PULLMAN – The weight of history is what you make of it. You can let it bury you or you can ignore it.
Or you can take the Wile E. Coyote option, sproing-ing back to shape after yet another rendezvous with the plummeting anvil.
Try, try again, in other words.
This is the default setting in sports, where the rematch is a way of life. Which brought us to Friel Court on Wednesday night and another women’s basketball meeting of Washington State and sixth-ranked Stanford, a series that found the Cougars in an oh-for-forever slump.
OK, 0-67 if you need a number on it. Uh, make that 0-68.
That’s zero, as in never won.
This one appeared in advance to have more promise for the Cougs. Or maybe the outcome was predictable. Or both.
The Cougars, after all, were in the process of redefining feistiness after a five-game grinder that saw them beat No. 10 Arizona in overtime and Oregon State in double OT, and fall to both USC and No. 5 UCLA in overtime and No. 11 Oregon by eight points – all on the road save the Arizona game. It was a blast of overnight respectability for a program that has spent decades avoiding it.
But that’s exactly what the Cougars looked like – a team coming off four overtime games in 14 days. The 71-49 final score was a minor triumph, Wazzu steeling up a bit after falling behind by 30 points in the first half as Spokane’s Lexie Hull put on a layup clinic and the Cardinal held freshman sensation Charlisse Leger-Walker to just two scoreless shots.
The Cougs seemed to be playing offense under water, and defense in Mike Leach’s old sand pit.
Still, if anyone wants to write off WSU’s historic visit to the Top 25 a couple weeks ago as premature, consider first the company the Cougs have been keeping.
“If you started the season and said you’re going to be in all these overtime games with these teams, would you take it?” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said on the eve of No. 68. “We’d have said, ‘Yeah.’ We were picked 12th (in the Pac-12). Let’s not forget we’re achieving at a high level and competing with the best teams in this league. “
It’s just that progress in this sort of endeavor is never linear.
You only need to refer back to the tenure of Ethridge’s predecessor, June Daugherty, for an example.
Daugherty had some deep excavating to do, the program having won just 44 games in the eight years prior to her arrival. It took her seven more to produce a .500 season, and her 2014 Cougs knocked off four Top 25 teams. It was measurable gain.
It just didn’t turn out to be real momentum.
In her third season, Ethridge has the sense that she’s captured some, with the understanding that there has to be a relentlessness about it that simply didn’t materialize in the first half Wednesday night.
“We didn’t go toe to toe with this team,” she said.
There are also problems to solve.
The Cardinal invested their length and defensive siccum into smothering Leger-Walker, the Pac-12’s leading scorer. Stanford senior Anna Wilson had the primary assignment, but there was always lots of help any time Leger-Walker got a touch, or even looked to get one.
“They literally aren’t guarding a couple of our players,” Ethridge said. “The stats are saying we can’t shoot the ball, and people are playing us that way.
“We have to do a better job of getting her in different spots on the floor. I’m glad we’re seeing this now, and glad we get to strategize and find out what we can do a little better. But it gets down to what our other players do. You can’t score if two people are on you – most of the time – so other people are going to have to step up and make shots.”
Undeniable as that is, it is Leger-Walker and older sister Krystal who are doing the heaviest lifting in trying to breathe life into a program that, until this year, had won just 19% of its Pac-12 games in this century.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player,” Ethridge said. “I’ve been in the gym with the fourth pick in the WNBA draft (Kendra Wecker) and a No. 6 (Nicole Ohlde). I think Charlisse has a chance to be that special.
“I don’t look at that and say, yeah, everybody (in the program) has to make that standard. That’s impossible. But we to go after kids that are a lot like Charlisse in their makeup and competitiveness.”
But this is no time to be taking the long view.
COVID-19 has not spared the Cougars’ schedule, and there’s a makeup game to get in. But this time the opposing coach surrendered her home game just to get it played in the most convenient manner. So the Cougs are back in Friel at noon Friday against Tara VanDerveer’s Cardinal again.
The weight of immediacy. It is what you make of it.
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