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WSU-UW matchup is more than a rivalry game in Pullman

Junior+guard+Caila+Hailey+goes+for+a+layup+against+Boise+State.
Junior guard Caila Hailey goes for a layup against Boise State.

Junior guard Caila Hailey goes for a layup against Boise State.

Junior guard Caila Hailey goes for a layup against Boise State.

JACOB MOORE | Evergreen columnist

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The matchup between WSU and the University of Washington is always a heated rivalry. We Cougars know that it is not just a rivalry, but more so a necessity to show our support and be at the games – and this is especially true when the Huskies are in town.

This weekend’s matchup will be no different when the WSU women’s basketball team takes on the No. 8 Huskies in Pullman on Sunday.

The game will be the 10th annual “Cougs Have Heart” game, which gives the team an opportunity to raise awareness for the fight against heart disease. For the Cougs, this game has a special meaning for the program.

This game means much more to WSU women’s basketball Head Coach June Daugherty, who is a survivor of cardiac arrest, which occurred a month after she was hired as WSU’s head coach in 2007. Off the court, Daugherty is an award-winning, national figure in the fight against sudden cardiac arrest.

Since joining the team, Daugherty has changed the culture of women’s basketball here at WSU. In 2014 and 2015, the Cougars played in consecutive Women’s National Invitational Tournament appearances. That was also the first time in 23 years that WSU even made it to the postseason.

Despite WSU’s success in recent years, the team will turn its attention to upsetting the Huskies and gaining ground in the Pac-12. The Cougs are currently sixth in the conference, while UW is at the top of the Pac-12 standings. For Daughtery, the possibility of beating the top-10 Huskies could be especially meaningful since she coached the Huskies prior to coming to WSU in 2007, despite having a winning record with UW spanning 11 seasons.

The Cougars will be looking for revenge from the previous matchup in Seattle that took place before the New Year. Unfortunately, the game mirrored much of the season thus far in that it didn’t go quite as planned. To get that revenge, however, they’ll have to pull off an upset on the Huskies, which would certainly be a statement victory to the rest of the nation.

If you can bounce back from a blowout loss with a major upset almost a month later, you are essentially warning the rest of the conference that your team knows how to adjust, not just physically and mentally, but to an injury-plagued season too. That’s where WSU’s high-profile recruiting comes into play.

According to Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times, the Cougars have recently lost another starter in freshman guard Chanelle Molina. Daugherty acknowledged this struggle but looks at it a little differently.

“I’ve never seen anything like this – to lose three starters in one season, I really love how our team is playing and continuing to compete,” Daugherty said. “In the long run, these young kids will really benefit from the majority of the playing time they’re playing right now. And it shows how well we’ve recruited in the program. They’re the future of Washington State.”

Another loss to UW would be a tough pill to swallow. On the other hand, a win would act as a huge confidence booster to team morale – an area that desperately needs a boost right now.

After losing sophomore forward Borislava “Bobi” Hristova, junior forward Louise Brown, freshman guard Cameron Fernandez and now Molina, WSU can prove that injuries are not going to define its season. A season that looked all too promising at the start of the year is certainly far from over.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s absolutely the case for an injury-plagued team competing against a nationally-ranked rival. All during the 10th annual ‘Cougs Have Heart’ game in which WSU will be supporting the fight against heart disease – a fight that Daugherty survived and ultimately became a stronger coach and inspiration for. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday in Beasley Coliseum.

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WSU-UW matchup is more than a rivalry game in Pullman