It's been another year of growing pains for the WSU women's basketball team, which has had difficulty figuring out ways to close games strong. The Cougars have lost six games this season by four points or fewer, and they looked to be heading that way again today at Arizona.
With just five seconds remaining and WSU down by two, freshman Nike McClure stepped to the line for two shots and the chance to tie the game.
She missed the first. She also missed the second.
What a tremendous play by Mariah Cooks, who would go on to make her free throw to give the Cougars a one-point lead at 62-61. Five seconds later, the Cougars were celebrating an improbable one-point victory that gave them their fourth Pac-12 victory and broke an nine-game skid.
As a senior playing her final handful of games, it's got to feel extra sweet for Cooks.
"I knew what I had to do, and I wasn't going to let anyone get in my way," Cooks said after the game. "I just made sure I got the ball. I wasn't even expecting to make it. I was just trying to get fouled. It's awesome to be able to score and get the foul. Obviously, there was a lot of excitement after the shot, so I had to walk away from the line and calm my nerves. Then I stepped up to the free throw line like I've done thousands of times in my career. It wasn't the prettiest game, but it feels really great."
WSU seems to be in a perpetual state of "just wait until next year" under June Daugherty, as promising seasons have been undercut by injuries, defections and other forms of bad luck.
"I'm just really proud of this team," Daugherty said. "We've been in so many last-possession games and not been able to bring it home. Each game the team has learned from it. We always talk about how luck isn't ever on your side. You have to make your own luck, and Mariah Cooks made our luck tonight. It's great to see our senior take care of business like that."
The Cougs are undeniably talented; perhaps some of that youth is growing up and some of that bad luck can turn around in time for an unexpected run through the Pac-12 tournament. They're now 13-14 overall and 4-12 in the conference.