Pac-12 preview: Washington State University

This is the third in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

Last season for the Washington State Cougars can only be described as hopeful, as the team went through their share of ups and downs, which included several injuries.

They finished the regular season 12-18 overall and 6-12 in Pac-12 Conference play, earning a tie for seventh place after being picked to finish tenth. One of their six wins was against the nationally-ranked UCLA Bruins in January. The 82-73 victory was the biggest upset in program history.

The influx of injuries meant that many of WSU’s losses were decided by two possessions or less, or in overtime. Every time they gained momentum, there would be another injury – and on a catastrophic scale. The Cougars didn’t lose one or two players to injuries last season; they lost four key contributors, in top scorers Lou Brown (10.4 ppg), Bobi Hristova (14.7 ppg), freshmen Cameron Fernan (4.7 ppg) and Chanelle Molina (12.8 ppg). The squad was eventually rolling 11 deep while competing in a conference that does not hold back punches.

“I think one of the unique things is when something bad happens, there is a lot of good that comes out of it, and there was a lot of good that came out of it for our team,” coach June Daugherty said. “I think the mental toughness that this group showed last year, not losing one (or) two, but three starters and then a fourth player for the season like they did, they just bounced back. They did not allow anyone to make excuses for them.”

WSU earned an invitation to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), and they delivered winning the first four rounds before being eliminated by Georgia Tech in the semifinals.

Daugherty said the magical run was a blessing to the team.

“I think it has definitely built a lot of confidence into our players,” she said. “They’re a lot more hungry about continuing to play in postseason.”

The momentum carried into offseason workouts and practices.

“We’ve had the best spring and summer that I’ve witnessed in my 10, 11 years here at Washington State,” Daugherty said.

While the offseason is general focused on player development and recruiting, it also is the time for welcoming new players. The Cougars add three new players this season, but also return with many familiar faces.

Newcomers include power forward Taryn Shelly and guard Celena Molina. Redshirt freshmen Jovana Subasic will also play her first season for the team, after sitting out her first year with injury.

As they have in recent years, WSU has many international players on the roster.

“Basketball is a global game. Because of FIBA TV, now Facebook, the Internet, you know, there is quite a bit of interest from the student-athletes overseas. They can check us out,” Daugherty said. “Pac-12 Networks is in 30-some countries, and they see our games.”

The Cougars return senior guard Krystle McKenzie (Australia), senior guard and co-captain Pinelopi Pavlopoulou (Greece), redshirt junior Louise Brown (Australia), junior center Maria Kosturkova (Portugal), sophomore guard Johanna Muzet (France), and redshirt sophomore forward Borislava Hristova (Bulgaria).

Sophomore guards Kayla Washington, Chanelle Molina, Cameron Fernandez, and junior guard Alexys Swedlund return, as well.

Senior guard and co-captain Caila Hailey returns after receiving recognition last year as one of the conference’s top defenders. Last season she averaged 2.1 steals per game, which ranked third in the Pac-12. Hailey said she was surprised to be named a captain.

“I’m always the one that’s trying to learn,” she said. “I feel like once I started taking outside of basketball more serious, and I felt like that kind of carried over, I’m way more mature than I was my freshman and sophomore year. I know the system inside and out now.”

The Cougars WNIT run sparked a new level expectation among the team.

“We have new goals this year with everybody coming back. There are high expectations, and as it should be,” Hailey said.

Daugherty is excited for the upcoming season.

“We are so very excited about the season,” she said. “We have a great schedule and a great team.”