PULLMAN – As Gonzaga Prep goes, she scored more career points than legendary John Stockton. In fact, she scored so early and often that she eclipsed the Greater Spokane League record of former Tennessee All-American Angie Bjorklund. And Sunday at 2 p.m., WSU sophomore Tia Presley aims to do something no WSU point guard has accomplished since 1995: Lead her team to victory over Washington.
In a quirk of Pac-12 scheduling, Sunday’s contest will mark the second time the 5-11 Cougs and 11-5 Dawgs face each other in a span of six days.
On Tuesday, the Huskies jumped to big early lead behind torrid three-point shooting and then withstood a furious WSU comeback to pull out a 60-53 victory in Seattle. It was UW’s 35th straight over the CouGals.
Presley was an uncharacteristic 1 of 9 from the field.
As trend lines go, it was an aberration of towering proportion, which helps fuel hopes the Cougs will finally break through against Washington this weekend.
Indeed, Presley has been nothing short of head turning in her play this season.
In WSU's stunner over No. 20 Ohio State last month, she was all over the court, with eight points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Two weeks later, in an upset of Gonzaga, she led all scorers with 15. And since Pac-12 play began, she’s led the Cougars in three of their five games, including 27- and 25-point outbursts against Arizona State and USC.
“I’m just trying to play hard and learn,” says Presley, who missed the final 12 games of last season with a broken foot. “Getting hurt last season and being able to watch and realize some parts of my game I need to work on really helped me grow into a better player.”
Presley said the injury allowed her to see the game from a different perspective. She learned to lead in ways she couldn’t while on the court.
“When I wasn’t on the court it hurt,” Presley said. “I wanted to be in and help our team so bad. I just did what I could without being out there.”
Presley isn't the first high-scoring hooper from Gonzaga Prep to play for the Cougs. Terry Kelly is in the WSU 1,000-point club. He starred under George Raveling from 1976-80.
She’s clearly making up for that lost time this season.
Presley leads the team in assists and minutes played, is second in scoring average (13 ppg), field goal percentage (.448) and steals (35), and third in rebounding (4.2).
She isn’t the only young gun interjecting excitement in the program. Lia Galdeira, a freshman forward from Hawaii, leads the team in scoring (13.8), rebounding (5.3) and steals (46).
“That girl is great to have,” Presley said. “She helps everyone keep their energy. She’s so incredibly supportive and she helps everyone stay confident during the game.”
WHILE PRESLEY IS NO STRANGER to the spotlight, given her record-breaking high school career in Spokane, she chuckles at the cyber attention she was given in a Cougar-Husky tussle of a different variety two years ago.
In 2011, as her Gonzaga Prep classmate Bishop Sankey wavered in his verbal pledge to WSU following overtures from Steve Sarkisian, rumors swirled that Sankey might come to his senses because his “girlfriend” was headed to Ol’ Wazzu to play hoops.
“Oh gosh,” Presley laughs. “We never dated. We were best friends.”
Presley said the two took a class together in high school and maintained a tradition of taking a picture together every morning. Because of that, Presley said she had a huge photo album on her Facebook page that resulted in the rumor mill.
Sankey, a standout running back, went with the Dawgs -- and created a CF.C/Dawgman.com message board furor in the process.
“I gave him such a hard time of course,” Presley said. “He had to do what made him happy. He liked UW better and I was very happy for him.”
Presley said some people suggested she convince Sankey to follow through with his commitment to WSU, but Presley said that wasn’t her business.
“People would always ask me if he was coming to WSU or not,” Presley said. “Honestly, I’ll always have his back, regardless of the situation. You have to do what makes you happy.”
And what will make her happy this weekend is doing something no other Cougar point guard has done in 17 years.