Cougars blowout Loyola Marymount by 52 points in season opening win

Four players score in double digits, Cougs hit 11 threes

WSU+guard+Johanna+Teder+%2821%29+and+center+Bella+Murekatete+%2855%29+celebrate+after+guard+Grace+Sarver+blocks+a+shot+during+an+NCAA+womens+basketball+game+against+LMU%2C+Nov.+7.

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WSU guard Johanna Teder (21) and center Bella Murekatete (55) celebrate after guard Grace Sarver blocks a shot during an NCAA women’s basketball game against LMU, Nov. 7.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports editor

With seven precise passes and a dagger of a three from Johanna Teder, WSU women’s basketball wasted no time scoring their first points of the new season. This swift stroke of scoring brilliance would replay for the Cougars on 10 more occasions leading to over 35% of their total scoring being via the three-point shot.

The Cougs’ 93-41 domination of Loyola Marymount in their season opener was everything they wanted and more.

Head coach Kamie Ethridge wanted to have at least four players in double digits each game this season and score at least 80 points a game.

In game one, she got exactly that with Tara Wallack (11 points), Ula Motuga (15 points), Charlisse Leger-Walker (16 points) and Bella Murekatete (18 points) each hitting that mark. Teder came close with 9 points. She wasted no time getting her first 6 with two three-pointers within the first 71 seconds of the game.

WSU trailed for all of 10 seconds before they shot 58.6% from the field, which is the ninth-highest team field goal percentage in a game in program history.  The Cougs seemed to have all of the answers against a Loyola Marymount squad that was very one-dimensional on offense and an easy case to crack on defense.

The Lions only charted four assists the entire game, each by a different player. Instead, they preferred to drive the ball to the basket, a strategy the Cougs defended with ease.

The Cougs played well together as a unit despite the fact that several players including Wallack, Teder, Astera Tuhina and Charlisse spent the summer with their respective national teams and Motuga and Teder had missed even more time with injuries.

Despite missing practice time because of her recent trip to New Zealand, Charlisse was her usual stellar self, scoring 7/12 from the field for a total of 16 points while also adding six assists and seven rebounds.

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WSU guard Charlisse Leger-Walker dribbles the ball during an NCAA women’s basketball game against LMU, Nov. 7.

For the first time in her college career, Charlisse is the only Leger-Walker on the team after the departure of her sister Krystal Leger-Walker.

“We did not replace Krystal and I want to make that clear, Krystal if you’re watching and listening to this,” Ethridge said.

Instead of replacing Krystal, which is of course much easier said than done, WSU added a slew of recruits who are each positioned to immediately contribute to the team

“They’re all individually unique in what they bring to our team,” Ethridge said.“They literally can find a niche I think on our team and be effective because they each do or bring something special.”

Tuhina caught the eye of the coaching staff and her teammates with her talent and work ethic. It all showed up on the hardwood on Monday. Through 26 minutes of basketball, Tuhina recorded 7 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two steals. Tuhina’s eight assists set a WSU freshman record for the most assists in a player’s debut game.

She led the Cougs in plus / minus, a statistic that measures a team’s success in scoring and defending while said player is on the court. Her 39 plus / minus was nine points higher than the second-best plus/ minus of 30 by Charlisse.

“[Tuhina] has pretty much been a sponge,” Motuga said. “She’s absorbed everything that we’re throwing at her. We often forget that she’s learning concepts and schemes in a different language. At times she might look at us a bit confused but I also think she has a really bright future ahead.”

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WSU Astera Tuhina passes the ball during an NCAA women’s basketball game against LMU, Nov. 7.

All three true freshmen who touched the court got their first career points.

Ethridge called Kyra Gardner one of the best athletes she has ever coached. Gardner played 14 minutes and was 2/3 from the field in her WSU debut.

Lauren Glazier played the least among the true freshmen with just six minutes on the court. She made her one shot and snagged three rebounds in a solid debut.

The loss of Krystal creates new opportunities and responsibilities for everyone.

“This team is different in that everyone is capable of scoring,” Murekatete said. “We’re just a very hungry team even though we lost Krystal, which was like a huge part of our offense and defense, everyone has stepped up this offseason.”

Motuga made a career-high five three-point shots on six attempts. She praised the guards’ ability to find her and get her shots.

“I’m able to just find places where I can be effective and thankfully the shots were going in today and hopefully it’s like that for the rest of the season,” Motuga said.

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WSU forward Ula Motuga dribbles up the court during an NCAA women’s basketball game against LMU, Nov. 7.

While Motuga is certainly humble, her incredible showing should not be overlooked after a 2021-22 season in which she made 21/39 three-point shots, good for 53.8 %, the second-best in the Pac-12.

Murekatete was lights out. She hit over 60% of her shots to lead the team in scoring and blocked two shots in a marvelous day for Cougar basketball.

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WSU center Bella Murekatete looks for a pass during an NCAA women’s basketball game against LMU, Nov. 7.

On numerous occasions in the preseason, Ethridge praised Murekatete’s increased maturity in taking initiative with her workouts and preparation.

“My focus this offseason was just to be mature,” Murekatete said. “Being in really good shape because I know if I’m in good shape then shots are going to come pretty easy for me.”

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WSU center Bella Murekatete jumps for a layup during an NCAA women’s basketball game against LMU, Nov. 7.

Although the final score was a dominant 52-point difference, the Cougs started the game allowing five offensive rebounds within the first five minutes and 14 overall. Five minutes into the game, the emphasis in the huddle was to be more physical, especially in the post, Ethridge said.

They patched things up in the post and began to snag more rebounds. It also led to them scoring 17 second-chance points after scoring none in the first quarter.

WSU makes its first road trip of the year to the Bay Area to face University of San Francisco at 1 p.m. on Friday.

WSU returns to Pullman immediately to host Prairie View A&M, in the Pac-12 and Southwestern Athletic Conference Legacy Series at 12 p.m. on Sunday at Beasley Coliseum.