Pac-12 preview: Washington State University

This is the eighth in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams for the upcoming season.

In a conference on the rise, even Washington State showed signs of improvement last year. Instead of their usual 10th-12th place finish, they were seventh, with a 9-9 record. Overall the Cougars were 17-17 – their best finish in many years.

It couldn’t have come at a better time for coach June Daugherty, who was in the last of a seven-year contract. Thus, even with a 73-146 record in Pullman, she got a five-year extension. Daugherty’s luck continues with her 2014-2015 roster.

WSU lost only one starter and two low-scoring reserves from last season, and they return their two high-scorers: senior guard Tia Presley (19 points, 4.4 rebounds per game) and junior guard Lia Galdeira (18.5 points, 4.8 rebounds per game). Starting center Shalie Dheensaw (7.3 points, 6.6 rebounds per game), junior guard Taylor Edmonson (5.4 points per game) and starting junior guard Dawnyelle Awa 5.1 points, 3 rebounds per game) are also back.

Cougar newcomers this year are intriguing. Throughout her tenure at the school, Daugherty has struggled to attract caliber players. This year, as she has in the past, she went international to fix the problem. Four of the seven freshmen are from overseas, and all have extensive experience playing for the national teams of their respective countries.

Bianca Blanaru is a 6-foot-5 center from Romania who originally signed with Arkansas, but was released after coach Jimmy Dykes was hired. Louise Brown, a 6-foot-2 forward, hails from Melbourne. Another Aussie, guard Krystle McKenzie, is from Brisbane. Guard Pinelope Pavlopoulou is from Greece, where she was a leading contributor in international competition.

The three U.S.-born newcomers are Ashley Bolston, a 6-foot-2 guard from Medford, Ore.; guard Caila Hailey, from Inglewood, Calif.; and Nike McClure, a 6-foot-3 forward from Tenino, Wash.

“I’ll put our class up against any class in the country,” Daugherty said at Pac-12 media day yesterday.

WSU’s pre-conference schedule is ambitious, as they face Dayton, Nebraska, Michigan, Maryland and Gonzaga. They begin Pac-12 play on the road, Jan. 3, as they take on Arizona.