Tia Time: 'Girly' wing is WSU scoring machine

PULLMAN – Most basketball fans only know Washington State star Tia Presley as an athlete. A fearless, hard-nosed, relentless athlete. It would be safe to say that most fans would be surprised to learn about the "other" Tia Presley.

"I'm pretty girly," Presley said, a huge grin pasted beneath mischievous brown eyes. "I like to do my hair.

"I like to sit at home and watch Netflix. I'll get hooked on shows and find myself staying up until 4 in the morning with practice at 7. I'm a big online shopper, too."

WSU fans are grateful that Presley is also a big scorer. The junior guard from Spokane has scored 32 points three times in the past four games. Her 19.4 scoring average ranks third in school history and sixth in the Pac-12 Conference this season.

"My teammates have so much trust in me to score, so they always get the ball to me in places that's easy for me to score," Presley said modestly.

Presley is shooting the ball more often and more efficiently than just about anyone in WSU women's basketball history. That prompted Presley to reveal another surprising fact about herself.

"Mom used to have to pay me to shoot," Presley said.

Presley was referring to her grade-school days, when she first played basketball.

"I remember being terrible," she said. "So bad. I remember not wanting to go in. Like sitting on the bench: ‘Please, don't put me in.'"

Mom's pay plan changed all that, Presley said.

"Then you couldn't stop me from shooting!" she said with a laugh.

Presley shot herself to fame at Gonzaga Prep, where she was named All-Greater Spokane League four straight years and set the GSL career scoring record that still stands. All of which resulted in surprisingly few scholarship offers, and not even a hint of interest from Kelly Graves, the highly successful coach at nearby Gonzaga University.

"He just said, basically, I didn't fit his system," Presley said. "Which is fine. I'm happy here.

"His loss, not mine."

Presley, who picked WSU over Oregon State, acknowledges that recruiters had trouble judging her college potential because she often played the post as a 5-foot-7 high schooler. She remains surprisingly effective in the paint, even though the lean-bodied Presley says she's still just 5-7 1/2 (despite being listed at 5-9).


THE GONZAGA PREP GRAD IS LESS THAN 100 POINTS AWAY FROM JOINING ANOTHER OLD BULLPUP, TERRY KELLY, IN WSU'S 1,000-CAREER-POINTS CLUB.

"All the post stuff I learned in high school has actually benefited me in college," Presley said. "I'm able to post up against smaller guards.

"I'm crafty inside the lane. I can get to the free-throw line, and that's helped me."

Presley, who scored a career-high 37 points against Fresno State on Nov. 22, easily leads the Cougars with 207 free-throw attempts and 148 free throws made. She also leads WSU in free-throw shooting percentage (71.5), field-goal shooting percentage (45.4) and average minutes played (30.5).

The latter statistic may be the most impressive one on Presley's resume. Her freshman season ended early with a broken foot, and her sophomore season was cut short by knee surgery.

Washington State coach June Daugherty, who labels Presley "a fierce competitor," recalls how Presley reacted when she tore her left anterior cruciate ligament last January.

Quoting Presley, Daugherty said, "I will come back better than ever. I'll come back quicker, and I'll never wear a brace."

So far, so good. Presley, playing her natural wing position after two years at the point, has added to her game by shooting and making more 3-pointers (31 of 103 for 30.1 percent) than in her first two seasons combined.

"That opens up the floater for her," Daugherty notes, "and obviously, she's pretty remarkable when she gets into the post."

Presley's sterling play has been instrumental in one of the most impressive seasons in the traditionally sordid history of WSU women's basketball. The Cougars, bidding for their first winning season since 1995-96, are 15-13 overall and 9-7 in the Pac-12 with two games left in the regular season.

"It's not surprising to me," Presley said. "Top to bottom, talent-wise, our team is crazy (good)."

The Cougars, 3-3 against Top 25 teams, must win tonight at No. 18 California (20-7, 12-4) or Saturday at No. 5 Stanford (26-2, 15-1) to finish with a winning conference record for just the second time in the 27-year history of Pac-10/12 women's basketball.

The 1990-91 Cougars, who finished 10-8 in the Pac-10, were the only WSU women's team to play in the NCAA tournament. Presley said an NCAA tourney trip was the Cougars' goal at the start of the season, and nothing has changed.

"The points and all that stuff is cool," Presley said. "The awards, records, it's all fun.

"But to me, it doesn't mean much if you're not winning. No one's going to remember that stuff if you're not winning."

The Cougars, tied for fifth with Washington and USC, would need the stars to align just right to earn a first-round bye as the No. 4 seed in next week's Pac-12 tournament in Seattle. An NCAA tournament berth is not out of the question, and an NIT bid is a definite possibility for a team that might be the best in WSU women's basketball history.

"It's a great start to something big over here," Presley said, "but we're definitely not satisfied."

NOTABLE:

  • The Pac-12 Networks televise the California game tonight at 6 and the Stanford game Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
  • The Cougars, a stunning 0-56 all-time against Stanford, have lost four in a row against California (and 15 of 17). Stanford has clinched its 14th-straight Pac-12 regular-season title. The Cardinal's only conference loss came against Washington, a team the Cougars are 2-0 against. California holds down second place. Stanford has won four straight games, Cal six straight.
  • WSU has won three of its last four games after going 1-6 following a 5-0 start in league play. The Cougars, playing at home three weeks ago, lost 77-69 to Stanford and 87-70 to California (after leading 41-37 at the half). "We've gotten a lot better since the last time we played them," Daugherty said.
  • WSU's Lia Galdeira ranks eighth in the Pac-12 with 18.0 points per game and second with 2.5 steals. Daugherty said the sophomore guard is "getting healthy" after battling a variety of injuries all season.
  • Sophomore point guard Dawnyelle Awa notched a career-high eight assists last Sunday, when the Cougars set a season high for points in a 108-88 win over Oregon. "She's getting better and better every day," Daugherty said.
    Sage Romberg, WSU's only senior starter, ranks third on the Cougars in scoring (8.8) and third in the Pac-12 in 3-point shooting percentage (42.2).
  • The Cougars rank 10th in Pac-12 attendance with a 1,046 average, but Presley said the support of Cougars fans was "awesome" this season. "People in the community want us to win as much as we do," Presley said. "It's never been that way."
  • The Pac-12 tourney runs next Thursday through Sunday at KeyArena in Seattle.

    PRESLEY POWER: Averaging nearly 20 points per game this season.