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Sports >  Gonzaga women

Gonzaga, Washington State women’s nonconference matchup could hold importance later in the season

Dec. 7, 2021 Updated Tue., Dec. 7, 2021 at 7:52 p.m.

It’s only early December, but it’s hard to downplay the importance of Wednesday night’s nonconference women’s game between Gonzaga and visiting Washington State.

While regional bragging rights are more important to fans, the coaches are all about the here-and-now of early-season improvement heading into conference play.

“I think every coach is looking for consistency right now,” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said Monday.

The Cougars got that last weekend at UC Davis, winning 71-49 and getting double-digit scoring from guard Charlisse Leger-Walker and forward Bella Murekatete.

WSU (6-1) is still led by Leger-Walker, who averages 16 points and four rebounds, but the Cougars are more balanced this year, with five players averaging at least seven points.

“We can’t make her be super woman every night,” Ethridge said of Leger-Walker, last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

The Cougars also have more depth this year compared to last season.

“We were paper-thin last year,” Ethridge said. “We’re a little better this year.”

While Leger-Walker and her sister Krystal are still logging 35 minutes apiece, depth has usually been a strength at Gonzaga under coach Lisa Fortier.

The Zags (7-1) have six players averaging eight points or more, yet no one with more than the 12.0 of starting point guard Kayleigh Truong. On top of that, no one is seeing more than an average of 26 minutes on the floor. The Zags looked a bit disjointed on offense last week in a closer-than-expected win over Wyoming, but Truong is expected back Wednesday from a minor knee injury.

“We’re going to have to play a lot better offensively if we’re going to have the same outcome against WSU,” Fortier said.

Ethridge tried to cast the Cougars as the underdog going into Wednesday’s 6 p.m. tipoff at the Kennel.

“They’re a really great team and great program, a team that’s really dominated us over the years,” Ethridge said.

Despite GU’s heavy losses to graduation, Ethridge said she “doesn’t see a huge dropoff for them.”

“They just run a really disciplined system. They have well-defined roles, not a lot of sets … they just run and say, ‘This is what we do, try to stop us,’ ” Ethridge said.

Besides bragging rights, the game’s importance might not be known until March, when the NCAA Tournament committee starts looking at quality wins.

WSU’s postseason fate will be decided in the rugged Pac-12, so the Zags need this game to boost their resume for an at-large spot should they fail to win the West Coast Conference Tournament.

Neither team is ranked in The Associated Press poll, but both are receiving votes. GU is ranked 24th and WSU 62nd in Tuesday’s NCAA NET rankings.

WSU leads the overall series 18-11, but the Cougars have dropped four straight since beating the Zags 55-48 in Pullman in 2016.

The Zags won 76-53 in 2020 in Pullman and by an identical score in the Kennel in 2019. The teams didn’t meet last year.

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