Washington State junior G Tia Presley has been working the phones since she realized she’d actually make it through her first Pac-12 season healthy and able to play in the conference tournament. A Spokane native, her family recently moved back East and hasn’t really seen Presley play college ball because of season-ending injuries her first two seasons.
Last year was the toughest in a torn ACL 18 games into the season.
“When the injury happened, Tia turned to me and said, ‘I will come back better. I will come back quicker. I’ll never wear a brace,'” WSU coach June Daugherty remembered. Presley remained with the team as she rehabilitated and was on the bench for last-year’s Pac-12 tournament. “That’s what she’s done and she’s had a phenomenal season.”
Presley finished the regular-season sixth in the conference in scoring at (18.9 points). She’s had 12 games scoring 20-point or more, including four 30-point nights. Presley leads WSU in shooting percentage (44.4 percent) while being second in steals (54) and third in assists (54).
The 5-foot-9 leader never missed a start and was named Pac-12 player of the week once and to the All-Pac-12 team for the first time in her career.
“She is so excited to play in the Pac-12 tournament,” Daugherty said. “I can’t tell you how many times in the last two weeks she’s been imploring her family to come back from back East to come to the Pac-12 tournament because her Mom is in Jersey now. But it’s also a great time with the continuation of the Pac-12 Networks national audience to get to see how talented a player she really is.”
The Cougs (15-15, 9-9 Pac-12) are the No. 7 seed and open tournament play against No. 10 seed Oregon on Thursday at 6:30pm at KeyArena. The game will also air on Pac-12 Networks. WSU split the regular-season games with Oregon, winning 108-88 at home on Feb. 23. Presley led with 32 points on 13-of-17 shooting from the field in 30 minutes.
WESTHEAD FIRED: Oregon coach Paul Westhead was asked on a Tuesday-morning coaches’ teleconference if he was ever concerned about job security as the Ducks floundered through another losing Pac-12 season (6-12).
“I never worry about job security because I’ve had enough jobs,” said Westhead, whose team swept the Arizona schools to end the regular-season. Overall, however, the Ducks were a confusing team in featuring entertaining scoring with the nation’s top rebounder in sophomore Jillian Alleyne (15.7), yet couldn’t win.
Later Tuesday afternoon the school announced Westhead’s contract would not be renewed. It was due to expire March 31. He will coach the team through the postseason.
Westhead joined the Ducks in 2009, registering an overall win-loss record of 65-90 and a mark of 27-64 in Pac-10/Pac-12 play.
He previously was an NBA assistant for the Oklahoma City Thunder and remains the only coach to have won an NBA and WNBA championship as a head coach. Westhead, 75, began his coaching career in 1968.
Oregon finished the 2013-14 regular season at 15-14 (6-12 Pac-12). The Ducks have not made the NCAA tournament since 2005.
Westhead did mention UO G Chrishae Rowe, the leading freshman scorer in the country (21.7 points), as having an Achilles injury and being held back the past three weeks. The Ducks were on a five-game losing streak, giving up a total of 216 points in losses at the Washington schools, before the wins to end the season.
“I think that restricted her from doing her thing,” Westhead said of Rowe on the conference call. “We seem to lose by doing different things indirectly. My overview of our team is that most games we play pretty darn good, especially offensively. It’s not like we’re a floundering team that can’t make a basket or can’t stop a team. We’re just getting caught a little bit late in games where we give up a little bit too much on the defensive end and then the offensive end can’t sustain that.”
Under Westhead’s celebrated “The System,” Oregon leads the nation in scoring (93.3 points). Oregon is last among 343 Division I teams ranked in scoring defense, allowing opponents 89.2 points.
TV ALERT: Here’s the Pac-12 television schedule for Pac-12 Networks:
Thursday, March 6: First Round
Game #1: No. 8 UCLA vs. No. 9 Colorado (12 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks).
Game #2: No. 5 USC vs. No. 12 Arizona (2:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks).
Game #3: No. 7 WSU vs. No. 10 Oregon (6 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks).
Game #4: No. 6 UW vs. No. 11 Utah (8:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)
Friday, March 7: Quarterfinals
Game #1: No. 1 Stanford vs. Winner of 8/9 (12 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)
Game #2: No. 4 ASU vs. Winner of 5/12 (2:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)
Game #3: No. 2 Cal vs. Winner of 7/10 (6 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)
Game #4: No. 3 OSU vs. Winner of 6/11 (8:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)
Saturday, March 8: Semifinals
Game #1: Winner of Stanford/TBD vs. Winner of ASU/TBD (6 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)
Game #2: Winner of Cal/TBD vs. Winner of OSU/TBD (8:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)
Sunday, March 9: Finals
Game #1: (6 p.m., ESPN)
How to follow online
Fans also can follow @Pac12Networks on Twitter for updates throughout the tournament. Tweet with the hashtag #pac12hoops to join the conversation. Authenticated users have the option to watch Pac-12 Networks broadcasts online at Pac-12.com.
BLOCK THIS: Canadian sophomore Ruth Hamblin is anchoring the OSU’s best season since it last advanced to the NCAA tournament in 1996. She’s a 6-foot-6 center who leads the Pac-12 in blocks (3.8) and averages 10.1 points on 59.9 percent shooting with 8.6 rebounds.
Hamblin averaged 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds as a freshman.
