PULLMAN – Things will get better for the Washington State women’s basketball team.
Playing without the best player in school history, the Cougars were predictably out of sorts at times Friday.
Filling the minutes lost when senior point guard Charlisse Leger-Walker tore the ACL in her right knee won’t be difficult. What will be most challenging is filling the production.
Only four Cougars scored in a 63-57 setback to sixth-ranked Colorado on Friday. It was a game WSU had every chance to win.
Retooling takes more than a couple of days. Problem is, the Cougars will have to do it on the fly as their second game without their star is Sunday when No. 20 Utah visits.
The ball got stuck on offense too often. The Cougars had some good looks – and need even more from the interior players – but finished with just eight assists on 24 made baskets.
WSU isn’t good enough to manufacture offense in 1-on-1 situations for 40 minutes.
Players and coach vow to find answers.
From the moment the Cougars stepped onto Friel Court for warmups Friday, there was Leger-Walker, her right leg in a brace, standing on the court exhorting her teammates.
She sat on the bench and frequently shared thoughts with her teammates.
As far as WSU coach Kamie Ethridge is concerned, her team has one of two options moving forward without the best player in school history.
Fight or flight.
“The biggest message for our team is don’t be a victim,” Ethridge said in a news conference Wednesday announcing the season-ending injury. “We are not a victim of anything. Just an opportunity for everyone to step up and into a bigger role than they’ve ever had in our program.”
WSU is still good enough to make the NCAA Tournament. After all, the Cougs played without Leger-Walker 17 minutes, 30 seconds and managed to hold off UCLA 85-82 last Sunday in the biggest win in school history.
What was apparent Friday, though, is a transition is taking place. Scoring 57 points, the third time below 60 this season, isn’t enough.
‘We had to make hard 2s all night,” Ethridge said. “We didn’t get anything easy.
“This is a top team in the country. We guarded them well enough to win. We just have to manufacture some points.”
The players understand the challenge ahead.
The Cougs got sophomore guard Astera Tuhina back Friday for the first time since Dec. 20. She had been out with a foot injury.
“I think we got a lot of great shots, we didn’t make them,” Tuhina said. “Credit to them, they’re a really good defense team and they’re aggressive.”
The Cougars are happy Leger-Walker was on the bench with them.
“She’s always been like another coach for us,” guard Tara Wallack said. “She’s always giving us advice, telling us what to do, what’s out there, what she’s seeing from a player’s perspective.”
“We’ve said it before, even if for Charlisse it wasn’t her best game, we’re still a really good team,” Tuhina said. “Every player can score, every player can pass, every player can play defense. But obviously, she’s a great player we’re going to miss.”
One critical area that Leger-Walker will be missed is late in shot-clock situations.
“We definitely lost a voice and the player we lost most to have the ball in the late shot-clock situations,” Wallack said. “We miss Charlisse tremendously, but I think everyone else can handle it as well.”
So the Cougs look forward to Utah on Sunday.
“Our team has to bounce back,” Ethridge said about the Colorado game. “We didn’t get this one, but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”