Cougs beat Portland in biggest comeback in program history

WSU women’s basketball overcomes 19-point deficit, beat Portland 69-63

WSU+guard+Astera+Tuhina+dribbles+toward+the+hoop+during+an+NCAA+womens+basketball+game+against+Montana%2C+Dec.+2.

HAILEE SPEIR

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

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports editor

WSU walked into the Rose City having only beaten the Portland Pilots once, in 1985.

With 5:40 left in the first half, it appeared that fact would remain true as the Cougars faced a 19-point deficit.

The next 25 minutes of basketball contained the largest comeback in program history as WSU women’s basketball (7-1) overcame that 19-point deficit to beat the Portland Pilots (5-5), 69-63.

Following Ula Motuga’s head-turning, half-court 3-point shot, the Cougs entered halftime with an 11-point deficit.

After making only two shots in the first quarter on their way to a dismal 15% from the field, the Cougs turned things around in the second quarter with a 50% field goal percentage.

A blistering hot third quarter saw WSU go 10-for-14 (71.4%) and finally take the lead thanks to a 12-0 run.

Freshman Astera Tuhina came off the bench and provided 32 high-energy minutes, including eight of her 12 points in the final two and a half minutes.

With less than 80 seconds remaining in the game and with WSU attempting to build on their two-point lead, the Cougs cashed in on a demonstration of offensive brilliance. Bella Murekatete appeared to dribble toward the basket in the post and in a split second her dribble became a pass, securely in Tuhina’s hands and through the basket.

Murekatete’s sharp passing and quick hands cut through the Pilot’s lead. She scored 14 points with three assists and three rebounds. She also recorded a team-high six steals.

Charlisse Leger-Walker collected three fouls in the first half and was contained to only 4 points. However, she returned in the second half renewed and scored 11 points to finish the game with a 5-for-8 clip and a team-leading nine rebounds along with four assists and four steals of her own.

Leger-Walker raised her double-digit scoring streak to nine.

With her lone 3-pointer of the night, Leger-Walker is now tied with Borislava Hristova for the 10th-most 3-pointers in program history (127).

Johanna Teder continues to take a high volume of 3-pointers with moderate success.

She was 3-for-7 from beyond the arc as part of a 5-for-10 shooting night in which she scored 13 points.

After a slow start, the Cougars yet again proved to be electric from the floor shooting 46.3% from the field and an even better 46.7% from beyond the arc.

On top of their dazzling shooting, the Cougars were perfect from the free-throw line, sinking all 12 of their shots. Leger-Walker and Tuhina were each 4-for-4 under the spotlight of the free-throw line. 

“I thought we had great energy that came off the bench and Grace Sarver again and AT [Tuhina] again and I think Jo [Teder] got to the rim against that zone,” head coach Kamie Ethridge said. “ I just thought our guards were really stood up and afraid to attack and penetrate and when they did a better job of that, at least it gave us some hope heading into halftime.”

The Pilots shocked the Cougars early with their dizzying schemes.

They forced 17 turnovers on nine steals coming out of the gate physical but Wazzu was better down the stretch with 22 turnovers and 15 steals.

Alex Fowler led her team with 15 points and six rebounds. Maisie Burnham added 14 points and Lucy Cochrane scored 10.

Portland’s best efforts could not guard against the Cougars who outscored the Pilots 45-28.

With Portland, Oregon and nearby Vancouver being significant hubs for WSU alumni, Cougar nation came out in full force and the team proudly sang the WSU fight song with their fans after the win.

Prior to facing WSU, Portland was 5-4 with wins over Hawaii and Houston. Wazzu was Portland’s third Pac-12 matchup, as they had lost to Stanford by 40 points Nov. 13 and to Oregon by 39 points Saturday.

With the win, the Cougs are 3-1 against the West Coast Conference in 2022. Oddly enough, two of those wins are top-five comebacks in program history with identical final scores of 69-63.

In WSU’s win over the San Francisco Dons Nov. 11. the Cougs overcame a 15-point deficit, the fourth-largest comeback in program history.

WSU is 7-1 to start the year, their best start since the 2015-16 season in which the Cougs started 8-1.

However, WSU is about to enter a much taller task as they begin early Pac-12 Conference play Saturday.

WSU will travel to Seattle to battle University of Washington Huskies (7-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.