Perpetual search for positives in Pullman

In the old “Star Trek” series, there was an episode called “A Taste of Armageddon” in which the Enterprise’s crew visits a planet that engages in “computer-simulated” warfare with another planet.

Each simulated attack results in a certain number of “casualties” on each side, and people are then informed they had been “killed.” Alas, with a heavy sigh, they dutifully report to disintegration booths and are executed.

The citizenry of both planets have agreed to this rather than “real” war, relieving the financial burden of rebuilding all that is destroyed by bombs, tanks, guns, etc. Plus, this kind of “war” is much better for the environment.

I’m not a “Trekkie” by any means, but bring this up because I’m wondering if it wouldn’t make more sense to handle the Stanford-Washington State womens’ hoops series like this. Uh, not disintegration booths or anything. Just have a computer simulate the game, come up with the final score, and save everybody on the cost of transportation, hotel, etc.

This matchup has been such a historical waste of time, maybe both programs would find it just as beneficial to simply fake that it happens twice a season.

I am only being a little bit facetious. Stanford beat Washington State 94-50 on Sunday, giving the Cardinal a 51-0 all-time mark against the Cougars. They’ll meet again Feb. 10 at Stanford, and that likely will be as bad if not worse.

If you’re looking for rays of light for the Cougars in this series, you’ll really have to strain your vision. Stanford won by just eight points in 2007 at Pullman, Wash. As for other close games in the series, the Cardinal won by nine in 2001, by five in 2000, by nine in 1997, by six in 1991, by five in 1988 and by four – the closest game between the two programs – in 1987.

But the overwhelming majority of games have been like Sunday’s: foregone conclusions in which the only real accomplishment for either team is that no one gets injured.

There are other lopsided series in women’s basketball in the major conferences. Mississippi State, for instance, has never beaten Tennessee. However, the Bulldogs have had good teams, and have made recent NCAA tournament appearances.¬†They may not be able to beat the Orange Crush, but they’re not moribund as a program.

It may not seem entirely fair to say that Washington State is, considering the Cougars do have Pac-10 victories over Oregon State and Cal thus far this season.

But the Beavers are, like Washington State, perennially woeful even when that program didn’t go through nearly a nuclear meltdown in the off-season the way it did in 2010. And the Bears are a group that doesn’t seem to even know who they are this season. They won at home against Arizona and Arizona State the previous weekend, then fell to the two Washington schools on the road this past weekend.

Washington State is 4-14 overall, well on the way to the program’s 15th consecutive losing season. The Cougars’ last winning season was 1996, when they were 17-12. Their only NCAA tournament appearance was in 1991. Those two things happened during the 17-year career of Harold Rhodes, by far the longest-tenured Cougar women’s hoops head coach. He finished with a record of 194-271.

Jenny Przekwas and Sherri Murrell followed, combining to go 44-182 over the next eight years. Former Washington coach June Daugherty came to Pullman in 2007-08, and her record there is 28-80.

As a program, starting in 1971, Washington State is 422-635; the Cougars have won just 39.9 percent of their games over their four decades of existence. And it just seems remarkable – not in a good way – that a program in a major conference could be that consistently unsuccessful from the era of bellbottoms to the era of iPads.

Yeah, I know this will seem like I’m just piling on Washington State for no reason, but that’s honestly not my aim. It’s just that for years now, I’ve looked at this program and wondered, “Is there a fan out there – or even a small group of fans – who go to game after game, year after year, hoping that some day, the stars will finally align and the Cougars will be a decent team? Has anyone sat through this for years, maybe sometimes reflecting back on the “glory” season of 1991?”

Incidentally, that year, the Cougars were the No. 11 seed and lost by 20 points at Northwestern in the first round of the NCAA tournament. So I guess you could say that Washington’s State’s women’s basketball history isn’t 40 years of complete famine.

How do you turn around something like this? How does it ever change? What do you build on when you’ve never built anything to begin with? How much more of the evolution of women’s basketball nationwide do we have to see before talent can spread out so much that it may even reach Pullman, occasionally, in sufficient amounts to make any difference?

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About mvoepel

Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women's college basketball and other college sports for ESPN.com.
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7 Responses to Perpetual search for positives in Pullman

  1. Andrew says:

    Howard, this is WSU, not UW. WSU has had a good men’s basketball program for about the past decade, and has a football program that has had some highlights.

    The women’s bball program had coaching difficulties for a while, but it looks like they’re on the rebound. It takes time.

  2. It’s not just WSU – since losing at Tennessee, in additon to the streak ending win over UConn, Stanford has beaten 4th ranked Xavier by 37, 8th ranked UCLA by 26, USC by 44, well you get the picture!

  3. Howard says:

    And NOWWW….WazzU upsets AZ State! The Voepel Voodoo hath struck! :-)

    Note from MV: I hope this actually means something good for Washington State, and not just that Arizona State is really struggling.

  4. Tim says:

    94-50 was hard to avoid. Stanford pulled all 5 starters with plenty of time left in the game. The subs continued to increase the lead. You can’t really ask the subs not to do their best — they are trying to earn playing time and to improve.

  5. Howard says:

    [ Edit for above: I meant to say Washington State instead of "U-Dub" :-) ]

  6. Howard says:

    Just out of curiosity….is U-Dub competitive in ANY sports within the PAC 10? I know their women’s hoops program is typically a cellar-dweller there, but I don’t follow any other sports, so I was just wondering about that.

    I can only guess at the frustration that their die-hard fans must feel, if they’ve been hoping for a turnaround in the women’s program there; June D. has certainly seemed focused on changing things, but has an uphill battle. Recruiting must be tough.

  7. Stat_Girl says:

    I’m not sure I have any answers, but I do have a question: what is the point of 94-50, i.e., beating someone by 44 points? That seems a little excessive to me.