Washington State's women united on the hardwood

AP

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PULLMAN - Seven countries, three continents and four states.

Players on the Washington State women's basketball team hail from all over the globe, with hometowns ranging from Shoreline, Wash., to Sebac, Serbia.

But despite the differences in background and culture, there's one thing that unites them all.

"We've come together with a common goal, and that's winning basketball games," senior guard Pinelopi Pavlopoulou said. "Basketball is what brought us together, it's the language we all speak."

If the sport can be considered a language, then the Cougars are more than fluent on the hardwood. The squad returns the bulk of its 2016 roster after a deep postseason run all the way to the semifinals of the WNIT.

Don't let last year's 16-20 record fool you - Washington State slugged its way through a variety of midseason woes, including an injury-riddled lineup. The Cougars lost three starters and another key bench player early in the year, forcing head coach June Daugherty to turn to her underclassmen for support.

"I think between myself, Bobi (Borislava Hristova), Cameron (Fernandez) and Chanelle (Molina), we had up to 50 points on the bench," redshirt junior forward Louise Brown said. "The girls were just absolutely resilient and fought through it all. That carries over into this year, the girls grew and are a lot more mature and mentally stronger."

The health issues proved to be a blessing in disguise. In addition to providing younger players with valuable experience against conference opponents, the injured athletes had ample time to fine tune certain skills during the recovery process.

"All three of them took advantage of the year to find the silver lining and the things they could be working on," Daugherty said. "There were times I would see them in chairs wearing casts or boots from surgery, and they'd still be working on their ballhandling."

The sheer depth of the roster has only aided the squad with its fast-paced offensive approach. Daugherty is excited about the possibility of using platoon swaps to maintain a quick tempo and wear down opposing teams.

"I think you're going to see a rotation of perhaps 10 players each game," Daugherty said. "We're going to get after you with our style of play. You're going to see us get up and down the floor extremely up-tempo. Get ready, we're going to blow up some scoreboards because we're going to put up a lot of points."

On the defensive side of the ball, one word seems to echo among the program - chaos.

"We've got a lot of defensive schemes in place already," Daugherty said. "I think our players have really bought in both sides of the basketball. You're going to see some tough, aggressive play."

The Cougars have their work cut out for them with a tough conference schedule, but Daugherty pinpointed a Nov. 19 meeting with Kentucky as an early-season litmus test for the squad.

"I think our first home game with Kentucky is going to be a great opportunity for our fans to come out and see how well we stack up against an SEC powerhouse like the Big Blue," Daugherty said. "We lost a tight game down there in Lexington last year, so it's going to be a good test for us."

The Cougars were picked seventh in the Pac-12 preseason rankings, but Brown thinks the squad has an opportunity to make some noise in a stacked league featuring four teams in the AP Top 25.

"Since I've been here, the confidence is at an all-time high," Brown said. "I've never been part of a program with so much buzz around it. It's not just from the outside, we believe in ourselves."

Washington State opens the season Friday with a 7 p.m. road game at UC Davis.

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Joshua Grissom can be reached at jgrissom@dnews.com or on Twitter @JoshuaGNews.

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