LAS VEGAS – A “tidal wave,” coach Kamie Ethridge called it, the first-half surge from Utah that swept the Washington State women out of the Pac-12 Tournament Thursday night.
The loss also leaves the Cougars adrift for the next nine days, wondering how much it will cost them on Selection Sunday.
Washington Sate set a program record for wins this year, going 19-9 during the regular season and finishing tied for second in the rugged Pac-12. They also rank 15th in the Rating Percentage Index and 14th in strength of schedule.
A 20-win season would have looked great on the resume. The 70-59 quarterfinal loss to Utah, however, saddled the Cougars with their 10th loss and dropped them to 59th in the oft-cited NET rankings.
Yet they lost no ground with ESPN bracketologist Charlie Crème, who kept the Cougars at a No. 10 seed in the prediction posted Friday.
During the news conference Thursday at Mandalay Bay, reporters and Ethridge discussed next steps to prepare for where, not if, the Cougars will playing in the NCAAs.
“I think we still have a high ceiling,” Ethridge said. “We’ve really improved over the last month. But sometimes we get a little too tricky for ourselves on the offensive end, and we don’t score it as much as we need to from 3.”
Perimeter defense was the big problem Thursday, as Utah hit eight long-range shots in the first half and broke open the game with a 15-0 run late in the half. WSU trailed 45-25 at halftime.
“They made us pay for every mistake that we made,” Ethridge said. “We made enough (mistakes) to put ourselves in a hole, obviously. Giving up 45 points (in a half) is hard to come back from.”
WSU continued to battle in the second half, limiting Utah to 28.5% from the field.
WSU shot 37.1% from the field and Utah hit at a 42.1% rate.
The Cougars kept battling in the second half, closing to within 15 before Utah pulled away before coasting at the end.
“I loved our fight in the second half and I thought we got a great start,” Ethridge said. “It was 40 minutes of really good effort from our team, just couldn’t beat a really good Utah team tonight.”
All year, Utah seemed to channel some of the same underdog mentality of the past two WSU teams.
Like the Cougars in 2020-21, the Utes were picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12; now they’re in the semifinals for the first time in program history and are a lock to make the tournament one year after going 5-16.
Ethridge and her players believe the loss didn’t diminish their accomplishments this year. No longer an underdog in the eyes of most rival coaches, they were picked to finish sixth.
For the second year in a row, the Cougars blew away those expectations, winning a program-record 11 conference games .
“It’s thrilling for our team to set these records,” Ethridge said. “I think so many people are just blown away by the success of this team and the toughness of this team.”
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