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Originally published November 5, 2013 at 5:33 PM | Page modified November 5, 2013 at 7:21 PM

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Cougars have clear goal: a return to postseason

Washington State coach June Daugherty says she expects her team to play in the NCAA tournament, something the Cougars haven’t done since 1991.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Five keys

Who’ll fill the hole in the middle?

Graduated center Carly Noyes set WSU records in career blocks (158) and games started (119). Junior Shalie Dheensaw or incoming freshman Ivana Kmetovska of Macedonia could fill the void, but neither is experienced. Dheensaw, 6 feet 4, averaged 2.7 points and 3.2 rebounds off the bench last season.

Can WSU break the mold?

WSU has toppled ranked opponents and made runs in the Pac-12 tournament but hasn’t found consistency. The Cougs will need it in order to return to the postseason for the first time since an NCAA berth in 1991.

How will it run?

WSU’s offense is designed to run. Sophomore point guards Dawnyelle Awa and Alexas Williamson are competing for the responsibility to get the team moving.

Will Tia Presley finish?

The junior has an odd stat. Presley is entering her third season but has never played in the conference tournament due to injuries her first two years. WSU can’t afford to lose her again.

Can they improve from long range?

WSU shot a Pac-12-worst 25 percent from three-point range. That needs to improve, given its lack of size inside.

Jayda Evans

Schedule highlights

Nov. 12, at Seattle U: WSU will play three of the state’s five Division I programs, facing SU for the first time since 1986. The Redhawks are the defending Western Athletic Conference regular-season champions.

Nov. 15, at Hawaii: Guards Dawnyelle Awa and Lia Galdeira will be tour guides around their native state when WSU plays in the Rainbow Wahine Classic. The sophomore duo starred at Konawaena High.

Nov. 30, at Nebraska: The rematch against the No. 17 Huskers is the first of six against preseason top 25 teams. Along with conference opponents No. 3 Stanford, No. 9 California and No. 19 Colorado, WSU plays at No. 14 Dayton and hosts No. 25 Gonzaga.

Dec. 21, vs. Gonzaga: The Cougs overcame a 14-point deficit to upset the Zags in 2012 before a sold-out crowd at McCarthey Athletic Center last season. A similar display would be nice with the home crowd.

Jayda Evans

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June Daugherty has the moxie to try to sell oceanfront property in Pullman in the middle of winter.

But Daugherty’s bold declaration that her Washington State women’s basketball team will return to the postseason isn’t about creating excitement for the season. It’s the next step in her seven-year push to overhaul the Pac-12’s former doormat.

“It’s overdue, and it’s time to get this program back there,” Daugherty says of a postseason berth. WSU hasn’t made an appearance in any postseason tournament since an NCAA berth in 1991.

“I feel very confident that we will do that this year,” Daugherty said.

The Cougars have a star player who could make it happen. Hawaiian sophomore Lia Galdeira made a splashy college debut, finishing as the country’s second-leading scorer among freshmen (14.8 points a game). But WSU’s season fizzled in the Pac-12 tournament.

Galdeira, a 5-foot-11 guard, scored 12 points in the second half of an ugly 48-41 win against Arizona State in the conference tournament opener. The Cougars’ season ended with a 79-60 loss to Stanford at KeyArena as Daugherty made headlines by returning from appendix surgery.

Instead of her standard summer workout, Galdeira was invited to try out for USA Basketball’s team that competed in the FIBA U-19 World Championships. Galdeira didn’t make the team, but returned with a revamped list of where she needed to improve to compete on the national level.

“She knows where her weaknesses lie from a tryout like that, and she has been nothing but focused since being cut from the USA team,” Daugherty said. Washington freshman Kelsey Plum was selected. “Lia’s in the gym all the time. But she’s in the gym with a whole different renewed sense of purpose to really work on those weaknesses. And I’ve seen a vast amount of improvement.”

The altered focus coincided with Daugherty moving Galdeira to the wing with 5-9 junior guard Tia Presley, who is returning from a knee injury. Presley suffered her injury midway through Pac-12 play.

Presley, who injured her foot late in her freshman season, is entering her third season as the only returner without Pac-12 tournament experience.

“I don’t want to be a typical, ‘Oh, she tore her ACL, that’s why she isn’t good anymore,’ ” Presley said. “I want to stay at the top of the pack, so I did all that I could. And I’m probably faster and stronger than I was before.”

Presley will drop the point-guard role to play her natural shooting-guard position. Galdeira’s former high-school teammate, sophomore Dawnyelle Awa, is expected to run an offense based on scoring in transition.

“It was a slap in the face to be ranked ninth,” Presley said of the preseason outlook by conference coaches. WSU is predicted to finish 10th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll.

“It was eye-opening for some of the people on our team,” Presley said. “We have pretty much the same team returning (losing one starter), so we should be pretty good. We thought we would be higher up there. We’ll just have to go out there and prove them wrong.”

No longer shy with media, Galdeira echoes her coach’s confidence after experiencing the tweaks in preseason workouts and WSU’s tour playing four international teams in Europe last summer.

Although Presley didn’t play overseas while she rehabbed her knee, she traveled with the team that includes only one freshman. The Cougars had six new faces on a team that finished eighth in the conference, 11-20 overall last year.

“We have a better feel for each other and built a great bond there (Europe),” Galdeira said. “Now it’s all put together. Dawn reads the court very well and it’s just going to be me and Tia on the wings and we’re just gonna run up and down, nonstop.

“You probably can’t describe it, that’s how much fun it’s going to be. The audience and fans will see. I’ll make them feel like they’re out there running with us.”

The finish line hopefully being in the postseason.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or

On Twitter @JaydaEvans

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