Defense best offense for Cougs in 77-57 win over Montana

Beating Montana highlights new heights of Etheridge era



WSU guard Charlisse Leger-Walker drives toward the hoop during an NCAA women’s basketball game against Montana, Dec. 2.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen managing editor

Charlisse Leger-Walker found herself all alone at the top of the key with the ball in her hands thanks to two sharp passes in quick succession from Astera Tuhina and Tara Wallack. With the perfect spot, Leger-Walker drained the 3-point shot as part of her team’s 12-0 run to end the third and begin the fourth quarter.

A slow start coupled with a second-half scoring revelation was the name of the game yet again for WSU women’s basketball (6-1) in their 77-57 win over the Montana Lady Griz (2-5).

Leger-Walker tied her career high with six successful 3-point shots as part of her 50% shooting night (8-for-16) and 50% 3-point night (6-for-12).

“They just found me for open looks and I made them tonight, so whooo,” Leger-Walker said.

The Lady Griz shot a red-hot 62% from the field. However, the Cougs kept pace and held a one-point lead after 10 minutes of basketball.

“We were scoring no matter what, we just needed to get some stops on defense,” Bella Murekatete said.

Both teams took 14 shots in the second quarter, but WSU gained the edge making 50% of their shots compared to the Lady Griz’s clip of  35% from the field.

The second half saw WSU make several key adjustments to leave the Lady Griz in the dust.

“I think that best offense is defense. When you’re getting those easy steals, you’re turning them over and then they’re having to scramble and they don’t have the right matchups,” Leger-Walker said.

Head coach Kamie Ethridge was in the press room when Leger-Walker said that and praised her analysis of how the Cougs used their defensive pressure to generate offensive opportunities

“I really liked the fact that we came out well, and scored the ball well and attacked the rim and had a post presence and we were scoring the ball at a better pace than the last time we played,” Ethridge said.

Murekatete created chaos in the paint as she scored 21 points with seven rebounds on an excellent 10-for-19 shooting night.

There were several moments where all Montana could do was sit and watch as Murkatete found the basket again and again.

WSU center Bella Murekatete shoots the ball during an NCAA women’s basketball game against Montana, Dec. 2.

Murekatete praised Laurie Koehn, WSU associate head coach for helping develop her post presence.

“Laurie is just the best person to help you. Every single time you feel like you’re off you just get into the gym and ask Laurie to help you and she is going to help you,” Murekatete said.

Leger-Walker and Murekatete are the players whose opposing coaches circle when scouting WSU’s roster but the entire roster contributed to put each other in prime positions to score.

Johanna Teder scored 10 points and found her 3-point shot late to score 3-for-6 from deep. Wallack had another 10-point game. Although she turned the ball over in desperation on one occasion her wicked passes, five blocks and two steals helped her team.

WSU guard Johanna Teder dribbles the ball during an NCAA women’s basketball game against Montana, Dec. 2.

“Everybody is capable of having a night,” Murekatete said.

Ula Motuga led the Cougs with eight rebounds.

Tuhina was 3-for-6 from the field and snagged seven rebounds.

WSU guard Astera Tuhina dribbles toward the hoop during an NCAA women’s basketball game against Montana, Dec. 2.

Grace Sarver and Teder led the team with five steals apiece.

All of this came together in the Cougs’ 12-0 run in the second half.

“I think it just shows what we’re cable of, moving the ball, flying around getting easy turnovers and easy steals,” Ledger-Walker said.

The Cougs have proven through several games that they have the personnel, depth and talent to create defensive mismatches in which the team’s bigs can guard the opponents’ littles and the littles can guard the opponent’s bigs, Ethridge said.

Montana’s best players and their head coach have ties to the state of Washington and the Palouse that made Friday a sort of homecoming/revenge game.

Carmen Gfeller is from Colfax and Keeli Burton-Oliver, also a Washington native played well in the first half before WSU’s defensive adjustment helped the Cougs keep the two of them to only 6 total points in the second half.

Gfeller posted 17 points and made five of her six threes.

Butron-Oliver scored 13 points and led her team with six rebounds, four of which were offensive.

The team is also home to University of Idaho transfer Gina Marxen, who led the Lady Griz with seven assists.

Finally, Montana’s head coach Brian Holsinger was an assistant for WSU women’s basketball from 2007-15.

While at WSU, Holsinger coached a Cougar squad that lost to his future employer Montana in the 2014 Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

That 2014 WNIT loss, was the last time the Cougs faced the Lady Griz and the ninth straight all-time win Montana recorded against WSU.

In fact, the Cougs had not beaten the Lady Griz since Dec. 21, 1988, long before any of the players who took the court Friday were alive.

WSU finally broke Montana’s all-time win streak in another testament to how things are just different under Ethridge’s leadership.

Two weeks removed from the team’s first loss, the Cougs through another three-game win streak against a talented Troy team, a lethal South Dakota State and a historic rival Montana have proven to have heightened focus in their preparation.

“I’ve made “BYU” a verb, I’ve told them that I don’t want to be “BYUed” again,” Ethridge said. “And they’ll get sick of me saying it but ever since then we’ve come back and we’ve prepared better we’ve practiced at a really really high level consistently.”