Gonzaga got the shot it wanted Wednesday night: Cierra Walker for the potential winner from the left corner with less than 2 seconds left.
“It was the right read, the right spot and the right players,” said coach Lisa Fortier, who also gave the option for a tying jumper from forward Yvonne Ejim.
As the Kennel crowd of 3,450 cheered, Ejim passed to Walker, who let fly and found only the back iron as the Zags lost a 51-49 nonconference decision to Washington State.
While GU (7-2) failed to seize the moment, the Cougars (7-1) did so repeatedly in the second half. Down by as many as 12 in the third quarter and shooting poorly, they made big plays down the stretch to win their first game against the Zags since 2016.
“I thought we showed a lot of progress from year to year,” said WSU coach Kamie Ethridge, now in her fourth year. “And all of a sudden we face a very disciplined and physical team.
“In years past, we would have been down 20 at half.”
Perhaps it should have been that many on Wednesday night, considering the Cougars made just 7 of 27 shots before intermission.
The Zags weren’t much better, however, going 8 for 28 to lead 23-16 at halftime.
GU appeared on the way to a win midway through the third quarter. Four minutes in, Ejim found Melody Kempton with a pass that led to a layup and a foul to put the Zags up 32-22.
A minute later, Kayleigh Truong capitalized on a steal by Ejim for a jumper that put the Zags ahead 34-22 with 5:04 left in the third quarter.
Following a timeout, WSU recovered in a hurry. Forward Ula Motuga drained a 3 from the corner, Tara Wallack made a pair of foul shots and Bella Murekatete hit a layup to trim the deficit to 34-29.
The comeback continued as sophomore Charlisse Leger-Walker – playing all 40 minutes – made a layin and forcing a timeout by GU.
Most of the WSU buckets came after turnovers by GU, which had 20 .
“We started to get a little casual with the ball, and that’s when they came back,” GU senior Abby O’Connor said.
“The momentum they got off turnovers really hurt us.”
It didn’t help. Ejim capped the quarter with a jumper, but WSU was back in the game after an 11-0 run.
That set up a tightly contested fourth quarter in which neither team led by more than one possession until Krystal Leger-Walker turned another GU turnover into a layup and a 47-43 advantage with 3:39 to play.
Gonzaga tied the game at 49 on two Kempton free throws with 41 seconds left, but Murekatete made 1 of 2 foul shots with 23 seconds left to set up the last-second drama.
Playing for the last shot, the Zags got the ball to Kaylynne Truong, who missed a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left.
The rebound went straight toward Kempton, but before she could secure the ball, Charlisse Leger-Walker grabbed and drew the foul.
“We needed to get that board,” Leger-Walker said. “But I practice that a lot: When the bigs first bring it down, that’s probably the best chance to get it.”
Leger-Walker was only 5 for 17 from the field, but still finished with a game-high 14 points along with four steals.
“She didn’t have a great shooting night, but she makes every game-winning play over and over,” Ethridge said.
Gonzaga got 13 points from Kaylynne Truong and 11 from Kayleigh Truong, who was back in action after missing two games with a knee injury.
Gonzaga outrebounded WSU 40-32, with Walker grabbing seven.
Gonzaga is back in action Sunday night, when the Zags host Stephen F. Austin at 6:30 p.m.
Earlier that day, Washington State hosts Boise State at noon.
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