“She must have had an awesome offseason,” UW junior Jazmine Davis said after the Beavers defeated the Huskies by 20-points at Alaska Airlines Arena. Hamblin led with 18 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots, including one against Davis.
“That’s all I can think about with players that you don’t remember too much but then they come in and just dominate a game,” Davis continued. “It makes me respect them.”
Indeed, Hamblin did have an awesome offseason. She trained alongside Notre Dame F Natalie Achonwa with the Canadian junior national team in a few international exhibition games in Europe and China. Hamblin also put in extra work with the OSU coaching staff to have a breakthrough that included one of her nine blocks against Achonwa in a loss to Notre Dame in December 2013.
“Just being with the highest level and actually physically being able to be out there and feel the pace,” Hamblin said of what really resonated to carry into the college season. “I definitely put in a lot of hours in the gym and was really diligent. It definitely paid off.”
Countrywoman Jamie Weisner (Clarkston High) received her Canadian passport last year and competed with the U-19 FIBA World Championship team. She was named one of the top five players in the tournament in Lithuania. UW G Kelsey Plum was a deep reserve on the American U-19 team.
Third-seeded Oregon State has a first-round bye. It awaits the winner of the UW-Utah matchup for a Friday quarterfinal game set for 8:30pm at KeyArena. Here are some of Hamblin’s highlights from the Notre Dame loss.
INJURY REPORT: A few players are expected to return for the tournament after finishing the regular-season sidelined due to injury. Weisner injured her left wrist in Oregon State’s loss at then-No. 15 Arizona State in February. She missed the nine-game win streak to end OSU’s season but coach Scott Rueck is hopeful to have her for Friday’s game. Weisner hasn’t been medially cleared.
Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb intimated All-Pac-12 PG Brittany Boyd is healthy. She experienced soreness in her knee and did not play in then-No. 18 Cal’s loss to Washington. Boyd is expected to play when the Bears make their tournament debut on Friday. The No. 2 seed, Cal awaits the winner of the Oregon-WSU lineup.
Other teams have been dealing with season-long injuries and didn’t have any new complications to report.
CHATTER: All-American Chiney Ogwumike participated in an online chat through The Seattle Times on Wednesday. As expected from a student-athlete at Stanford, Ogwumike had some very thought-provoking answers. To select one, she was asked whether the UConn factor was good for women’s basketball. After noting teams like WSU with its upset at then-No. 10 Nebraska shows there’s more parity when you look past UConn, Ogwumike added:
“Our game is starting to focus on the individual, which is really good. Before it would be if you’re a great basketball player, you have to go to UConn or you have to go to Stanford. People now want to leave their own imprint. I know UCLA has a good recruiting class, as does USC, and then you see Kelsey Plum at Washington. It’s great for those schools and I think it makes it more fun and competitive. At Stanford we get everyone’s A-game. As long as that trend keeps going I think we’ll have more fun watching the game.”
SIDESHOW: The Pac-12 announced its lineup for show around the show and some of the faves from Storm and former Sonics games are going to hit the tournament circuit. Local musicians Christina Brewer, Kalieb Nash and the Evergreen Heights Choir will sing national anthems and the halftime lineup includes b-boy crew Massive Monkees, the Electrick Jumpers, the Emerald City Slammers and the Seattle FlyDogs.
The conference also announced that fans at KeyArena will have chances to win tickets from the EMP, Seattle Children’s Museum, Space Needle, Monorail, Pacific Science Center and the Great Wheel. Local businesses glassybaby, Trophy Cupcakes and Pike’s Place Fish Market’s fishmongers will also be involved in giveaways.
THINGS BROADCASTERS SAY: Here’s a few quotes from the Pac-12 Networks broadcast team. Be sure to read The Seattle Times’ previews on OSU, UW first-year coach Mike Neighbors and rising star Kelsey Plum.
Mary Murphy: Stanford is such a dominant team. Chiney Ogwumike is phenomenal, but what’s different about Stanford is Lili Thompson, and what she does for them defensively. Now that she’s healthy, I don’t see Stanford as vulnerable. She takes so much pressure off Amber Orrange. Amber doesn’t have to guard Jasmine Davis or Tia Presley getting herself into foul trouble. Briana Roberson is in this mix as well, she’s got really solid help and it’s what makes Stanford so much better than they were a year ago. They can put people on lockdown in the perimeter and push tempo and take pressure off Chiney.
Tammy Blackburn: I think an USC-ASU matchup in the second round would be an exciting one. They have such quick players on the perimeter. Both sides bring it with passion and great athleticism making it fun to watch both teams. USC and Arizona State do gut-checks, the coaches will call strategic time outs and their team will then go on a 10-0 run. I love when a team comes out of the huddle like that – it’s impressive to me and that’s what coaches want.
You could easily make arguments for Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray to be the Pac-12 Player of the Year. If Brittany was healthy and all things were to fall in place, I think Cal could be a serious challenge for Stanford. There’s no doubt it’s an emotional matchup and one that is celebrated in the Bay Area, and it would be the same thing if things were to transpire in Seattle.
Ros Gold-Onwude: Washington is one of the most exciting teams in the Pac-12. Kelsey Plum is of the best freshmen in the nation and THE best freshman in the Pac-12. Kelsey would be a baller anywhere, anywhere. She has understanding of the game beyond her years. She and Jasmine Davis make up one of the most dangerous back courts in the nation.