The WSU women played this one in honor of David Lang, their head strength coach who died suddenly on Saturday. But as has been the case all season, they couldn't quite muster enough to close out the win

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A challenging season for the Washington State women’s basketball team ended Thursday night in the opening round of the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament at KeyArena, as No. 7 USC (20-10 overall) pulled away at the very end of a tight game, beating WSU 47-44 to advance to the quarterfinals.

It was a somber end to a tough season in which the Cougars lost their head coach June Daugherty to a health-related leave of absence in January, and were stunned last Saturday by the sudden death of their head strength coach, David Lang.

“It’s been a very emotional week, it’s been a very sad week,” said WSU associate head coach Mike Daugherty, who has filled in for his wife as head coach over the last month and a half. “We just tried to stay together, help each other through this as much as we can.

“I’m really proud of the effort, given everything that’s happened in the last week. And I thought the team came out and played with a lot of heart and a lot of emotion.”

The 10th-seeded Cougars (10-20) didn’t get the win, but their fight was fueled by a desire to honor Lang’s memory, junior forward Nike McClure said.

“The whole goal of that game was to play for each other and play for David Lang,” said McClure. “What he’s really preached to a lot of us for a while is to put a lot of effort into our games. So I think that’s one of the reasons why our team was able to go out and play today was because that’s what he taught us.”

“It kind of brought us together to play for him and play for each other,” said sophomore forward Borislava Hristova.

The evening began with a brief ceremony to honor WSU’s three seniors, Caila Hailey, Pinelopi Pavlopoulou and Krystle McKenzie, who missed out on Senior Night festivities because WSU’s regular scheduled season finale against Stanford last Sunday was canceled after Lang’s sudden death.

McClure contacted the Pac-12 office this week to ask if the Cougars could honor their senior class before their first round Pac-12 tournament game.

“I really appreciate everything they’ve done for us, and they really deserved that night,” McClure said. “Tragically, we had a moment where they couldn’t celebrate it. And I felt like they really deserved to be recognized for all they’ve done for our university and our program.”

McClure and the Cougars fought to send their seniors out on a high note, but couldn’t quite finish the job.

In the final four minutes of a defensive battle, WSU cut a five-point USC lead to one with eight points from a determined McClure, who sank a jumper and forced back-to-back three-point plays to give her team a fighting chance at the end.

“I just wanted us to win,” said McClure, who led WSU with 12 points. “I was just trying to do what I could do to help that happen.”

But as has been the case all season – the Cougars lost four regular season Pac-12 games by four points or less – WSU couldn’t close out the game.

With WSU trailing USC 45-44 and 2.2 seconds left on the clock, Trojans guard Minyon Moore hit a jumper to seal the win and send the Cougars into the offseason.

Moore paced the Trojans with 16 points, while Aliyah Mazyck added 14. Both teams struggled to score throughout. WSU’s 44 points was a season-low, while the Trojans’ 47 points was the second-fewest they’ve scored in a game this season. WSU shot 31.4 percent from the field, converting only 16 of 51 field goals. USC didn’t do much better, going 18 of 58 for a 31.0 shooting percentage from the field.

“I thought it was a great defensive battle,” said USC coach Mike Trakh. “Both teams did agreat jonb on the defensive end. Both teams really scrapped and hustled and went after it.”