A season of firsts continues for CouGals

TIA PRESLEY: 29 POINTS

WHERE TO BEGIN? Washington State's women's basketball defeated Washington 85-76 Saturday in Seattle and in the process shattered the book of milestones. Foremost is that the Cougs sit atop the Pac-12 with a perfect 4-0 start in conference play. Yep, that's better than 3-0 Stanford, at least for a day.

The last time the Cougar women started conference play at 4-0 they were playing in the old Northwest Basketball League. That was in the 1977-78 season.

But that wasn't even the oldest achievement whose echoes the CouGals awakened Saturday in Alaska Airlines Arena. Coupled with their nail-biting victory over the Huskies earlier this week, Saturday's win brought WSU a regular-season sweep over the Dawgs for the first time since 1975.

And the site of the victory – Seattle – was notable as well. The Cougs hadn't beaten the Huskies in the Emerald City since 1993.

Everything from here on out for the Cougar women's basketball team is uncharted territory.

Fitting then, that the Cougars (now 10-6 overall) wore something rarely seen -- all-black uniforms. Or were they anthracite?

No matter. What's important is that these Cougars are playing some inspired ball.

The way the Cougs responded Saturday after seeing a good-sized lead slip away in the second half, it now seems entirely appropriate to speculate on how far they can go. Might this season culminate in March with a trip to the NCAA tournament?

Yes, there's a long way to go between here and there. But it can at least now be part of the discussion for Coug fans.

Washington State dropped Washington for the second time this week despite having one of their best players, Lia Galdeira, limited to just six minutes in the first half after two quick foul calls.

Junior guard Tia Presley more than picked up the slack, with 23 of her 29 points coming in the first half.

Galdeira scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half -- and specifically in the final 6:12 -- and sophomore forward Mariah Cooks played a whale of a game in coming off the bench to score 11 points and grab eight rebounds.

The contribution, meanwhile, from junior center Shalie Dheensaw was once again huge.

Dheensaw picked up her second straight double-double over Washington – Saturday's outing saw her hoop for a career-high 20 points with 13 rebounds and, for good measure, two blocks.

The Huskies owned a three-point lead late in the first half before Presley opened up, scoring six straight for the Cougars to send WSU into the locker room up 42-40. Once Galdeira returned, the Cougs looked like they might run away with things, using an 11-3 run to forge a 57-49 lead. But UW came back time and again and took a 67-65 lead with 6:31 remaining.

But each time UW seemed to grab momentum in the second half, the Cougs calmly took charge – on Saturday it was Galdeira and Dheensaw who most often put the Cougs back on top.

And that's why, in addition to their record and unbeaten conference mark, the Cougs could be a tourney contender this season. In recent years, the women's basketball team came out on the short end more often than not over the final 10 minutes in those contests when it was anyone's game.

This 2013-14 vintage has shown a decided ability to thrive in the clutch. And they did so again in dispatching the Dawgs and sweeping the season series after having previously lost 36 straight in a streak that dated back to 1995.

How well did the Cougs counter-punch in this one? The game saw 12 lead changes and 13 ties. And the The Huskies were never able to push their lead past two points in the final six minutes.

The game Saturday was decided when Galdeira hit two free throws and again answered a UW basket with a driving layup for a five-point lead with 58 seconds left.

One can only look forward in anticipation at what might happen from here.

NOTABLE NOTES:
WSU went on a 12-3 run to close the game.

The win was Washington State's first road victory over Washington since a 75-72 overtime game in 1993 and their first sweep of the Huskies since 1975.

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