PULLMAN — More heroics from the breakout Leger-Walker sisters, a double-digit comeback against a top-10 opponent and another signature win for a program that’s proving everyone wrong — it was all the more reason why Washington State is a must-see women's college basketball team at the national level right now.
The surging Cougars soared back from 16 points down late in the third quarter Sunday against No. 7 Arizona at Beasley Coliseum, then forced overtime and stunned the Wildcats 71-69 on a buzzer-beating scoop layup from true freshman Charlisse Leger-Walker.
She drove and split two defenders inside, flipped up the decider with her left hand and the Cougar sideline stormed the court to celebrate the program’s first top-10 victory in 19 tries — and certainly its best win under coach Kamie Ethridge, who has the ship steered toward success in Year 3 of a rebuild.
“You don’t have to be a very smart coach at all to just get the ball into Charlisse's hands and give her space, and let her at least attack the rim and get a shot at the buzzer,” said Ethridge of the New Zealand native. “... For a young player and new to this thing, she’s just a rockstar in so many ways.”
Leger-Walker shook off a slow day shooting to take control in the fourth period and overtime, tallying 12 of her 17 points. She sent the game into the extra time as well, beating her defender around the edge, driving the baseline and reversing in a layup to tie it at 60 with three seconds to go in regulation.
“I love that (Ethridge) can trust me to make the right decision, get to the hoop, and that’s kinda my role on this team, to keep everyone poised, calm and just make shots when I need to,” Leger-Walker said in a postgame interview with Pac-12 Network. “It wasn’t a great shooting night (6-for-17), but it didn’t really faze me too much. I just tried to impact the game in other ways, and obviously to get those last two shots was really good.”
The Cougars (7-1, 5-1) found themselves down double figures late in the opening period. They trailed by 16 midway through the second, and were faced with that same margin with two minutes to play in the third.
Wazzu scored the final seven points of the third, then locked the ’Cats up, limiting them to just seven points in the fourth and using a slow burn of an 11-3 run to spring back. The Cougs tied it at the 2:45 mark when Cherilyn Molina got penetration and tossed in a layup.
A staunch WSU defense held whatever deficit it faced in crunch time to three points at the most. Arizona’s quarter-long scoring pains left the door open for a tense finish to regulation, and Leger-Walker was at the ready.
“Defense (in the second half) I thought was just phenomenal,” Ethridge said. “We made them take hard shots, made them make shots over us.”
WSU didn’t have a lead until Krystal Leger-Walker’s transition layin early in overtime, which was followed immediately by a big-time Grace Sarver 3-pointer — supplying the hosts a five-point lead.
The Leger-Walkers added jumpers before Arizona foul shots tied things up again with 10 seconds remaining, setting the stage for the wild finish.
“Our team never got down. We simplified a little bit of what we did,” Ethridge said. “Instead of combating their pressure with fancy stuff, we kinda kept it simple and made them guard us in space and tried to get downhill a little bit more.”
Charlisse Leger-Walker, the Pac-12’s leading scorer who’s rapidly becoming a national standout, added five assists and three steals. Krystal Leger-Walker, the team’s lone senior who followed Ethridge from Northern Colorado to the Palouse, contributed 14 points to go with her game-best nine assists. Half of her production came during the final 20 minutes.
Center Bella Murekatete scored 17 points — nine in the third quarter — and hauled in seven boards.
It was a landmark outing for Ethridge's Cougs, who own two ranked wins this season and almost upset top-10 Oregon too after being predicted to finish in the Pac-12 basement by coaches and media members. WSU, riding a four-game winning streak, now sits firmly in second place in the nation’s toughest conference. Chances look good that the Cougars will be ranked in Monday's Associated Press Top 25 poll.
“It was a crazy moment, I’m still really overwhelmed, but just so proud of our team for grinding that whole game,” Charlisse Leger-Walker said.
Asked about the program turnaround, Ethridge pointed to a “gritty, tough” culture instilled within the team throughout the past two years, plus of course some fortune in recent recruits and a boost in chemistry that’s come with them.
“I’m just so happy for the players that have gone through so much adversity and struggle, and to see them grow up and become unbelievable competitors, and I just think the program is at that level,” Ethridge said. “I don’t think we’re a one-hit wonder. I really think we can duplicate it night in and night out, that kind of effort and competitiveness. And we’re young. We have a chance to get even better as the year goes on.
“It’s a statement. I love that, but I know this team is not satisfied with where we are.”
The Wildcats got 23 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists from All-American point guard Aari McDonald. Post Cate Reese chipped in 10 points and seven boards.
Arizona handled WSU on the glass 46-32, but the Cougs’ defenders rarely lost assignments and Wazzu outshot the Wildcats, percentage-wise, 48.3 to 25.13 after halftime.
WSU missed several good looks from underneath in the first half as the Wildcats shot 48.5 percent.
The Cougs committed just four of their 11 turnovers in the final three quarters against UA’s eight (of 18 total).
“I just loved our defensive intensity and how we adjusted, guarded a little bit better, and the baskets dried up a little for them,” Ethridge said. “It was great to see that kind of effort, but overall it’s the nature of this team right now. They’re not getting overwhelmed by the bigness of the moments.”
ARIZONA (8-2, 6-2)
Baptiste 1-4 5-6 8, Reese 2-4 5-7 10, Thomas 3-9 1-1 9, McDonald 9-20 4-6 23, Yeaney 3-9 0-0 7, Mote 0-0 0-0 0, Pellington 3-7 2-2 8, Pueyo 0-0 0-0 0, Erdogan 1-2 0-0 2, Ware 1-6 0-0 2, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 23-61 17-22 69
WASHINGTON ST. (7-1, 5-1)
Motuga 2-5 1-1 5, Murekatete 6-9 2-2 14, Charlisse Leger-Walker 6-17 4-6 17, Krystal Leger-Walker 5-13 3-3 14, Teder 1-4 0-0 2, Nankervis 2-3 2-2 6, Molina 3-7 2-4 8, Sarver 2-5 0-0 5, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 27-63 14-18 71
Arizona 22 18 13 7 — 69
Washington St. 11 18 15 16 — 71
3-Point Goals: Arizona 6-15 (Baptiste 1-1, Reese 1-1, Thomas 2-5, McDonald 1-4, Yeaney 1-2, Erdogan 0-1, Ware 0-1), Washington St. 3-13 (Motuga 0-2, Leger-Walker 1-3, Leger-Walker 1-5, Molina 0-1, Sarver 1-2). Assists: Arizona 9 (McDonald 7), Washington St. 18 (Leger-Walker 9). Fouled Out: Arizona Thomas, Washington St. Murekatete. Rebounds: Arizona 46 (Reese 3-7), Washington St. 32 (Murekatete 2-7). Total Fouls: Arizona 21, Washington St. 22.