Down team leader, Wazzu comes up just short at home against No. 11 Utah

WSU women’s basketball loses to Utah 71-66, Colorado 65-54


Courtesy of Dean Hare, WSU Photo Services

Head coach Kamie Ethridge speaks to her WSU women’s basketball team during an NCAA basketball game in Pullman Dec. 30, 2022

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports editor

The uphill battle of Pac-12 play got steeper before it even began.

On Friday afternoon, about 40 minutes prior to tipoff, WSU women’s basketball tweeted that Charlisse Leger-Walker, Wazzu and the Pac-12’s leading scorer, had returned to her home country of New Zealand because of a family issue.

Down their team leader, WSU women’s basketball (10-4, 0-3 Pac-12) lost to the undefeated No. 11 Utah Utes (14-0, 3-0 Pac-12) in Pullman 71-66 Friday and lost to the Colorado Buffaloes (12-3, 2-1 Pac-12) 65-54 Sunday.

At halftime Friday, the game was going about how one might have expected.

The Cougs were moving the ball well and creating a host of scoring opportunities but were not taking favorable shots.

Defensively, WSU did not find many answers for the Utes and found themselves down by as much as 20 late in the first half.

At halftime, the Cougs trailed Utah 38-22.

Leger-Walker had scored in the double digits in every single game this season and her presence was sorely missed.

It did, however, provide an opportunity for freshman guard Astera Tuhina to show what she could do.

The Freshman from Kosovo scored 12 points and got eight rebounds and three assists in a 5-for-9 shooting night that included two huge threes.

With 3:08 to go in the game, Tuhina hit a jumper that brought the Cougs within 2 points of the Utes.

Although Beasley Coliseum was quiet early in the game and attendance was down with most students out of town on winter break, the 800 fans in attendance were on their feet and loud after this standup shot.

Senior Ula Motuga scored 11 points and got five rebounds and four assists in a 3-for-7 shooting night that saw her go 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. Both pairs of free throws would tie the game, but unfortunately, WSU could not take the next step and find the lead.

It came down to the final possession for the Cougs in which WSU scrambled to make something happen.

Motuga found the ball in her hands and her team down by three with the chance to equalize, but the ball bounced off the rim.

“I guess …  it wasn’t meant to be, but grateful that obviously I was trusted to make that shot and that my teammates put me in the best spot to make that shot, but it just didn’t go in today,” Motuga said.

In the scrimmage for the rebound following the miss, Utah gained another free throw opportunity, which they translated into two more points to make it a 71-66 loss for the Cougs.

Bella Murekatete was a force for the Cougs, recording her fifth double-double of the season. She scored 20 points to go along with 11 rebounds, six assists, one block and three steals.

Tara Wallack scored 8 points with three blocks, one steal and one assist. She fouled out with over five minutes remaining.

After struggling to score most of the first half, a swift steal by Wallack in their own paint led to a wide-open layup on the other end of the court by Murekatete.

These aggressive defensive wins led to the scoring the Cougs needed down the stretch.

Utah’s strength is in their commitment to second-chance points produced via their aggressive play. In the second half, WSU was much more disciplined as they forced Utah to take more contested shots and eliminated their shot at offensive rebounds by being quick to the ball. But with the game on the line, Wazzu could not take control of the game.

Utah was led by Kennady McQueen, who scored 20 points on 6-for-9 from the field and 6-for-7 from the free throw line, and USC transfer Alissa Pili, who scored 18 points on 7-for-12 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line.

WSU lost to Colorado 65-54 on Sunday in a performance Ethridge described as “playing through mud”. The Cougs will regroup and host University of Washington at noon Sunday.