hana Potter (6.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg) return up front. The 6-5 Noyes and 6-2 Potter are supported by 6-3 freshman Shalie Dheenshaw (the “h” is silent), a veteran of Canadian national age-group teams.
“She really changes shots,” Daugherty said.
Ireti Amojo, a 5-10 guard, is back for her sophomore campaign after averaging 8.5 ppg last season -- third-most on the team.
Seniors Rosie Tarnowski and Devin Brooks, junior Katie Grad and sophomore Brandi Thomas are expected to remain in reserve roles.
The Cougars have two freshmen guards with impressive credentials: prep All-American Jordan Kelley, who averaged 24 ppg as Wyoming’s player of the year last season, and Tia Presley, the Greater Spokane League career scoring leader out of Gonzaga Prep. Kelley is recovering from off-season surgery on both shoulders.
Daugherty said WSU’s improved practice facility and upgrades at Beasley Coliseum, including the new center-hung scoreboard with replay screens, are helping attract recruits. The coach said the Cougars have received six verbal commitments from players coming in next year.
The Cougars play home exhibition games with Seattle Pacific on Oct. 29 and Lewis-Clark State on Nov. 6, then open the season against host Penn State at the Lady Lion Classic on Nov. 11. The home opener Nov. 30 versus Gonzaga is part of a doubleheader with the WSU men’s team, which plays Grambling (La.) State.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Daugherty said, “but we’ve got a chance to be pretty special. “We want to send these seniors out the right way.”
The Cougars will be without three players from last season. Graduated are Katie Madison, a big contributor in the post, and lightly used Katie Calderwood, while senior-to-be Lexie Pettersen, who saw limited action last season, has left the program.
Click here for the complete 2011-12 WSU roster.
CARLY NOYES (33), TIA PRESLEY (10) AND ROSIE ADZASU LINE UP SATURDAY AT MIDNIGHT MAYHEM. NOYES WAS THE ONLY COUGAR TO START ALL 31 GAMES LAST SEASON. SHE ALSO LOGGED THE MOST MINUTES, AVERAGING 25.9 PER GAME.