It took five seasons to get there, and this most promising of campaigns was undone by a series of key injuries, but June Daugherty's vision for putting the decades-long hoop woes at Washington State in the rear view finally came to reality this week.
In the span of 48 hours the Cougars have gone from being called the "Washington Cougars" by a Galen Center PA announcer to national television on Friday at Staples Center.
The Cougars finished the year at 13-20. That’s the best record for a WSU women’s basketball team since Daugherty arrived in 2007 and began pumping life into a program that had endured 11 consecutive losing seasons and regularly finished last in the Pac-10.
Season-ending injuries to starting guards Ireti Amojo and Tia Presley, and the back injury that limited former starting guard April Cook’s playing time, led to a 5-13 conference record and 11th-place finish after a 3-0 start in league play.
The Cougars ended the league season on a 1-8 slide, then downed No. 6 seed Oregon State and No. 3 seed USC at the conference tournament.
“It was an exciting week,” Daugherty said. “We learned a lot about ourselves, and we’re just going to build on this. But this was a great statement about Washington State basketball and where we’re at.”
California, one of the nation’s top rebounding teams, combined superior size with great tenacity to crush the Cougars 59-25 on the glass. That, and a 48-27 percent advantage in field-goal shooting percentage, helped the Bears overcome a whopping 25 turnovers (14 more than WSU) and turn a 42-42 tie into a seven-minute house of horrors for the Cougs.
“They’re very athletic and can jump really high, so it was tough,” said forward Sage Romberg, who combined with WSU’s other front-line starters (Brandi Thomas and Carly Noyes) for just four rebounds.
This one started roughly for the Cougars, who fell behind 8-0, but they forged a 26-26 tie at the half and came out picking pockets in the second half to build leads of 31-26 and 35-30.
“I thought with about eight minutes to go, we kind of ran out of gas a little bit,” Daugherty said. “Three games in three days (California had a bye Wednesday). That’s not anything against Cal. They have a tremendous front line. They just keep coming at you with their five different post players.”
Romberg led the Cougars with 11 points, one more than Cook. No WSU player had more than three rebounds.
Freshman point guard Brittany Boyd led four Bears (24-8) in double figures with 14 points. She also had game highs of nine assists and eight turnovers, plus 10 rebounds. Teammate Gennifer Brandon had 13 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
Some of Boyd’s turnovers can be traced to the frenetic defense of Rosie Adzasu. The senior point guard plays out of control at times, but she offset five turnovers by tying her career high of six steals. She sank just 1 of 8 shots, but scored six points and had a team-high five assists.
“Rosie is our hustler,” said Cook, who is quite the hustler in her own right. “That’s what she does for our team.
“When she’s ‘on’ and she’s hustling around there, she get us hyped up and energetic.”
Adzasu wasn’t the only Cougar who struggled with her shot. Brandi Thomas went 2 for 13 (six points), Noyes was 0 for 4 (two points) and Jazmine Perkins wound up 3 for 11 (eight points). Romberg, the other starter, was 4 for 10.
Daugherty said the Bears “really got out and challenged our shooters. They were really up in Sage’s grill. Same thing with Brandi Thomas, April Cook.
“I think that we could have maybe put it down (dribbled the ball) and got to the hole a little bit more, got to the free-throw line. But to their (the Bears’) credit, they made some very good adjustments, defensively ... so great job by Lindsey.”
Daugherty was referring to Lindsey Gottlieb, the former Cal assistant coach who returned to Berkeley to take over as head coach this season.
Gottlieb complimented the Cougars on “a terrific run in the tournament,” then lavished praise on Daugherty.
“June Daugherty is one of the people in coaching that’s reached out to me personally and been a mentor, but also does so many good things for the women’s game.”
Adzasu has been listed at 5-foot-5 since she transferred to WSU from Yakima Valley Community College in 2010, but everyone knew that was a fantasy. “She’s 5-2,” Daugherty admitted after Adzasu’s final college game. Daugherty said Adzasu, as many basketball players do, asked to be provided with the phony bump in height.
Daugherty has raved all season about the leadership and play of seniors Perkins, Cook, Adzasu and Rosie Tarnowski. The coach said help is on the way to replace the seniors. “We have six very, very good signees (recruits) coming into the program,” Daugherty said. “I know from the text messages and phone calls I got in the last three days and a couple (of the recruits who) were here, they’re really proud to be joining this program. “They want to take it to the next step.”
The Cougs return key players Romberg, Noyes, Thomas, Amojo, Presley, Katie Grad and Hana Potter. “They’re already talking in the locker room about next year,” Daugherty said, “and that’s a great sign.”
California faces second-ranked Stanford (30-1) in today’s championship game at Staples. ROOT Sports and the Fox Sports Network televise the game at 11:30 a.m. Stanford, the five-time defending tournament champion, is 53-0 all-time against WSU.