Crunch time; Cougar women look to feast on road foes

Robin Dich | Evergreen Women's Basketball reporter

With just six games left to play on the schedule, the Washington State women’s basketball team will look to keep its head above water. WSU (12-12, 6-6) has an even record across the board, which won’t be enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament

The next two games will make or break the Cougars’ shot for the post season. Tonight the Cougars travel to Salt Lake City to face the Utah Utes (10-13, 3-9) in hopes of evening the season series. Then they will finish the road trip on Sunday in Colorado (14-9, 4-8).

The last time WSU faced Utah, the Cougars ended up with their first loss in conference, and since then they have gone 1-5. The game against the Utes was the only game without sophomore guard Lia Galdeira this season. Utah’s senior forward Michelle Plouffe hit the go-ahead basket with less than five seconds left, and the Utes defeated the Cougars 59-57.

When Colorado traveled to Pullman, they were the 17th ranked team in the nation, and Washington State was able to capture its third win against a ranked opponent this season.

WSU will need to get these two victories in order to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Here are three points of emphasis for the Cougars:

Crash the Boards

Rebounding has been the most inconsistent aspect of this team’s game all year long. WSU has not outrebounded an opponent since last month, during the win against Colorado.

“It’s a mentality thing, we just need to crash the boards, and get five (players) to the glass in the next few games,” sophomore forward Mariah Cooks said. “There should be no excuse for being outrebounded.”

Junior center Shalie Dheensaw said she believes rebounding is a focus thing. She said at practice they work on rebounding and try to every day. Dheensaw said she doesn’t put blame on the coaching staff for the lack of rebounding and it’s up to the team to grab the boards.

Dheensaw is tied for 15th in rebounds per game with 6.8 in the conference. The team is ranked last in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin, by a difference of five per game.

Defend the Paint

The weakness in the Cougars’ defense is allowing points in the paint. Against Utah, Utes freshman forward Emily Potter and Plouffe were able to get into the post and score 17 points each.

“I think that if we execute like last time to a better extent, we’re going to be fine,” Dheensaw said.

Utah is not the only school to capitalize under the basket against Washington State. In the last four games against California schools, WSU allowed 36.5 points per game in the paint. UCLA had the lowest point total in the paint with 24.

“We’re just going to crowd, play them (Plouffe and Potter) honest, they both can shoot, so we have to be on their shooting hands,” Cooks said. “We have help on help side. We have a game plan so hopefully it works.”

Play to the buzzer

During the games the Courgars have lost this year it seems that WSU comes out competitive in the first half but lose their intensity during the final stretch of the game.

“Bottom line is you have to be ready for 40 minutes, and we did not perform for 40 minutes against Cal,” Head Coach June Daugherty said.

Both Dheensaw and Cooks agree with their coach’s statement. They know it is a mental thing and when halftime ends, they said the team needs to come out ready.

“We’ve been trying to do that all season long, and once we put all 40 minutes together we’re unstoppable,” Cooks said.