Cougars cruise past Westmont in solid exhibition

WSU women’s basketball wins exhibition 64-40, open season at noon on Monday



WSU guard Charlisse Leger-Walker drives toward the basket during the second half of an NCAA collegiate basketball game against UW, Friday, Jan. 28, in Beasley Coliseum.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports editor

Charlisse Leger-Walker charged down the court and perfectly pushed the ball into the hands of Bella Murekatete who took it straight to the basket.

Leger-Walker’s smooth no-look pass was one of several key plays throughout the game which rewarded the devoted crowd of Cougars in attendance with the promises of what could be.

For the first time since February, WSU women’s basketball hit the home hardwood of Beasley Coliseum in their 64-40 exhibition win over Westmont.

“It’s great to play, it’s great to have the lights on, it’s great to be in the gym,” head coach Kamie Ethridge said.

It was the first time WSU women’s basketball had ever faced Westmont, a school from Santa Clara, California that is transitioning from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to NCAA Division II.

The Cougs only lost the lead for 20 seconds in the first quarter.

Starters played much of the game setting the stage for senior center Murekatete to achieve a double-double and point total that would have been a career night for her if it had been a regular-season game. She scored what would have been a career-high 26 points and snagged 10 rebounds.

In April, Murekatete changed her mindset and started working out at home, asking coaches for workout assistance and having a great attitude in practice, Ethridge said.

“I really expect Bella to be a double-double player night in, night out,” Ethridge said.

In the absence of her sister, since-graduated Krystal Leger-Walker, Charlisse will need to take a larger leadership role on the team. Both Ethridge and Charlisse spoke about this at the Pac-12 media day on Oct. 25.

On Sunday, she led the team in minutes (36), blocks (1) and assists (6). Her no-look pass to Murekatete was one of several dazzling plays that also included scoring within the first five seconds of the game, another no-look pass to Emma Nankervis and a steal in motion.

Leger-Walker had recently returned to town after playing in her home country of New Zealand and representing the Cougs at the Pac-12 media day in San Francisco.

“They gave us some looks and we gotta figure out who can make those and who can’t. We have to have some discipline in the shots we take,” Ethridge said. “If it were perfect tonight, that would have been a terrible thing because we would have thought it was going to be easy.”

Tara Wallack, the sophomore from Canada figures to play a larger role in the team. She got the start on Sunday and put up 11 points and four assists.

New faces impressed as well. Astera Tuhina, the freshman guard from the Kosovo national team got some great looks in scoring seven points with three assists and four rebounds. She was 3-5 from the field and 1-3 from beyond the arc.

“She earned all these minutes and she is going to play big minutes for us. Really poised. She will be a surprise for the league I think this year,” Ethridge said.

Sunday was also the unofficial debut of Kyra Gardner and Lauren Glazier, two in-state recruits.

Gardner, the 5-11 guard from Raymond, recorded two points and two rebounds. She was 1-6 and 0-2 from beyond the arc but recorded some valuable 17 minutes of on-court experience.

“Kyra Gardner is one of the best athletes I’ve coached,” Ethridge said. “We need her in a million reps and she needs to help us this year because she is really different than a lot of the players on our team, just her ability to make it look easy almost in how she runs the floor.”

Gardner may not be as used to playing the style of defense WSU expects of her because in high school she might have been able to outscore her opponent, Ethridge said.

In seven minutes on the court, Glazier, the 6-4 freshman from North Bend scored one basket going

“She forgets easily if she misses a shot, she doesn’t worry about it, she is going to take the next one I think which is a really good quality to have as a basketball player,” Ethridge said.

The Cougs looked good on Sunday but left some points on the floor through missed shots. The Cougs lost a star in Krystal Leger-Walker but look to have an overall improved roster with the retention of players responsible for 84% of their scoring from last season and three talented freshmen competing for meaningful minutes.

WSU women’s basketball will open their season against Loyola Marymount at 12 p.m. on Monday at Beasley Coliseum.