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WSU Men's Basketball

Washington State women can’t overcome cold start in 60-55 loss to Washington

PULLMAN – Kamie Ethridge has installed a team on her Washington State bench that’s in charge of charting shot quality. A few of the Cougars’ assistant coaches keep track of their team’s shots, and during their Sunday matinee with Washington, they liked what their players put up.

“We just missed them,” Ethridge said.

That goes a long way in explaining WSU’s 60-55 loss to Washington. The Cougs scored just two points in the first quarter. They shot just 39% from the field for the game. They made a valiant comeback, trimming a 21-point lead to two inside a minute to play, but their sluggish start made completing it a Herculean task.

No. 21 WSU (10-2, 0-1 Pac-12), whose three-game winning streak has come to an end, sure made things interesting. In the fourth frame, after Cougars guard Charlisse Leger-Walker converted a layup to cut the deficit to two with 30 seconds left, the hosts were in position to get the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead – but WSU’s Eleonora Villa was called for a foul and UW put the game away at the free-throw line.

That put an end to the Cougs’ rally, which included a 7-0 run in the final two minutes, a stretch that featured two baskets from forward Bella Murekatete, who totaled 19 points and six rebounds. Leger-Walker managed 11 points, but she needed 12 shots, and she misfired on all five triples she tried. Villa added 10 points, but she was a minus-11 in the box score.

WSU now has two difficult realities to square: The Cougs went down early, sunk just 2 of 15 long balls and made things seriously difficult on themselves. They also won the second half, 38-23, and played inspired ball later in the game. Ahead of a two-game stretch at home against Houston and away against Auburn, how does WSU make sense of this one?

“I think you can definitely take pride in that. It shows that as a team, we have the ability to come back and really grind it out,” Leger-Walker said. “I think even in the past years as a team, we’ve kinda done that a lot, and sometimes we come away with the win, but it’s really just focusing on why are we starting so slow, and why are we putting ourselves in a position where we have to come back all the time?

“So that’s something we really have to go back and reflect on. I think a lot of that is on us seniors and the older players who have been in the gym and really bringing the freshmen up with us. These games are only gonna get harder from here on out, and if we get down by that much, we’re not gonna win very many games at all.”

The Cougs, especially as the game wore on, also couldn’t get key stops. Washington’s Hannah Stines and Lauren Schwartz combined for 41 points, and they made 6 of 7 treys. In the fourth frame, Stines splashed a triple and a jumper, which stymied the Cougs’ effort to come all the way back, forcing the hosts to play faster on offense with time running out.

The Huskies made 7 of 14 3-pointers. They shot 45% from the field. WSU wasn’t perfect on defense, but to Ethridge, this was less about its defense and more about its offense – more specifically, what needs to change on that front.

“This really boils down to being able to make shots, and we’re not making enough shots,” Ethridge said. “And we’re consistently – or inconsistent – on making shots. We have to figure that out. I keep saying that we have weapons, but we’re not scoring at the clip – when we lose games, we’re not scoring across the board like we should. So we’ve gotta get our best players great shots, and they gotta knock them down.”

In that way, the Cougs can keep their heads up after this one. Leger-Walker may be in a slump, missing her last 10 shots from deep, but these are problems WSU can fix.

When Houston comes to town on Sunday, the Cougs can prove they can do it.