Team hunger remains after coming up empty at home

Zack Menchel | Evergreen Women Basketball reporter

The Cougars shocked the Pac-12 with a 5-0 start in conference play during the month of January. However, injuries and the reality of a rigorous schedule have seen Washington State post a 1-6 record against conference foes since then.

“We got a nice win on the road against a USC team that was getting ready to be ranked and I think we gave Stanford pretty much all they could handle,” Head Coach June Daugherty said in her Tuesday press conference. “The Pac-12 is tough and you have to play 40 minutes of great basketball each night or you’re not going to get it done.”

As disappointing as the rough patch in the schedule has been for the Cougars, Daugherty said the team is fine mentally and exactly where they need to be. 

“It started in the preseason with the win against Nebraska and playing well against other top opponents in the polls like Syracuse and it certainly fed itself into the five wins to start conference play,” she said. “This is a group that remains very hungry and is excited about doing something really special this year and continues to build on the success that we’ve had.”  

Out of WSU’s six conference wins, only two occurred on the road – at Washington and USC. The Cougars will have a chance to improve that mark with four upcoming road games in the last six on the regular season agenda.

Daugherty said that being on the road is no excuse for poor performances, and she wants to see her team play harder and smarter. 

“You have to believe you can win on the road and know that because there’s no longer any undefeated teams in our league, anyone can win on any given night,” she said.

While the sight of the Friel Court hardwood was certainly a welcome relief for the WSU women’s basketball team last week following a 1-3 road trip, the sight of No. 3 Stanford and No. 22 California was not. 

The two poll-topping Pac-12 rivals from the Bay Area offered a unique set of challenges to a Cougars (12-12, 6-6) team reeling with injuries. Both schools feature prominent front line play from some of the nation’s premier post players. 

Limiting the role of Stanford 6-foot-3 All-American Chiney Ogwumike in the paint was one of the key points of emphasis for the Cougars before Friday’s contest, but Oguwumike ultimately proved to be as good as advertised.   

“She is the best post player in the country and has been for the last three years as she continues to prove it,” Daugherty said.

The senior forward entered the matchup fresh off her record-breaking seventh Pac-12 Player of the Week award this season. Her 27 points per game lead the conference and her 12 rebounds per game are good for second.  

In WSU’s 77-69 loss against Stanford on Friday, Ogwumike posted numbers well above those season averages with 36 points and 17 rebounds. She also shot 100 percent from the free throw line in six opportunities.

“She is such a competitor and plays extremely hard because she’s playing 40 minutes a game unless she’s in foul trouble,” said Daugherty. “She’s pretty much unstoppable or at least nobody has stopped her yet.” 

WSU again ran into problems under the hoop as California outscored the Cougars 46-22 in the paint. Four Golden Bears scored in double figures including 24 from All-American Reshanda Gray en route to a 70-87 Cougars loss 

Daugherty mentioned foul trouble, including that one player fouling out and two finishing the game with four fouls made things more difficult. The absence of Hana Potter due to a concussion just added salt to the wound as the Cougars were eventually left with only four true post players.  

“Cal is relentless on the boards and they’re able to keep rotating All-Americans on the inside, which makes for a tough go especially when you’re in foul trouble,” Daugherty said. “We can absolutely improve our rebounding and scoring in the paint, but when you look at those numbers for Stanford and Cal, you’re going to continue to see those types of numbers against just about anyone in the country.”