Pac-12 Feature: International Experience Leads WSU

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Washington State Athletics

The Washington State roster includes seven players from six different countries – Australia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Portugal and Greece.

That’s not a coincidence. That’s a strategy.

“Basketball-wise, it’s helped us a lot,” said Cougars coach June Daugherty. “These are very experienced players. They have all played on national teams, they’ve played for teams that have competed for gold and silver medals in world competitions.”

The dividends, in some cases, are still to be realized. The Cougars have lost eight in a row heading into Friday night’s game at No. 8 Arizona State.

Daugherty and her husband Mike both played international basketball when their collegiate careers ended at Ohio State.

“We both loved it and we made great connections,” Daugherty said. “We fell in love with the international game. It’s different. And our connections have been a great network for us.”

Daugherty said international players are finding the Pac-12 attractive thanks to the exposure provided by the Pac-12 Network. And many are already acclimated to being far from home as many moved away from home at 13 or 14 to play for club teams or in international academies.

“They are all very appreciative of the opportunities to get their degree in the United States,” Daugherty said. “Most of them speak three or four languages. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not learning something new or different. And it’s been really enjoyable for me.”

The top recruit among this international group has been freshman Borislava Hristova, the Bulgaria native, who is leading the team in scoring at 16.7 points a game, ranking her fifth in the conference. Hristova, who was the No. 1 international recruit in the country last season, was named the Most Valuable Player of the FIBA U16 European Championships and the Bulgarian MVP at the U18 tournament. She has been named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week three times this season and is a candidate for conference Freshman of the Year.

Hristova is on pace to break WSU’s freshman record in total points, points per game, free throw percentage, and field goals made.

“She’s shooting close to 50 percent from the floor, and that’s remarkable for a guard,” Daugherty said. “All of our international players are so solid fundamentally.”

Sun Devils sweep again…

For the second year in a row, Arizona State left the Bay Area with a sweep.

For the second year in a row, Stanford looks like it will not win the Pac-12 regular season title. The Cardinal hasn’t been shut out of a conference title two years running since the span from 1999-2001.

And both coaches were philosophical about those facts following Sunday night’s thrilling 63-61 Sun Devils overtime victory at Maples Pavilion.

ASU coach Charli Turner Throne has boarded the flight out of the Northern California feeling less than satisfied more times than she would like to count.

“This is better. This is wonderful,” Turner Thorne said. “We’ve been able to get a sweep against two tremendous programs two years in a row. This team continues to produce new firsts for ASU women’s basketball and it’s really impressive right now.”

Stanford hasn’t lost two straight games at home to a conference opponent in Arizona since 2000-01.

But Tara VanDerveer said her young team is still figuring things out.

“There’s no shame is losing to Arizona State,” VanDerveer said. “We need to be honest about some of the things we need to work on.”

VanDerveer said that with four losses – the Cardinal are currently in fourth place in the league standings - and with four games to go in the regular season, she knows it’s probably not in the cards for her team to pull out another Pac-12 title.

“It’s not inconceivable, but it’s not looking good,” VanDerveer said. “As far as we are concerned, it’s about us improving the way we need to before the tournament.”

Turner Throne was asked if Stanford is just going to have to accept that it won’t be the dominant team in the conference that it once was.

“Oh, I don’t think they are going to accept it,” Turner Thorne said.  “But I think the strength of this conference this season is great for women’s basketball.”

Anatomy of a buzzer-beater…

Sun Devils center Sophie Brunner hit one of the biggest shots of the season on Sunday night when she drained a fall-back jumper at the buzzer to lift Arizona State to the overtime win over Stanford, a game in which the Cardinal rebounded from a 17-point deficit to force the overtime period.

“I have no idea how (Elisha Davis) got that pass to me,” Brunner said. “Obviously there wasn’t a lot of time left and I told her ‘If you have something take it, I’ll be the next option.’”

Davis said she knew she had to bring the ball up quickly with time running out to draw defenders away from Brunner.

“I just shot-faked and got her the ball,” Davis said. “We practice that a lot.” 

Handicapping Freshman of the Year…

With the third straight Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award going to Oregon point guard Maite Cazorla (and four overall), the Spanish floor general might be making a late run at the conference Freshman of the Year Award.

Cal’s Kristine Anigwe has won the weekly award seven times already this season, and looked to be the front-runner for much of the season. But her Bears are struggling.

Cazorla, meanwhile, is leading a Ducks team that has won five straight games and eight of nine to move into tie for fifth place with Washington.

Bears finding their way

The Cal Bears started the season in the national rankings. They defeated Louisville on the road, they have a win against UCLA. They entered the Pac-12 schedule with a strong 9-2 record. But as the conference schedule started, the Bears hit a much bumpier path.

Coming off of a 75-56 win over Arizona, which ended a four-game losing streak, Cal moved to 12-13 on the season and 3-11 in conference play.

“Yeah, I’m surprised at where we are, but you have to deal in your own reality,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “You have to adjust. We have been coaching through what is going on and not spending a lot of time on what you wish was going on.”

Gottlieb said her team is short on depth and relying heavily on young players at key positions – point guard and center. And she said her team is staying together.

“The whole time, they have never retreated from me or from one another, they have never retreated from Cal basketball or our family,” Gottlieb said. “We still view every situation as a chance to be our best, or to fix things when we aren’t.”

Gottlieb said the Bears are looking to finish the last four games strong and to be a “scary, dangerous team” come Seattle and the Pac-12 Tournament.

“We are feeling confident that we have a chance to do something that people don’t expect,” Gottlieb said.

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse