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Sports >  WSU basketball

Washington State women heading confidently into Pac-12 play

Dec. 30, 2021 Updated Fri., Dec. 31, 2021 at 1:55 p.m.

Kamie Ethridge made it clear Thursday that she’s taking things one game at a time.

Asked how the Washington State women are preparing for Sunday’s game against NCAA champion Stanford, Ethridge didn’t hesitate.

“We’re not,” she said firmly.

That’s because on Friday night, the Cougars will open Pac-12 Conference play against the Cal Bears, an almost unanimous pick to finish last in the conference.

“We are not even thinking about the Cardinal until we show up (for practice) on Saturday the day after Cal,” Ethridge said.

In that sense, little has changed since a year ago, when it was the Cougars who were picked to finish last in the toughest conference in Division I. Every game matters, whether you’re in the cellar or chasing an NCAA bid.

The Cougars are suddenly in the latter category after last year’s surprising effort.

Defying the skeptics, they managed to go 9-10 in the conference and reach the NCAAs for the first time in 30 years. Now the expectation is that the Cougars will make it two in a row.

The Cougars did nothing in the nonconference season to dispel the optimism, going 8-3 and sitting 72nd in the NET rankings. One of the losses was to No. 5 North Carolina State. Another was to No. 18 BYU, and the third 24 hours later at Stony Brook after a flight from Utah to New York.

“I’m excited to see where we are,” Ethridge said.

Based on nonconference results, the Cougars are in good shape compared to the rest of the conference.

For a variety of reasons, Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA have underperformed, leaving Stanford and Arizona as the only teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25.

“I think we’ve taken it on the chin a little bit,” Ethridge said. “But it’s all going to shake out in the long run. But now we’re also dealing with depth issues with COVID, when you lose players.”

Depth was paper-thin last year for the Cougars, who staggered to the finish line in March. Things appear better this season, however, with eight players averaging at least 10 minutes a game; last year there were only six.

Guard Charlisse Leger-Walker’s numbers are down a bit this year, and that’s probably a good thing. The sophomore guard is still carrying a heavy load, but she’s getting more help this year.

A year ago, Leger-Walker was averaging 38 minutes and 18.8 points a game. This season, she’s down to 36 minutes and 17.2 points. She’s shooting almost 3 percentage points better from the field and posting slightly better numbers on the glass.

“Our guard game is deeper,” said Ethridge, who said that freshman Tara Wallack is “very Pac-12 ready” and ready to contribute alongside Leger-Walker and her sister Krystal, and starter Johanna Teder.

Forward Bella Murekatete has stepped up inside. The 6-foot-3 junior from Rwanda is averaging 11.6 points and a team-high 8.6 boards. She also has 24 blocks.

“But our post game still needs to develop some depth,” Ethridge said.

Other concerns include long-range shooting (the Cougars are hitting just 29.4% from beyond the arc) and offense in general.

“Our defense is solid, but we have to figure out ways to score with the basketball,” Ethridge said.

WSU has already made some history this season. They Cougars are riding a program-best six-game win streak at Beasley Coliseum, and their eight wins are the most for WSU heading into conference play since the 2015-16 campaign.

WSU heads into Pac-12 play with the 65th-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing only 57.2 points per game.

Despite the modest predictions, Cal heads into Pac-12 play with a 9-2 record and a NET ranking of 86.

Freshman Jayda Curry has been spectacular in her first season at the collegiate level, leading the Pac-12 in scoring at 20.1 points per game.

Junior Evelien Lutje Schipholt is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week after scoring 20 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in a win over Saint Mary’s.

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